HOW TO PLAY FLAG FOOTBALL

Whether you’re new to the game or looking to brush up on the rules, this guide will teach you the ins and outs of flag football. 

More kids are playing flag football than ever before. And we can see why—it’s engaging, inclusive, and ridiculously fun. 

The best part is: anyone can learn how to play flag football. You don’t need a certain build, skill set or prior experience. Both girls and boys from 5 to 17 years old can sign up for NFL FLAG

 

BASIC FLAG FOOTBALL RULES

Teams play 5 on 5 and each game consists of two halves, usually 15 to 25 minutes long. The clock only stops for halftime, timeouts (each team has 3), or injury, making games quick and competitive.

The most important rule in flag football is that there’s no contact allowed, including tackling, diving, blocking, screening or fumbles. Instead of physically tackling an opponent to the ground, players wear flags that hang along their sides by a belt. Defenders “tackle” the ball-carrier by removing one or both of their flags. The play is also dead when the ball hits the ground, the ball-carrier steps out of bounds, or the ball-carrier’s body—outside of their hands or feet—touches the ground.

FLAG FOOTBALL FIELD

A flag football field is shorter than a standard tackle field at 30 yards wide and 70 yards long, with two 10-yard end zones and a midfield line-to-gain. To prevent power football in tight spaces, no run zones are located 5 yards before the end zone and on each side of the midfield line-to-gain. 


SCORING

Every game starts with a coin toss (there are no kickoffs). The starting team begins on its own 5-yard line and has four downs—essentially four plays—to cross midfield for a first down. 

If the offense fails to advance after three attempts, they can “punt,” meaning they turn over the ball to the opposing team, which then starts from its own 5-yard line. Or they can go for a first down, but if they fail, the opposing team takes over possession from the spot of the ball. 

Once midfield is crossed, the offense has three downs to score a touchdown. A touchdown is 6 points and a safety is 2 points (1-point conversion from the 5-yard line; 2-point conversion from the 10-yard line). 
 


RUNNING

Only direct handoffs are permitted—there are no laterals or pitches. Once the ball has been handed off, all defensive players are eligible to rush. And the person who takes the handoff is allowed to throw the ball from behind the line of scrimmage. So while you’ll see a designated quarterback on the field, several plays actually rely on other teammates to pass the ball. 

Also, under flag football rules, the quarterback can’t run with the ball unless it has been handed to him/her in the backfield. And all players who rush the passer must be a minimum of seven yards from the line of scrimmage when the ball is snapped.  

Lastly, if an offensive player’s flag is pulled when they’re running with the ball, their feet determine where the ball is spotted, not the flag.

RECEIVING

Everyone can receive a pass, including the quarterback, after the ball has been handed off behind the line of scrimmage. When making a catch, players must have one foot in bounds, just like tackle. 

PASSING

Flag football rules state that all passes must go forward and be received beyond the line of scrimmage. Quarterbacks have a seven-second pass clock to get rid of the ball. If they don’t, the play is dead. Center sneak play—where the quarterback hands off to the center as the first handoff of the play—is no longer allowed.