Learning how to play flag football will let you teach Pop Warner age kids to play ball safely, give you a fun alternative to tackle football at a family get-together or even start up your own college intramural league. Flag football takes out the most physically demanding and dangerous part of football – tackling – and forces players to use footwork and quick hands to keep plays alive or end the play on defense. Otherwise, most other football skills (passing, catching, running, kicking) are utilized.
In my freshman year at the university, my dorm had a signup for an intramural flag football league. Now, in those days, I was one of the tough guys who played tackle football and got thrills from seeing who was the fastest and toughest guy on the field. So I wasn’t exactly sure about participating in flag football. A friend of mine convinced me it would be a chance to meet some friends around the dorm and, more importantly, some athletic girls (translation: girls that were “in shape”), so I took the dive.
Next thing you know, I’m helping to organize practices and draw up plays for our flag football team. We had a great time and the game turned out to be pretty competitive. Don’t worry; I didn’t turn into one of those uber competitive guys, mainly because I didn’t want the women folk thinking I was a psycho. But we had a good time, flag football helped stave off one or two of the “freshman ten” and I met some people I wouldn’t have met otherwise.
That’s why I mentioned intramural flag football above. You college football lovers can take the idea and run with it.
But let’s talk about how to play flag football.
Flag Football Equipment
One Regulation Football (aired)
Plastic Cones (to mark endzones)
Yellow Flag Football Flags (torn strips of bright yellow cloth)
Flag Football Belts (to thread the flags through)
Football Cleats (recommended – not required)
Wide Open Field (play on the college soccer field or football practice field)
Divide the Teams
To play flag football, both sides will need to have an equal number of players. Whether you have 5 men a team or 7 men a team or 11 men a team, make sure they are equal. If you get close to a regulation number of players, have some of them block and/or rush the passer.
Pick Out Positions
First off, decide who the quarterback will be. This should be a player who can throw the ball, while at the same time having the mobility to escape the rush. The quarterback should be one or your 1-2 best athletes on the field. Preferably, he should be tall, to see the field better.
In an intramural game, one of the guys is likely to be the designated quarterback. If one or both of the women can throw the ball effectively, draw up a few plays that take advantage of this skill. That is likely going to throw the defense off, with a few misdirections involving a female passer.
If you have a star softball player or pitcher on your team, try her out at quarterback. Be open-minded, because some softballers can be highly skilled throwers.
Pick a Running Back
Picking your running backs can be important, too. One, look for someone who is evasive and fast. Also, if they can throw the ball, that’s a plus, because the ball carrier can perform the halfback option throw more often in flag football. And if they have the wherewithal to block a little, that can be a huge help in flag football, because the rush gets to the passer often.
Select receivers based on speed and catching ability. If you’re playing intramural flag football, select a couple of women to go out in the pass patterns. Select the ones with the best hands. These can be valuable players, because they are likely to draw female defenders and you might be able to exploit mismatches.
Set Boundaries for the Field
You’ll need at least four cones and more likely eight. Put the four cones where the four goal line pylons would be in a normal tackle football game. This will mark not only the goal lines, but also the out-of-bounds lines.
Set a Time Limit or Scoring Limit
This will help decide who wins. Many leagues have a standard 1 hour or 1:30 hour time limit and whoever is ahead at the end wins. You can also decide a number to go to. Whoever scores that number first wins.
Playing Flag Football
Flag football rules are quite similar to tackle football. Teams will have four downs to get ten yards. Teams will have to snap the ball from one offensive player to the other. The defense will need to cover players in pass routes, while rushing the quarterback to pressure him into quick throws, while also stopping any run plays that develop.
The major difference in tackle football and flag football is how game play is stopped. Instead of plays ending when the ball carrier is tackled to the ground, the play ends when the ball carrier has one of his or her flags pulled from the flag belt.
Flag Football Flags
Each player will have 2 to 4 flags (about a foot long) threaded through their flag belt. The flags should be placed on either hip for two flags or down the length of the legs and buttocks for four flags. These flags should be fitted where they won’t fall out on their own, but can be pulled out with relative ease if you give them a good yank.
When a person gets the ball, the defensive players will swarm to the ball carrier and try to yank one of the flags loose. As soon as this happens, the play ends, as if that player had been tackled in tackle football.
When the play ends, the ball is resnapped and another play occurs. The offense continues to try to gain first downs and ultimately touchdowns like they would in traditional football, until they run out of plays. When this happens, possession goes over to the other team.
Blocking in Flag Football
Blocking can be a little different in flag football, especially if it’s intramural. Often, the blockers or offensive linemen will have to place their hands behind their back and block the movement of pass rusher or run stoppers purely on footwork and body positioning. This can be frustrating for offensive players used to regular blocking schemes, so check your local rules to see what is allowed. The idea is to take the physicality out of football.
Otherwise, flag football and tackle football are the same. You might buy a flag football rulebook or other football manual, just to help familiarize your teammates with basic football rules. Learning how to play flag football can be rewarding, whatever the rules are, and surprisingly competitive. In the end, take out the tackling and football is still a game of speed, skill, quickness and endurance.