What is dunk hoops and how do you play?

What is dunk hoops and how do you play?

If I am to be completely honest, I need to let you in on a little secret. The most fun I have ever experienced on a basketball court came while playing what is affectionately known as dunk hoops. You might be asking what exactly is dunk hoops, and how do you play? Let’s get into it.

Dunk hoops is a competitive basketball game where the height of the basketball goal (AKA hoop or rim) is set at a height generally matched with the jumping abilities of the players. As you know, standard regulation height of a basketball hoop is ten feet.

But for younger or older players outside prime leaping ability, or for those who are vertically challenged, the only way to experience high-flying slam dunks in a game is to match the hoop height with their hops. And let me tell you, it cracks open a wildly fun experience and introduces a totally new element to the game for many basketball players.

Side Note; If you and your buddies can dunk consistently on a regulation basket playing at game speed in traffic, well then, you have a skill that very few basketball players do. You can play just about anywhere! This article is for the vast majority those who play below the rim currently.


It is pretty easy to get a game of dunk hoops going provided you have three things; a basketball, a basketball court, and players. I will assume you already own a basketball (if not, shame on you). And it’s probably also safe to assume you have some buddies to call or text for the game.

Now, you need a basketball court with the right size hoop so you and your friends can take to the air with awe inspiring, monster jams. At first, this can be a little bit tricky but it was a big reason we developed Let’s Go Ball in the first place.

When we set out to catalog all the basketball courts in a given town or city, one of the many attributes we noted was the dunk hoops category. For example, the first city we worked on was our hometown of Redding, and you can use a filter to find dunk hoops in Redding, CA. This way, when you search our basketball court directory, you can find a court that matches exactly how you want to play the game.


Before you look for a dunk hoops court to play on, you will need to do a quick assessment on your players. Specifically, their age, height, and jumping ability.

For younger basketball players, ages 2-5, there are some great plastic toy basketball sets that these youngsters can go to town on. Check out Amazon for toy basketball hoops, or you can visit Target or Walmart for a number a great options.

For kids ages 5-10, some specialty basketball equipment may be required. The reason is kids these ages are capable of playing on a regulation goal, but very few basketball hoops adjust down to a height for dunking at this age.

For preteen and teenage kids, ages 11-18, there are a lot of options. Most adjustable basketball hoops have height settings ranging anywhere from about seven to ten feet. This allows you to set the height of the backboard and rim based on the average jumping ability of your group of players. For teenagers in the 13-18 age range, I have found that any setting between eight and nine feet is most common.

And finally, how about the big kids? Yes, I mean all of us adults who still play the game and want to showcase our affinity for finishing strong at the rim? You’re all in luck.

Thankfully, the same general guidelines apply for the adults as the teenagers. Any static, lowered hoop in the eight to nine foot range will work great and an adjustable, reinforced basketball system is absolutely perfect. Even better? No one outside your group of friends has to know about your credit card hops when the videos hit social media.


OK, so you have rounded up a basketball and some friends, located a basketball court that matches up with your dunk hoops game, and now it is game time.

The fantastic thing about dunk hoops (and basketball in general) is there are so many ways to play while keeping it ultra competitive and maintaining the integrity of the game.

You can change the rules based on the amount of players, scoring, court markings, and just about anything else. I’m going to list a few of my favorite ways to organize a dunk hoops game so it’s fun for everyone.


You can set up a game of dunk hoops with as few as two players and as many as ten. That allows for competitive games of 1-on-1, 2-on-2, 3-on-3, all the way up to 5-on-5.

In my opinion, the best dunk hoops games are half court 2-on-2 or 3-on-3. With either four or six players total, it allows for a spacious court with plenty of room for cutters, pick & roll plays, and isolations on the perimeter or in the post.

Although fun and a great way to improve your skills, 1-on-1 dunk hoop games can be very physical and tiring because all the focus is on you all the time. When players get tired, they will shy away from attacking the rim to dunk and start shooting, and dunk hoops isn’t for jump shooting (more on that later).

Conversely, 4-on-4 or 5-on-5 games bring too many bodies into a half court setting making it difficult to penetrate the lane and dunk the ball. Even when playing man-to-man defense, which is mandatory in dunk hoops, players will sag off into the key to protect the rim which ultimately defeats the purpose of this type of game.

For 5-on-5 dunk hoops, I recommend finding a full court to play on. The extended area allows for transition and fast breaks which lead to more dunks. This can be a challenge though, because very few courts are set up with two matching, adjustable basketball goals on a full court.


Again, this is the great thing about pick up basketball. It is flexible, meaning you can shape the rules of the game to what you want to do, the equipment you have, and the number of players.

First things first, there is no other defense allowed in dunk hoops besides good, old fashioned man-to-man defense. Period, end of statement. A zone defense or even lazy man-to-man defense will defeat the entire purpose of the game. Dunking is an athletic skill! So believe me, you want that defender working hard because the big, athletic defensive move is to block your shot. It’s fun for both sides.

In pick up basketball where no referees are present, the common, unwritten rule is for the offense to call their own fouls. The defender is less likely to be objective about calling fouls they commit, although, in the true spirit of the game you should learn the intricacies of fouls and rules of the game.

My preference for an ideal dunk hoops game is half court 3-on-3. I like to play winner’s outs, which means the team who scores the ball takes the ball (checks the basketball at the top of the key after a made basket). Other common options here are either winners at three, meaning winners outs after the third point is scored, or losers outs where the team who was last scored on checks the ball.

In a half court game, the ball usually resets at the top of the key above the 3-point line after every made basket, foul call, or out of bounds infraction. It is wise to call out the score at every check up or change of possession, since we’re human and in the action of the game we tend to forget the score. Trust me, this will save you from a heated argument about who’s winning.

One last important aspect to dunk hoops you will want to consider is goal tending. Goal tending by rule is when an offensive or defensive player touches the ball while it is on the rim or descending from the highest arch of a jump shot. Defensive goal tending in a real basketball game results in automatic points for the shot taken, so it can be a costly error. Offensive goal tending is equally as costly and results in points scored being taken away.

But in dunk hoops, there is an entirely different scenario to consider. The hoop is lower, typically where most players can elevate above it. This affects shooting, essentially making it easier to score especially in close proximity. At the heart of dunk hoops, is the primary goal of backboard shattering, rim rocking slam dunks. Simply playing the game in this way means trading jump shots for dunks, or at the very least, aggressive layups and post moves around the rim.

That is precisely why I have always enjoyed playing dunk hoops that allows goal tending. From an offensive standpoint, it provides for exciting put-back dunks off of misses, tip-ins, and encourages players to stay active around the rim at all times. From a defensive standpoint, it helps prevent lazy shot attempts where the level of difficulty is lowered just like the hoop is. My personal favorite goal tending rule to use in dunk hoops is goal tending inside three, which allows goal tending on any shot taken inside the three point line (if there is one on the court). With this rule in place, long range shots are available to shooters but all bets are off when players come inside. Again, the reason dunk hoops is so much fun is because players who normally play below the rim, have the opportunity to play aggressively above the rim throughout the entire game.


I have a unique perspective on playing dunk hoops both from the perspective of the player and the coach. At the time of this writing, I have been playing the game of basketball competitively for around 35 years. But I have also been coaching the game for nearly 25 years of that time as well. My mission is to introduce basketball to as many people as possible, and in particular, I love introducing the game to young children for the first time. Seeing their faces light up, with huge smiles, when they compete and accomplish goals on a basketball court is my most cherished reward.

Now, while I tend to think that 99% of the time all players spend on a basketball court should be geared towards incremental skill improvement - I like to have fun too. In my practices as a coach, I try to incorporate fun drills that simultaneously test a player’s skill level. I believe dunk hoops teaches young players a few valuable lessons and skill sets. Let’s review some of the pros (advantages) and cons (disadvantages).


Basketball is a physical game, don’t let anyone tell you differently. In fact, there are many similarities between football and basketball, and players new to the game or often surprised by the physicality of well played basketball.

Dunk hoops introduces a bit of this physicality by allowing for earth-bound players to break away and experience life above the rim. But that does not come without a price. Defenders have their pride, and no defender wants to be posterized (a term for getting dunked on so viciously that a picture of the event will end up on a poster). As a result, defenders will check offensive players a little harder and meet them at the rim (while in the air) to protect it.

Although it is a seemingly lost art in today’s modern game, post moves are a great way to score in dunk hoops. Offensive players use back-to-the-basket moves in close proximity to the hoop to score. This is an intensely physical interaction because the defender is usually in constant contact and there is a lot of bumping, pushing, and checking in the lane.

Likewise, dunk hoops can be a huge skill building exercise for what’s known as slashing or slashers. Slashers are perimeter players who face the basket and work to penetrate past their defenders and finish at the rim. This is the preeminent way to score in dunk hoops, but it can be difficult for a reason that may surprise you. It isn’t what happens on the ground, but what happens in the air. Strength and balance play a massive role while in the air. A weaker player’s momentum to the basket can easily be redirected by a defender. But a stronger player’s momentum cannot. This is perhaps one of the best reasons for young players to experience dunk hoops. It is very challenging to recreate this type of play in practice drills or on a regulation hoop with players who cannot dunk.

In my years coaching the game, I have found that all of this physicality helps players improve tremendously. Most young players shy away from contact and that can really dampen their ability to play the game well in later years.

That is precisely why I recommend young players to take advantage of dunk hoops. It’s fun and beneficial. As for all of us adults, the same is true. It’s a blast to play!


Having read this article so far, you should surmise that I strongly recommend playing dunk hoops if for no other reason than how much fun it is. There also a solid amount of advantages to playing the game. But let’s talk about just a few reasons how dunk hoops can negatively affect a player’s skill set.

The first disadvantage and the most noteworthy, is shooting. Dunk hoops requires playing the game on a lowered rim, basically any height less than regulation ten feet. I discourage players from shooting consistently on a lowered rim as it can affect their shot. Effective jump shooting is all about muscle memory. The mechanics of shooting the ball well takes years to develop, often a decade or more. This skill should always be devoted to playing on a regulation basketball hoop. The reason is simple. While it is incredibly hard to learn good jump shot mechanics, it is quite easy to forget. I have personally witnessed fantastic shooters from one season forget their shot and develop poor habits in a following season.

For this reason alone, I recommend shooting drills only be run on regulation baskets. My sons can certainly attest to this. When they were young (ages 5-15), we had a nice half court, regulation basketball hoop complete with 3-point lines for them to play on but the goal was not adjustable. Like most kids do, they wanted to play dunk hoops. Rather than replace the static basketball hoop with an adjustable, I snapped up an old portable basketball system from a neighbor. It was cheap and banged up, but it could be lowered down for dunk hoops. As a rule on our court, my boys could not practice shooting on the dunk hoop - only on the regulation basket. But, I strongly encouraged them to practice their dunks and encouraged games with their buddies and teammates.

Our system worked to perfection. We basically wore out both hoops over ten plus years of playing. The kids played hard games on the regulation basket, and also used it to work on all their skills. Then, there would be wild dunk hoop games on the lowered basket and they could get a sense for how the game might feel to them later as they grew taller and could jump higher.

Dunk hoops also hones a players shot blocking skills because they closer a player is to the rim, the easier it becomes to block shots. But goal tending is not shot blocking, and that’s why dunk hoops is both an advantage and disadvantage in this category. Focusing consistently on altering shots around the rim on in descent can have an adverse affect on good defense and rim protection in a real game scenario. It’s not a huge aspect, but important nonetheless.


Now you have a good idea of what exactly dunk hoops is and how to play. So what’s next? Round up your buddies and play!

Let’s Go Ball was developed to help everyone experience the game of basketball, no matter their age, skill level, or physical ability. Part of making that happen is knowing where to play. That’s why we are working hard to index as many basketball courts as we can, but not just with a simple pin dropped on a map. We are going the extra mile. As experts, practitioners, and lovers of the game, we knew that we could do a better job delivering all the details you need to go play.

For example, if you want to play dunk hoops, we added a classification filter that allows you to search for basketball courts with lowered or adjustable hoops. We also collected about twenty other data points from the courts we thought were most important, plus took pictures and video so you can see and experience it virtually.