What Is Flag Football? The Ultimate Guide

Kids playing flag football.

Football is a fast and hard-hitting sport that’s highly watched across the United States. Playing the game of football is not always a possibility or desire for some due to the forceful impacts it presents. There’s an alternative, though: flag football.

So, what is flag football?

Flag football is a non-contact version of football, where players wear and pull flags to down their opponents. Flag football is safe and popular for all ages, and retains the passing, running, and scoring aspects of traditional football. The rules for flag football also vary from league to league.

Flag football is a popular alternative to the traditional game that we’ve all come to love. Within the flag football landscape, there are different formats and rules to ensure there’s a league for everyone.

Throughout the rest of this article, we’re going to dive into the different formats out there, the positions of flag football, and the rules—so keep reading!

What Is Flag Football?

Flag football is a variant of football that prioritizes safety and reduces physical contact between players. Instead of tackling opponents to the ground, players must remove a flag or flag belt from the ball carrier to end a down.

This modification creates a more accessible version of the sport, allowing a wider range of participants to enjoy the game.

In terms of structure, flag football largely resembles traditional football, with teams striving to score points by advancing the ball down the field and ultimately crossing their opponent’s goal line. 

However, a few key differences between the two versions of the sport are worth noting:

  • Field size: A flag football field is shorter and narrower than a regulation football field. Typically, flag football fields measure 30 yards wide and 70 yards long, with two 10-yard end zones and a midfield line-to-gain.
  • No run zones: To prevent power football in tight spaces, no run zones are established 5 yards before each end zone and on either side of the midfield line-to-gain. In these areas, teams must rely on passing plays to advance the ball.
  • Number of players: Flag football teams typically field fewer players than standard football teams, often opting for smaller rosters of 5 to 7 players.
  • Tackling: Tackling is replaced by the act of deflagging, where the defender must remove a flag or flag belt from the ball carrier to end the play. This rule significantly reduces the risk of injury and allows for a safer, more inclusive playing environment.

With these adaptations, flag football has become a popular alternative to traditional football, offering a safer and more accessible experience for players of all ages and skill levels. 

The sport’s emphasis on strategy, teamwork, and athleticism ensures that the essence of football remains intact, even as the nature of physical contact is redefined.

History of Flag Football

Flag football is an increasingly popular iteration of the traditional football game. The sport’s origins can be traced back to Fort Meade, Maryland, USA, which is widely recognized as the birthplace of flag football. 

Its evolution into a distinct sport began in the early 20th century, following an intervention by President Theodore Roosevelt to regulate violent plays and prevent injuries.

The creation of flag football was greatly impacted by military personnel, who began developing the sport on military bases in Fort Meade, Maryland. 

After returning home from service, many former soldiers carried their passion for flag football with them, establishing youth and adult leagues all across the United States. As a result, the sport rapidly gained popularity among the public.

Flag football preserves many aspects of traditional football, such as scoring points and executing strategic plays. However, it significantly reduces bodily contact, replacing tackling with the act of pulling flags to down opponents. 

This approach makes flag football accessible to a wider demographic, suitable for all ages and skill levels and provides a safer alternative to the rough physicality of its tackling counterpart.

The first national flag football organization, the National Touch Football League, was established in St. Louis, Missouri during the 1960s. This solidified flag football’s status as an organized sport, and since 1971, the league has held a national championship game to determine the top team in the country. 

The NFL has also played a role in popularizing flag football, establishing its own NFL Flag Football Rules, and organizing affiliated leagues.

Rules of Flag Football

Man running with the ball in flag football.

Flag football is a variant of football, where the defensive team must remove a flag or flag belt from the ball carrier (“deflagging”) to end a down instead of tackling players to the ground. The game is designed to minimize contact while emphasizing agility, endurance, and strategy.

Flag football rules can vary from league to league, with NFL Flag being the largest flag football organization in the US. They provide a standard rule book for all of their teams, usually playing five on five, although some leagues outside of NFL Flag might play seven on seven.

The game is played on a smaller field than traditional football, which makes it more accessible to a wider range of players. The objective remains the same: to score points by advancing the ball to the opponent’s end zone.

In flag football, there is no blocking, kicking, or fumbles. The quarterback must release the ball or cross the line of scrimmage within four seconds of receiving the snap. The defense must wait two seconds to rush, and only one lateral is allowed per play, except for throw-offs and punt returns.

The quarterback cannot run unless rushed.

Eligible players must wear flags on their waists, making it possible for defenders to end a play by pulling the flag from the ball carrier. This removal of flags reduces the risk of injury by eliminating hard-hitting tackles, making the sport more suitable for players of all ages and skill levels.

In terms of scoring, flag football shares similarities with traditional football, where touchdowns earn points, and teams can attempt extra points or two-point conversions after scoring. However, there are nuances in the rules, which may vary between leagues.

Can You Rush in Flag Football?

In flag football, rushing is allowed in specific situations. The main goal of rushing is to disrupt the quarterback’s attempt to pass the ball and force them to make mistakes. The defense plays an essential role in this aspect of the game.

Can the Quarterback Run in Flag Football?

Although the quarterback’s primary role is to pass the ball to their teammates, they can also run in certain circumstances. However, the rules surrounding quarterback rushing vary, depending on the specific league and its regulations. 

Generally, quarterbacks are allowed to run if the defense decides to blitz or rush them from the designated rush line.

In a typical game, the rush line is set seven yards from the line of scrimmage on the defensive side. Any defender positioned behind this line can attempt to rush the quarterback. It is essential for the defense to come up with rushing tactics since they cannot simply rush the quarterback on every down.

Rushing can be a powerful defensive tool if used effectively, as it puts pressure on the quarterback, forcing them to act quickly and make hurried decisions. 

When a defender manages to break through the offensive line and reach the quarterback, they can “pull” the quarterback’s flag to secure a sack—effectively taking down the player and stopping the play.

Scoring in Flag Football

Scoring in flag football mainly consists of touchdowns, safeties, and point after touchdown (PAT) attempts.

A touchdown is worth 6 points, similar to tackle football. To score a touchdown, the offensive team must advance the ball into the opponent’s end zone by either running or passing. The offensive team typically has three downs to score once they cross midfield.

PAT attempts allow teams to earn additional points after scoring a touchdown. In flag football, PATs can come in three different denominations – 1 point, 2 points, or 3 points. 

To attempt a 1-point PAT, teams pass the ball from the 5-yard line. For a 2-point PAT, they run or pass the ball from the 10-yard line. A 3-point PAT requires a pass play from the 20-yard line.

Safeties occur when the offensive team is tackled or flagged in their own end zone, resulting in 2 points for the defensive team. Additionally, the defensive team gains possession of the ball at their own 5-yard line after a safety is scored.

Different Types of Flag Football

There are multiple versions of flag football, each with its own unique set of rules and regulations. One such variant is 7 on 7 football, which is typically played in middle schools, high schools, and communities across the United States. 

This type of flag football focuses on passing plays and emphasizes skill development in a safer environment. Other countries, such as Mexico and Panama, also participate in international flag football competitions, including the World Games. 

These global events help promote the sport and foster camaraderie among athletes. Flag football has gained popularity in recent years as an alternative to traditional tackle football, offering a more accessible option for a wider range of participants.

In addition to traditional flag football, variations like Canadian flag football exist, which feature rules more closely aligned with Canadian Football League (CFL) regulations. These differences may include field size, player positions, and scoring systems.

The NFL has also embraced flag football, offering NFL FLAG leagues for youth players. NFL FLAG programs aim to provide a fun and educational environment for players to learn, develop skills, and enjoy the sport of football.

With a focus on sportsmanship and teamwork, NFL FLAG leagues have become a popular choice for parents, schools, and communities looking for a safer alternative to tackle football.

Flag Football Positions

Youth flag football coaches talking to their team.

The quarterback is responsible for leading the offense. They call the plays, throw passes, and occasionally run with the ball. They need to have a good understanding of the game and be able to make quick decisions under pressure.

On the offensive side, linemen are typically centers who snap the ball to the quarterback. The center position in flag football is important, as they set the ball in motion for each play. Centers must have good hand-eye coordination and be able to accurately snap the ball to the quarterback.

The defense, on the other hand, consists of a mix of positions such as defensive linemen, linebackers, and defensive backs. Their main goal is to prevent the offense from scoring by removing the flags of the players carrying the ball. 

Defensive linemen and linebackers focus on applying pressure on the quarterback, while defensive backs cover the receivers downfield. Aside from the quarterback and center, offensive players include wide receivers and running backs. 

Wide receivers are responsible for running designated routes to catch passes thrown by the quarterback. Running backs, in contrast, take the handoff from the quarterback and either run with the ball or throw it to another teammate.

Who Starts With the Ball in Flag Football?

In flag football, the team that starts with the ball is determined by a coin toss at the beginning of the game. The winning team of the coin toss has the option to either start with the ball or defer their choice to the second half.

The team that starts with the ball begins its offensive drive at a designated line of scrimmage. This line marks the starting point for both the offense and defense in each play.

Are there Kickoffs in Flag Football?

In most flag football leagues, there are no kickoffs. Instead, games begin with a coin toss to determine which team will start with the ball and from a designated line of scrimmage.

The absence of kickoffs not only reduces the risk of injuries but also simplifies the game, making it accessible for players of all ages and skill levels. Since contact is prohibited in flag football—including tackling, diving, and blocking—eliminating kickoffs further emphasizes the sport’s non-contact nature.

Despite the absence of kickoffs, flag football still involves kicking aspects such as punts and field goal attempts.

Why Should You Play Flag Football?

One of the key differences between flag football and tackle football is the method of stopping the ball carrier. Instead of tackling, defenders in flag football remove a flag or flag belt from the ball carrier to end a down.

This makes the game safer, particularly for younger athletes, while still providing the excitement and strategic elements of traditional football.

Flag football is an excellent sport for long-term athletic development. Since no physical contact is involved, it allows athletes to focus on their skills, such as catching and running with the ball, without the risk of injuries commonly associated with tackle football. 

This can lead to a stronger foundation for athletes looking to transition to tackle football at a later time.

Playing flag football helps build teamwork, leadership, and sportsmanship. As a team sport, it encourages cooperation, strategic planning, and effective communication among players. Moreover, it helps athletes develop self-confidence on and off the field.

With a 5 on 5 format, flag football provides every player with a chance to make an impact on the game. The focus on skill over size and strength creates an environment where athletes of all shapes and sizes can excel, while also making the sport more inclusive and accessible.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

What Are Mississippi’s in Football?

In flag football, the term “Mississippi” is used to count seconds during a play. The defense will count Mississippis out loud to give the quarterback a designated amount of time to throw the ball. The defense must wait for a specific number of Mississippis before rushing the passer.

Is Flag Football Coed?

Flag football is a coed sport, meaning both men and women can participate. The International Federation of Football (IFAF) emphasizes the importance of inclusivity in the sport.

How Big Is a Flag Football Field?

A flag football field is smaller than a standard tackle football field. It is typically 30 yards wide and 70 yards long with two 10-yard end zones. Additionally, there are no run zones located 5 yards before the end zone and on each side of the midfield line-to-gain.

Is Flag Football Good for Kids?

Flag football is an excellent sport for kids. Since it eliminates tackling and other forms of physical contact, it prioritizes safety while still teaching fundamental football skills such as passing, catching, and teamwork.

How Long Are Flag Football Games?

Flag football game lengths vary by league. Recreational and youth games usually last 30-40 minutes, while adult leagues play 60-minute games split into two halves. Shorter durations suit the non-contact nature of flag football, offering a fast-paced and enjoyable experience for all players.

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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