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Why Standard Youth Basketballs Are Too Heavy and Result in Bad Shooting Habits

- By Jeff Haefner


Have you put much thought into the size of the basketballs that you use? How much they weigh? And how they affect your players and their development?

I have. I even have a kitchen scale to determine exactly how much each basketball weighs and how it affects players' shooting. I'm going to share what I found to hopefully save you some time and frustration.

In the picture below, you'll see a full size 29.5 inch men's basketball on the left. This basketball weighs 22 ounces. On the far right you'll see a mini ball that weighs only 10 ounces. This is the basketball my son used as a 3, 4, and 5 year old.

Men's Basketball Women's Ball Youth Ball Size 4 Another Size 4 Mini Ball
22 ounces 20 ounces 17 ounces 14 ounces 11 ounces 10 ounces

According to online research and my digital kitchen scale, you can see the weight of each ball in the chart above. There is a huge difference between the 22 ounce men's ball and the 10 ounce mini ball!!

My son is 5 years old and about 40 lbs. He recently tried out the third ball from the right (14 ounce Mikasa ball). He can shoot that 14 ounce ball at a 7 ft basket from approx 6-7 feet away with decent form.

If he goes any further past 6 or so feet, uses a heavier ball, or a higher basket.... one of two things happen....

1) He shoots short and can't get the ball there.

2) Or his shooting technique goes to hell in order to get the ball to the basket.


Self Discovery is a Better Way to Learn

Now, I haven't taught my son how to shoot. He figured it out on his own. I just have him use a really light and small basketball and a little plastic hoop in the basement.

Through experimenting, self discovery, and observation.... he figured out how to shoot with good technique all by himself. I just make sure he doesn't shoot with too big of a ball, too far back, or with too high of a hoop.

He's actually a pretty good shooter from about 7 feet. Shoots about 65%. Decent form. Nice knee bend. Good rotation. Nice follow through. It is surprising to me but true.

His older sister (7 years old) on the other hand has less interest (doesn't shoot for fun like he does) and hasn't developed good form on her own. It's not terrible form but nothing like her younger brother and not nearly as accurate.

The purpose of this article is not to tell you about my kids. But to get you thinking about the size of basketballs that you use and how your kids are learning.


Are you using basketballs that are too heavy? Are you giving kids an opportunity for self discovery?

I see lots of 5 year old kids shooting at high baskets and with full size men's or women's basketballs. That is crazy. I also see a lot of them using the youth/junior balls -- and those are still way too heavy.

I am a full grown man (6ft, 200lbs) and can barely shoot a men's basketball from 23 ft with good form. If you think about it, my release point is about 4 feet higher than my sons (because I am so much taller). And I weigh 150 lbs more than him. So to expect him to be able to shoot a 17 ounce youth basketball at a high hoop with good form seems unrealistic.

So we try to get kids using basketballs and hoops appropriate to their age and size. My son just started using the 14 ounce ball and he actually went back to the 11 ounce ball. When he was 4 he never used anything heavier than 10 ounces. When he was 3 he mostly used nerf balls.

For my daughter who is in 2nd grade, we are using this 14 ounce Mikasa ball on the right.

For the money, it works great. They are only $13 and you can order them here. We ordered 10 for one of our teams.

I like the 14 ounce ball because it's bigger than the mini (good for dribbling) yet still fairly light for shooting.

When I looked in local sporting goods and big box stores, I could not find the 14 ounce or 11 ounce basketballs above. So I ordered them online.

I also ordered this 11 ounce Markwort ball for my son. It's bigger than a mini but almost just as light. The ball works fine -- but one of them we ordered got a little bubble. Not the greatest quality. But for only $12 I didn't mind and it's the perfect size for my son.

The 14 ounce Mikasa seems to be a little better quality. We have been using them with our 2nd grade team and so far so good.



Size Comparison

Here are a few pictures so you can see the size differences...

11 Ounce Next to a Full Size Men's Ball 22 ounces

14 Ounce Next to Full Size



Recommendations

Based on my experience, here are some suggestions on what size ball you should use...

Age (Years) Weight of Ball (Ounces)
0 - 3 6 or less
4 10 or less
5 11-12
6 12-14
7-10 14-17
11-13 17-20

Of course this chart is not perfect because every kid matures at a different rate and it depends on the gender of the player. But these are some general guidelines to consider.

If you're not sure the weight of a ball, use a kitchen scale. That's what I did.

Before going with the norm, consider the weight of the ball your players use and how kids learn. Sometimes just putting them in the right environment and allowing self discovery is a better way to learn. In fact, when ever possible, this is a better way to learn. This won't work in all situations. But when possible, it's something I think you should consider.


Related Pages and Helpful Resources:

Bob Bigelow's Coaching Youth Basketball The Right Way
Coaching Youth Basketball - Drills, Offense, Tips, Etc.
Youth Basketball Shooting: 3 Things Youth Coaches & Players Need to Adjust



What do you think? Let us know by leaving your comments, suggestions, and questions...




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Comments

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KR says:
4/3/2017 at 12:15:56 AM

My son showed an interest in basketball from a very young age. He had various toy balls from infancy to 4-5 years of age. But my present to him on his 4th birthday was 29.5 inch regulation basketball. I took him to the park and let him try to make a basket with it on a 10 ft rim. Needless to say, he had a difficult time making one. But placing that obstacle in front of him did not stop him from continually trying to make one. And he eventually did....over a year later, after a frustrating hour of trying...manage to eek the ball over the front of the rim. He's practiced with a Size 7 ever since, and worked on 10 ft rims as well. He's now 11, and easily one of the best shooters in his age group that I have seen. He has in fact been forced to use smaller (28.5 inch) balls to play in certain leagues and that has only hampered his accuracy. and almost certainly working with a large ball has improved his ball handling.

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Cory says:
3/29/2017 at 8:36:16 PM

We come down to Minnesota many times a year from Canada. It''s a 6 hour drive. My kids team is grade 6. They use a size 7 ball that''s 22 ounces. The rest of the world (FIBA) uses a size 6. It is way easier to teach proper mechanics with a smaller and lighter ball
Why is USA promoting this?
Thanks. Cory

Like
  1 reply  

Joe Haefner says:
3/30/2017 at 10:18:10 AM

Cory, I wish I knew.

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Deon says:
2/1/2017 at 8:30:32 AM

Why does my molten GG6X size 6,suddenly became so small after a few weeks of using it?

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Richard says:
5/4/2015 at 2:11:19 PM

I come to these questions differently. The player should be at least almost able to palm the ball. If the player can''''t grip the ball, the player will nestle the ball in her palm. On release, the ball will slide off the palm rather than being directed by the shooting fingers. Once habit , this is often overlooked and very hard to correct.

Similarly, the rim should be low enough that a jumping player can reach at least half way up the net. Then a layup is one and form shooting is not a strength exercise. My then 11 yr old son automatically developed perfect layup form when I broke an 8-10 foot basketball and got it permanently stuck at 7 1/2 feet.


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John says:
2/14/2015 at 6:54:22 PM

Upward Basketball is a fantastic program that teaches kids to play basketball with age appropriate balls and rims. Usually taught at church gyms, it is an awesome program my kids have been in for the last four years. Highly recommend it, you can search for a program near you.

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  1 reply  

Lonnie Howard says:
5/5/2015 at 10:00:29 AM

We have Upward Basketball here in Houston. But, they still seem to follow what schools and AAU does regarding ball sizes and basket heights.

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Ken Sartini says:
11/17/2014 at 7:34:51 AM

I agree with Jeff here.... since he is playing with the big ball in two leagues I wouldn't want to change what he is doing now.

Be careful with the distances he shoots.....make sure that he shoots within in ranne and he should have no or very little problems/

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Jeff Haefner says:
11/17/2014 at 6:54:49 AM

Lonnie -

It's too bad they jump to the full size ball so quickly.

Almost everywhere you go in the US, they jump to a bigger ball too quickly. However some places are worse than others. Around here in Iowa they use the women's 28.5" ball in middle school. And in high school they jump to the men's size.

Ideally he uses the same size ball in practice, games, and at home. Using a different size ball will affect long range shots in games a little bit. But should a 12 year old really be shooting long range shots? Is he a mature 12 year old or still waiting to hit his growth sport? As you know 12 year old Johnny can look like a man next to 12 year old Jimmy. That can make a big difference.

Personally, I would try to make sure that the majority of reps my son is taking is with good form. And close to the basket. If 80% of his shooting reps are at home with a smaller ball, then the 20% of the other reps with a bigger ball in games and AAU won't hurt his his technique much. He might miss a few farther out shots in games. But I'd be ok with that. Other lay ups and close range shots, he won't even know the difference.

Now some young boys are pretty adamant about using the same size ball as games. And others don't know the difference. So you may or may not have a challenge there. And confidence and many other intangibles may take precedence over forcing him to use a smaller ball.

So long story short, yea he might struggle with outside shots a little bit (might drop his percentage a few points) if he uses a smaller ball at home. But it won't drop much. And based on my experience, midrange / finishing shots won't be affected at all. If there is any affect, it's all mental because I have seen numerous kids make the adjustment without any trouble.

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Lonnie Howard says:
11/17/2014 at 3:40:07 AM

Jeff Haefner - My son is now 12 years old, and he plays middle school and AAU basketball, and both use a men's-sized basketball in practices and games. If I have him train at home with a women's-sized (or even youth-sized) ball, it won't make it more difficult for him to dribble and shoot with a men's-sized ball in games?

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Jeff Haefner says:
11/14/2014 at 2:19:36 PM

Garrett - We have pretty much the same problem around here. Most leagues and tournaments jump right to the big ball. Sometimes we bring our own ball and sneak in the appropriate size.

But in practice we still use the small (appropriate size ball). If we miss a few shots and lose a few games because of that, I don't mind. We're interested in developing the players for the long term.

And in games, you really don't shoot very often (each kids might take a handful of shots in a game). That's not very many over the course of any hour. So it doesn't hurt much.

It's more important to use the correct size in practice because you get a lot more reps there!

So we basically practice with correct size ball and if we play in a tourney or league, we use the bigger ball. Has worked well for us.

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Garrett Murphy says:
11/14/2014 at 1:27:26 PM

Here in Arizona, I've found it impossible to find a league that uses an appropriately-sized ball. For ages 10+, all the leagues use a Men's size (29.5", as I recall?) and ages 7-9 use a 27.5 (Women's?). So, I HAVE to use the larger balls.

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Jukka Manter says:
6/19/2014 at 5:29:08 PM

Yes in Finland we play mini baskets (250cm) for all under 12 years players. Players 8 and under play even lower baskets. Basketballs under 8 should be #3 and under 12 we play #5 basketball. In Finland every player carry their own basketball the practices. 13- 15 years we play #6 and after that boys regular #7 and girls regular #6.
Some coaches still use softer but bouncing basketballs under 8 years practices.

If the child gets afraid of the basketball and feels it is difficult to handle or put to the basket, it is hard to tell him/her that you do leran the way little by little..

Like
   

Rich Williams says:
11/16/2012 at 10:56:12 PM

I bought the Spaulding "Rookie Gear" Composite 27.5" ball for 2 grade clinic. It is lighter that a standard 27.5" ball and has been very helpful to get her to learn solid form on her one handed shot.

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Jeff Haefner says:
11/15/2012 at 12:22:06 PM

Lonnie - For my daughters 2nd grade team we started our own league. I emailed local high school coaches to find out who coached other 2nd or 3rd grade girls teams. Then I asked those coaches to come play us 3on3. We play 3on3 only, use the 14 Mikasa balls, and lower baskets to around 7ft. We also either get two games of 3on3 going at once or we play back to back games... so only one or two girls sit out at a time.

Keep in mind I use the word "team" loosely. It's more like a club. We get together to practice skill, play fun activities, work on balance, fundamental movement skills, coordination, and athleticism (while having fun). Then we are playing 6 games against other teams, again for fun.

Josh - The women's Spalding TF-1000 you see in pictures above is 28.5 inches and weighs 20 ounces. I would guess most 28.5 inch balls weigh around the same.

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Josh West says:
11/15/2012 at 11:34:06 AM

the balls we use are listed by circumference, i believe, 28.5". for our 5th and 6th graders-- 10-12 years old. what weight should these be? thanks.

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Ken says:
11/15/2012 at 10:34:03 AM

How old is your son?

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Lonnie Howard says:
11/15/2012 at 10:30:50 AM

When I first read about using lighter balls (and lower baskets) on this website several years ago, I loved the idea. I use the same philosophy with baseball bats to help my players hit better. I even like it with footballs to help my son throw better (he's a QB/TB-type player). But, what do you do when the local YMCA, recreational leagues, basketball camps, and AAU teams all use the men-sized basketballs?! I've thought about using smaller basketballs with my son at home and even in practice with the teams I coach, but I've always been concerned that when they have to use the bigger balls in games, it will make them dribble and shoot worse.

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Barry says:
11/15/2012 at 9:38:14 AM

Great comments, for a person who is trying to develop youth to have (and keep) an interest in basketball. Thoughts are the same, lower the hoop ( to about 4' above height) and smaller basketball use. Thanks.

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Ken says:
11/15/2012 at 8:25:26 AM

Great article Jeff -

Now, If we can only get youth leagues to do this and use lower baskets the kids would have more fun and see a lot more success.

Like
  1 reply  

Karlie G. says:
5/11/2016 at 12:51:37 PM

Ken, I do not agree with your statement. You should not lower the net for more success. You also can't control their fun. They can make up their mind if they think it's fun and if they want to do it. Basketball is a fun sport, i love it, but not everyone likes it and thinks it's fun. Lowering the net defeats the purpose of them learning, the net is not always going to be that low, in fact it probably will only get higher. They need to work with the nets height, that makes them better, and perpares them for the future, if they decide to keep playing.

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  1 reply  

Wil Moore III says:
6/9/2016 at 2:21:08 PM

I agree with Ken and actually, we are starting to see this happen in certain leagues.

It is more important for youth players to get into good habits early which is near impossible to do for most youth players when they are playing with balls that are too big and heavy and baskets that are too high.

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Coach Kip says:
11/14/2012 at 8:16:10 PM

I coach an under 11 boys team and we use size 5 balls.

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