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A Question of Height

by Physical Education Teacher Nick DiPasquale

 

This article was published in Husky Hits #1516-31 on Sunday, May 22, 2016.

According to the ASEP, rim heights should be adjusted according to a child's age. ASEP's recommendations for each age group are as follows:

  • Kindergarten – 2nd Grade (ages 5–8): 6-foot rim
  • 3rd & 4th Grade (ages 8–10): 8-foot rim
  • 5th Grade (ages 10–11): 9-foot rim
  • 6th Grade and beyond (ages 11–12 and up): 10-foot rim

A number of reputable online sources endorse the ASEP rim height guidelines, including ACTIVEkids, MomsTeam, LIVESTRONG, Hoop Universe HQ, and Dunk Like a Beast. In fact, Basketball for Coaches recently conducted a poll of 36 highly respected experts in the field – coaches, authors, designers of player development training programs, basketball skills camp organizers, and shooting clinic hosts. These individuals were asked the following important question: "What are 1–3 things you would change to improve youth basketball?" Not surprisingly, age-appropriate basket heights was a common response.

Perhaps the most ardent supporter of this change is Bob Bigelow, a former first round NBA draft choice who has conducted over 2,500 lectures and clinics worldwide and co-authored the book Just Let the Kids Play. Mr. Bigelow's reputation as a leading youth sports speaker is well documented, as he has been recognized as one of the "100 Most Influential Sports Educators" by the Institute for International Sports at the University of Rhode Island. According to Mr. Bigelow,

The keys to a successful youth basketball program are age-appropriate rim height, and ball, court and team size following recommendations by the American Sport Education Program (ASEP), which I have long advocated. In setting the height of the rim, the primary consideration is teaching kids proper shooting form. A key question, depending on age, is can a child actually get the ball up near the rim with something resembling proper shooting mechanics? Unfortunately, younger children who are capable of better shooting form oftentimes just do not have the strength to get the ball up to a rim that is too high for them. As a result, in order to attempt to make a basket, they resort to essentially heaving the ball, as that's the only way they can possibly reach a rim that's simply too high.

Mr. Bigelow further explicates his views on the subject:

At the 3rd- and 4th-grade level, for example, I simply see far too many programs with 10-foot hoops. I am constantly cautioning the adults who run these programs that they can try to teach kids how to shoot at baskets that are too high up, but their shooting mechanics will not be actual shooting mechanics, they will be “heaving mechanics.” So, if a youth basketball program really wants to try to adapt the game to the children's physical abilities...I strongly recommend that it follows my recommendations, and those of the ASEP, on rim height.

I wholeheartedly agree with the recommendations advocated by the ASEP, Bob Bigelow, and countless other experts in the field. My personal opinion on the subject has been formed by years of coaching experience at the middle and high school level, as well as through my efforts to teach correct shooting technique to children in elementary school, in conjunction with the physical education curriculum.

Shooting a basketball with proper form requires a complex, coordinated, precisely-timed series of movements involving a myriad of muscle groups. Strength limitations, combined with baskets set at an inappropriate height, result in kids torquing their body and placing the basketball adjacent to their ear in attempts to generate enough force to hurl the ball over the lip of the rim. Essentially the kids are forced to cock their arm back and heave the ball (or perhaps worse, use a two-handed shot or a movement resembling an overhead pass), representing a complete departure from proper shooting mechanics. Insofar as muscle memory plays a critical role in shooting a basketball, the establishment of poor mechanics at an early age can severely impact potential future success, as middle schoolers become challenged by the necessity to "unlearn" habits they developed as children. Stated simply, the act of shooting a basketball is a movement rich in fluidity and seemingly effortless motion. With the exception of the occasional half-court buzzer beater, at no time should a child have to contort their torso and contract and strain every muscle in their body to propel the ball to the height of the rim.

Modifications to accommodate varying age groups are present in every sport. From the size and weight of equipment, to the dimensions of the playing field, to the very gameplay rules themselves, the list of age- and skill-dependent alterations is seemingly endless. And the reason for such adjustments is well established. Indeed, the purpose of sport is to encourage participation. In short, sport is intended to be FUN, which is of course accomplished by creating an environment that instills confidence in its participants by allowing them to experience success. Using age-appropriate rim heights provides kids the opportunity to feel the pure joy that comes from witnessing the ball pass through the hoop, thus cultivating sustained participation in the sport. (It's truly disheartening to recall the number of instances I have observed a child become discouraged by their inability to elevate the ball to the level of the rim and promptly terminate their involvement in the sport.) Of equal importance is that fact that these benefits can be obtained without compromising the advancement of our kids' skill set. On the contrary, adjusting the height of the basket to accommodate children of different ages effectively accelerates skill development by actively promoting proper shooting mechanics.

In physical education class, the consistent use of ASEP’s rim-height recommendations certainly provides strong evidence of the efficacy of this model. Regardless of their degree of skill or experience, students are afforded the opportunity to improve their shooting technique on a rim adjusted to correspond to their respective grade level. As a result, the prospect of successfully converting a shot attempt while maintaining sound mechanics becomes significantly less daunting, thereby promoting increased interest in the sport itself. By establishing an atmosphere in which the kids can truly thrive, we effectively build their self-confidence and likewise ignite their desire to enhance their skill set to the greatest degree attainable. 

It must be noted that exceptions certainly exist in any area in which age is used as a determinant of ability. There are undoubtedly children who possess a unique combination of strength, balance, coordination, and discipline that allows them to maintain sound shooting mechanics while exceeding the suggested rim height guidelines outlined above. But even in such rare cases, a child's skill development will not be hampered by practicing on a basket set at an age-appropriate height. Rather, doing so will provide the gifted child the opportunity to truly refine and perfect their technique. Indeed, they will emerge not merely a good shooter with good form, but a great shooter with flawless form.

The St. James' community is truly blessed to possess the resources required to provide our children with state-of-the-art adjustable baskets, and it is my contention that we take full advantage of this unique opportunity. Just think of the possibilities: Our kids can have fun, develop confidence in their physical ability, heighten their passion for the sport, and enhance their skill set with nothing more than a simple adjustment of the rim!

Emphasis in quotations added by the editor.