Flag Football: The Role of Each Position on the Field


Coach bends over to talk to youth flag football team.

Flag football is growing in popularity and you or your kids may want to try your hand at the game. But before you can do that, you need to learn more about the roles of each position on the field. So without further ado, let’s break down the basics of each position in flag football.

The quarterback throws and hands the football off to teammates. The center snaps the ball to the quarterback. The running back primarily receives handoffs. Wide receivers and tight ends run designed routes and catch passes. Defensive players try to prevent the offense from scoring.

There are many intricacies to each position, but this is a snapshot of each position in flag football. To learn more about how each position on the field operates, feel free to read the rest of the article.

The Basics of Flag Football

Okay, so you want to jump right into a game. Before you start juking defenders and chasing down flags, you need to set some ground rules. Each player wears a flag (the exact number depends on league rules).

If a defender pulls down your flag, play stops and they are down. Some leagues may also require players to wear mouthguards for safety purposes. Oh and those jerseys? They have to be tucked in at all times.  

If you’re playing recreationally in a league, games are around 40 minutes long, which is much shorter than a college or NFL game, and slightly shorter than your average 48-minute-high school or pee wee game.

Halftime length usually depends on age but it’s usually between 1-5 minutes.

Just like a regular game though, players meet at the center of the field for a coin toss. Whoever wins, decides if they want to start with the ball or start on defense.

The standard field is 70 yards long, with two 10-yard end zones. The game begins on your 5-yard line. Your team gets three downs to cross midfield, and if you do that, you get another three to score a touchdown.

Fail to do so and you turn the ball over. 

A touchdown is six points, and extra points are one point if you score from five yards out or two points from 10 yards out. Okay, now that the basics are covered, let’s get down to some specifics, like…

The Quarterback’s Role in Flag Football

Football lies on field near goal posts.

The quarterback (QB) is considered by some to be the most important position in all of team sports. If the game of football is a battle than your quarterback is the 5-star general.

The game starts and ends with the QB’s decision-making skills. A good QB can be the foundation of your championship team and can be the glue that holds your squad together. So yeah, it’s pretty important. 

When the ball is set down, a team has 30 seconds to snap the ball. Just like tackle, the ball is first touched by the center and snapped between his legs to the QB. This is when the game clock starts.

After the ball is snapped, a referee will start counting out loud to seven. At that point, the QB has two options. The first option is to step back and throw the ball.

Those seven seconds are critical because the quarterback only has that amount of time to read and make a throw.

Finding a receiver can be complicated, as the defense switches up their coverages (more on that later), or sometimes a man just isn’t open. If seven seconds elapse and no pass was thrown, then it’s a loss of down.

Seven seconds might seem like a long time, but it flies by when there’s a flurry of people in front of you. Of course, the quarterback can also hand it off to…

The Running Back’s Role in Flag Football

The running back or “RB” is typically very fast and is capable of making split-second decisions throughout a game.

If the quarterback decides to hand the ball off to the RB, then the seven-second clock stops. At this point, it’s up to the RB to make a play. Most of the time, they will try to find an open hole, or cut to the edge for a big gain.

But, they can also throw the ball. That’s right, your RB can throw up the ball as long as they remain behind the line of scrimmage. If you want to pull out a trick, they can hand the ball off to a receiver.

The only real limit to RB’s bag of tricks is their imagination. So we’ve covered two of the big three skill positions, so let’s cover the third…

Wide Receiver Role in Flag Football

Football on football field.

With better hands than most everyone on the team, wide receivers (WRs) are some of the most athletic and perhaps flashiest players on the field.

While WRs might not be involved in every play, when they do get their hands on the ball, it can be game-changing.

When the ball is snapped, receivers run their designated routes. A slant, post and button hook aren’t just funny-sounding names, they’re important routes used to burn a defender.

Receivers can also stay behind the line of scrimmage and be handed or thrown the ball.

Depending on what your coach draws up, the receiver can run and grab the ball from the QB directly, or run the more complicated “reverse” where the running back grabs the ball before handing it off to a receiver.

If you love running, the WR position is for you. But there’s also the….

The Tight End’s Role in Flag Football

The tight end (TE) position is essentially the same as the wide receiver position but usually doesn’t run as much. Great TEs are usually a little taller and have more muscle.

Their height and power make them great targets for shorter and medium distance passes.

Last but not least, every play begins with…

The Center‘s Role in Flag Football

The center is the least mobile of the offensive positions, but can also be seen as one of the most important. Every play begins with the center snapping the ball.

So while they might not score or throw touchdowns, they are a critical part of every down. Now, to the other side of the ball.

The Importance of Defense in Flag Football

Youth flag football player runs with football as other team chases him.

The defensive side of the ball is where you as a team and coach can get creative. Defensive players have almost unlimited options on how to defend the end zone and not give up a touchdown.

There are two schools of thought when it comes to playing flag football defense. The first thing is to consider how many players you want to rush.

Rushing the QB is a little different than in a normal game of football. If a player wants to rush, they stay seven yards from the line of scrimmage. Once the ball is snapped, they can run at the QB to sack him.

Sacking the QB is HUGE and can help drive the other team back into their territory. But how should non-rushing players play? Well, there are two basic overage options.

Man Coverage in Flag Football

The simpler of the two coverages, man coverage is exactly how it sounds. Each player matches up with an opposing RB, TE or WR and sticks to them.

You can pick who to cover based on where you are on the field, and by how you match up with offensive players.

If your team matches up poorly with the other team, you could try…

Zone Coverage in Flag Football

This is a little more complicated and takes a little longer to learn, but if mastered, can add a whole new level to your team’s game plan.

Zone coverage can mean different things, but the basic idea is that every player defends a zone.

One person might cover the first 10 yards of the field, while another covers the last 20. Three players might also break up the field into the right, middle and left, and cover those areas respectively.

This is a great way to assure every inch of the field is covered at any given time. Careful though, a good quarterback might be able to exploit overlapping areas, exposing the defense and earning easy yardage.

So there you have it. Your flag football basics. Hopefully, this guide helped you better understand the game and got you excited to play flag football!

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Steven G.

My name is Steven and I love everything sports! I created this website to share my passion with all of you. Enjoy!

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