Flag football is a sport that shares many similarities with its counterpart but also has some key differences. There are no tackling players, and instead, each team must have at least four male and female players on the field. The game’s goal is to carry or throw an object into the opposing team’s end zone to score points. Players can tackle opponents by pulling off their flags from belt loops and clothespins attached to sleeves (or even hats).
The game is played in a large rectangle-shaped field. The field is the same size and shape as an American football field, but there are two key differences: no end zones (touchdowns) and no goalposts. There are out-of-bounds lines every ten yards on each side of the field.
There are 11 players per team—one player for each point of a first down a marker in American Football. Plus, three more “backs” who play behind the line to catch or pass the ball when it’s kicked from outside the bounds of the opposing teams’ territory. A typical flag football game lasts 20 minutes without overtime if tied at halftime, including timeouts that either team can call.
The bases for tackles are the legs, not the ball carrier’s waist, as in American Football and rugby. This rule is implemented to eliminate injuries, such as concussions caused by players tackling around a player’s waist area or groin area. Players must also use their arms when they tackle someone else. If contact is made with only one arm, it will cause a five-yard penalty from where the play originally started (not where contact was made).
When two opposing teams have possession of the football at once and then collide, both opponents go down on top of each other. Still, neither has gained control of the ball unless there is a clear separation between them before one gets up again. Thus, tackling the other player.
Suppose an opposing team pulls a player’s flag is pulled off their belt and falls to the ground. They are down or out until another member from that same team picks up that player’s fallen flag before it touches the ground. Here of “flag guarding,” if the ball-carrier who lost their flag gets tackled or goes out of bounds with no teammate picking up their fallen banner before said flag hits the floor.
All players on both teams will get back in line after one play (except those who did not have possession). The game resumes where it left off unless there was a turnover during the previous play. This would cause starting at either the spot of the ball when it was turned over or at the opponent’s goal line if they were in possession.
Three one-minute time-outs are allowed per team during each game without penalty. However, these can only be used by a player from their team and not on behalf of their teammates.
The first three downs that an offensive play reaches will cause either:
• If no yardage is gained after a scrimmage isn’t called until the third down.
• If there are less than ten yards to go on third down for an automatic first down.
• An incomplete pass or interception results in the fourth degree (kickoff). Fourth-degree punts are returnable with touchback rules applying inside opponents’ territory but not on their side of the field.
The offensive team has four downs to gain a first down or score, and if they do, it results in a changeover of possession (change of ball). If the defense forces an incompletion or interception, they have possession until either:
• They go three-and-out themselves.
• Score a defensive touchdown.
• The offensive team scores before time expire.
Suppose there is not enough yardage for another first down after a fourth-degree punt. The opponent’s territory makes returns with less than ten yards remaining for an automatic first down. This ends up being third down. Only one running play can be attempted per turn over without penalty as long as it’s within three minutes left in the game.
The defense has four downs to prevent an offensive team’s first down or touchdown, but possession will change over if they cannot do so. This becomes second-and-ten for the opposing offense on their 20-yard line. The clock continues running during a play stoppage as long as over one minute is left in the fourth quarter.
Suppose a player commits unsportsmanlike conduct such as taunting after contacting someone else (excluding tackling). They will be penalized by being removed from that game. However, this penalty does not apply inside of their opponent’s ten-yard limit unless its repeated actions against the same person multiple times would cause removal from the rest of the game.
The top Flag Football plays provide maximum opportunity for running backs to carry out difficult yardage or make short throws while also preventing their opponents from doing so themselves. Thus, this can cause either victory through crossing into their opponent’s end zone with the football during these attempts or jump-ball situations on third down where one player pulls their opponent to the ground. But he doesn’t get control of the ball first before said player falls off balance.
There is no set way of playing flag football. You can design your own rules to suit different purposes and skill levels, but whatever you do, be sure that all players are having fun!
The most important thing about this game is the spirit in which it’s played, so have fun with it! Good luck with your next match-up!