How to Play Flag Football
Enjoy traditional football but would rather not injure yourself by playing so roughly? Then try flag football, an increasingly popular alternative that replaces tackling your opponent with ripping a flag from their belt. Beyond that, the object of the game is still the same: trying to score as many points as possible with touchdowns and extra-point kicks. However, since this sport is popular with everyone from very young children to more cautious adults, the rules can vary greatly. But once you factor in the needs of those playing, adapting the rules to fit the situation is easy.
Getting the Equipment
Suit up.Wear form-fitting athletic gear, such as t-shirts, shorts, sweatshirts, and sweatpants. Avoid baggy clothing, as well as anything with pockets or belt-loops, to reduce the chances of an opponent grabbing your clothes by mistake when they attempt to snatch your flag. Also avoid wearing clothes that are the same color as the flags that you will wear.Tuck your shirt into your waistband to keep the flags accessible.
- Although there is no tackling in flag football, safety gear such as mouthguards and safety straps for glasses are still recommended.
- Some leagues may require you to wear flat-soled or molded cleat shoes (meaning the cleats are actually part of the sole). Shoes with spikes or cleats that can be removed may be forbidden.
- Helmets and padding are not required. In fact, they are usually forbidden in official games.
Gather your gear.Bring at least one American football to play with. Distribute flag belts to each player for them to wear around their waist. Also hand out three flags per player to attach to their belt.Make sure the flags for each team are one uniform color.
- If you don’t have belts, tuck the flags under your waistband. Tuck them far enough to keep them in place when you run, but not so far in that your opponents can’t reach them or pull them free.
- Fixing your flags so that they are harder to remove can result in ten-yard penalties if you’re caught, meaning that your team will lose ten yards at the start of your next down.
Choose a playing field.Find an open space with level ground. For a full-sized field, look for a space that measures 53.33 yards wide (48.76 meters) and 120 yards (109.7 meters). However, for younger players (or if wide open spaces are hard to come by in your area), feel free to choose a field that is half or even a third of that size.
- The game should be played on level ground so no one team has an unfair advantage. Players who need to climb uphill to reach their end zone will face more challenges than opponents running downhill.
- If you are able to play on an actual football field where the yards and end zones are already marked, great! If not, use cones or flags to mark your end zones. Trace your goal lines and sidelines with spray paint if possible so they are easier to spot.
- End zones should be the last ten yards (9.1 meters) at either end of the playing field.This usually holds true even when playing on a smaller field.
- Recommended measurements for smaller fields include: 60 yards long by 20 yards wide (54.9 by 18.3 meters); 70 yards long by 25 yards wide (64 by 22.9 meters); 80 yards long by 30 yards wide (73.1 by 27. 4 meters).
Setting Up the Game
Gather players.Determine how many each team will have. To play with full teams, find nine people for each one. If that isn’t possible, aim for at least five players to a team.
- Teams should always have an equal number of players to avoid unfair advantages.
Appoint a captain for each team.Choose a player to represent the team as a whole. Although the quarterback often doubles as a captain, base your decision on their maturity, communication skills, and leadership. The captain will be responsible for:
- The team’s conduct as a whole.
- Disputing calls on the team’s behalf.
- Calling time-outs.
- Participating in the coin toss.
Decide how long the game will last.For a full-length game, plan for an hour of total playing time. Divide the game into four quarters, with 15 minutes to each quarter. For a quicker match, feel free to shorten the overall time.Simply divide that time into four equal quarters. Or, for a very short game, simply have two short halves of ten minutes each.
- Also, decide how long of a break you will have between each quarter and half. The break between the second and third quarter (halftime) is typically the longest. The other two breaks are of equal length.
- Break times vary from league to league in football.Halftime can be anywhere from five to twelve minutes.Breaks between quarters are usually one or two minutes.
Starting the Game
Flip a coin.Have the captain from each team meet with the referee and choose which side they will be: heads or tails. Then have the referee flip a coin. Allow the winner to choose which end zone they would like to protect in the first half or which team will start the game with possession of the ball.
- In the second half, have each team switch sides and protect the other end zone.This way, no one team will benefit from unfair advantages, such as a steady wind blowing from one end of the field to the other for the whole game.
- Alternately, at the beginning of the third quarter you could also allow the loser of the coin toss a chance to choose which end zone they would like to protect in the second half.
- If you have no strong kickers, you can also the kickoff and start instead by granting the winner first down, starting from their five-yard line.
Start with a kick off.Direct each team toward the end zones determined by the coin toss. The team kicking off should place the ball at their 20 yard line.Either set it directly on the ground or on a kicking tee, or have a player hold it in place for the kicker. Once the referee blows the whistle to start the game, kick the ball toward the other team. Whoever catches the ball on the other team may:
- Run the ball toward the opposite zone.
- Execute a forward pass to another teammate.
Start with a snap instead.If you have no strong kickers, forget the kick-off. Simply start the game at the 5 yard line of whichever team possesses the ball according to the coin toss.Line at least four players along the line of scrimmage, with the “center” (the player snapping the ball to the quarterback) in the center of the field. Place the quarterback behind the center. At the whistle, proceed to play as you would after your first down.
- A snap is the backward pass from center to quarterback. It must be passed from between the center’s legs.
- 'A down is the interval of time when the ball is in play, starting from the center “snapping” the ball and ending with a touchdown or the ball going “dead” (meaning when an offensive player’s flag is removed by a defender or they go out of bounds). A player is also declared “down” when the ball is declared "dead."
- The lines of scrimmage are two parallel lines extending from sideline to sideline, with each line crossing one end of the football, which in this case is placed on the 5 yard line with either end pointing toward an end zone.
- The neutral zone is the area between each line of scrimmage at the start of each down. Neither team may cross into the neutral zone until the ball is “snapped.”
Cover the most ground possible.Whether you receive a kick-off or start with a snap, always aim to carry the ball as far as you can toward the opposite end zone. If you catch a kick-off, pass the ball to a teammate if they have a better chance of gaining more ground.Advance the ball as far as possible until you either reach the end zone and score a touchdown or are declared “down” enroute.
- When catching a kick-off, your entire body must be within bounds for the catch to count.The only exception is if you have to leap into the air to catch the ball, in which case one foot still must land within bounds. This rule is not universal, though, so have all sides agree to it before the start of the game if you wish to adopt it.
- If you are unable to make it all the way to the end zone, you are “down” as soon as your opponents snatch one of your flags or force you out of bounds.
- Although tackling is not permitted, you are still considered “down” if any part of your body other than your hands or feet comes into contact with the ground.
Get ready to play your first down.Place the ball in the center of the field at the exact yard where it went “dead” (that is, the yard line where you were declared “down”). Assemble your team along your line of scrimmage. Position four players at the line of scrimmage itself, with the quarterback positioned behind whoever is playing center and snapping the ball to them.
- To be considered “at” the line of scrimmage, at least one part of your body (foot, upper torso, head, etc.) has to be within a yard of it.
- Replace the flag that was snatched before you get into position. Starting a down with one less flag for your opponents to try for will automatically result in you being declared “down” again.
Snap the ball.Have the center pass the ball to the quarterback from between their legs in one fast, fluid motion. Until they do, the center must not shift their feet or raise their hands once they are in position. Be aware that any false start on the center’s part will result in a five-yard penalty, meaning that you will have to retreat five yards.
- No one is allowed to cross into the neutral zone until the ball has been snapped. Doing so will also result in a five-yard penalty.
- Some rules dictate that all players must refrain from moving at all until the ball is snapped.
- Other rules allow players to move parallel to the line of scrimmage or farther back from it.
Pass or run the ball.Once the ball has been snapped, have the quarterback pass the ball to another player as they advance toward the end zone. Alternately, they can hand the ball off to another player behind the line of scrimmage, or they can run the ball themselves toward the end zone if no one is open. Be aware, however, that they are no longer allowed to pass the ball once they cross the line of scrimmage.
- Only one forward pass is permitted during one down.
- A successful handoff to another player behind the line of scrimmage does not count as a forward pass, meaning this second player can then make a forward pass as long as they don’t cross the line of scrimmage.
- You may make as many backward passes as necessary.
Play four downs.Aim to gain at least ten yards in that time. Once you do, consider your next down your “first,” with four more chances to gain another ten yards. Keep advancing toward the opposite end zone in this manner.
- If you do not gain ten yards in four downs, surrender possession of the ball to your opponents, who may now start their own offensive run from your last line of scrimmage.
- Once the line of scrimmage is within five yards of the end zone, you can only score by throwing a successful pass into the end zone, not by running the ball across the goal line.
Cover each opponent.When the other team assembles along the line of scrimmage to snap the ball, place your own players so that each of the other team’s receivers will be covered once the ball is snapped. Place them as you see fit, since the defensive team is not obligated to place any players directly on the line of scrimmage. However, be sure to follow these rules:
- Do not place a player directly across from your opponent’s center at the line of scrimmage.
- Wait until the ball is snapped before crossing the neutral zone.
Intercept passes and collect fumbles.Turn your defense into an offense at any given opportunity. If possible, try to catch any passes thrown by your opponents and make a run for your end zone. If your opponents drop the ball without going “down,” try to recover it to claim possession for your team.
- If you and your opponent catch the ball at the exact same time, the ball is still theirs.
- Do not physically interfere with an offensive player to prevent them from catching a ball. This will result in a ten-yard penalty.
Snatch their flags.Instead of tackling your opponents, rip one of their flags from their belt or waistband once they catch the ball. If one or more of their flags have come off accidentally, use your hand to touch them anywhere between their shoulders and their knees..
- If your opponent has all of his flags, refrain from touching their body at all. Doing so will automatically grant them an extra ten yards as a penalty against you.
- As soon as you have hold of their flag, raise it in the air so others see that you have it.
Refrain from rough play.Remember that flag football is a much gentler variation on traditional football. Expect roughhousing to be penalized. Avoid physical contact with your opponents, except for their flags. Refrain from:
- Physically forcing your opponent out of bounds.
- Tackling them or trying to injure them with your arms or legs.
QuestionAm I allowed to push someone when I'm blocking?wikiHow ContributorCommunity AnswerAlthough the rules say that you can't push someone with your hands during a match, you are still allowed to shoulder-barge them out of the way if you need to.Thanks!
QuestionCan you throw laterals in flag football?Top AnswererThanks!
QuestionHow do you get a fumble?TippykqpCommunity AnswerKnock the ball out of someone's hands, and then pick it up. As long as the football leaves the player's arms while the player still has their flags, you can pick up the ball as a fumble.Thanks!
QuestionHow many officials are on the field of play?Community AnswerIt depends on how high of a level you play. An NFL game has more than a flag football game would have.Thanks!
QuestionWhat are the different "calls" referees can make during the game?wikiHow ContributorCommunity AnswerThe most common one is holding, which is pretty self-explanatory. Pass interference is another, which is when a receiver or cornerback touches or holds someone in order to make a catch or prevent a catch before the ball is touched. Offside is when you pass the line of scrimmage before the play starts. These are the most common calls, but there are others.Thanks!
QuestionDo defensive linemen have to be in 3 point stance or can they stand straight up?wikiHow ContributorCommunity AnswerIt does not matter, but it will probably depend on your league's rules. It depends if the player is fast as well. If the player is fast, they can use the 3 point; if they are slower, they can stand up.Thanks!
QuestionHow do you catch the ball?wikiHow ContributorCommunity AnswerYou grab it and pull it to your chest. Then you put the point of the football near ether armpit.Thanks!
QuestionWhat do you do when a person pulls your flag out?wikiHow ContributorCommunity AnswerWhen someone pulls out your flag, the play ends. It is the same as being tackled in full-contact football.Thanks!
QuestionWhen you have the ball, can you run while holding it with two hands?wikiHow ContributorCommunity AnswerYes, you can hold the ball with either or both hands.Thanks!
QuestionHow many players have to to stay in, and is blocking allowed?Top AnswererFirst, the only players who must "stay in" to block are the interior linemen (guards, tackles and center). Everyone else is permitted to go downfield, but usually only two to four players go downfield for a pass. Second, blocking is definitely allowed (and encouraged) in flag football.Thanks!
- Since flag football is based on American football, distances are traditionally expressed in yards. One yard equals 0.9 meters, which means you can either convert measurements exactly or simply round up to one meter.
Video: How to Play Flag Football (7v7)
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