Flag Football: Rules, Plays & Drills

Instructor: Dan Washmuth

Dan has taught college Nutrition, Anatomy, Physiology, and Sports Nutrition courses and has a master's degree in Dietetics & Nutrition.

Flag football can be thought of as the 'cousin' of traditional American football. Want to learn about the rules, plays, and drills of flag football? If so, you came to the right place!

A Less Violent Version of Football

Have you ever watched an NFL football game on TV? If you have, chances are you have seen a vicious tackle that caused an injury or concussion to a player.

Are you a parent of a young child or have a young relative? Would you feel nervous about them playing tackle football, constantly worrying about them getting hurt?

Did you know that there is a version of football that has the same basic rules, principles, and plays as the version you see on TV but with much less contact and chance for injury? This type of football is called flag football, which can be thought of as a 'cousin' of traditional tackle football!

Rules of Flag Football

Overall, the rules of flag football are very similar to the type of football you see on TV. The main difference between these two types of football is that flag football does not involve tackling the opposing player who has the ball. In flag football, each player wears two flags that hang down at their sides from their waist (these flags are often attached to a belt). Instead of tackling an opposing player, you simply pull off one of the flags of the opposing player and the play is stopped.

Flag football involves players trying to grab the flags of the person on the other team who has the ball.
flag football

Most flag football games are played in recreational leagues, intramural leagues in schools and churches, and simple 'pick-up' games in neighborhoods. Since this sport is played in so many different formats and leagues, rules can vary from game to game. Here are some of the most common rules of flag football:

  • The ball usually starts at a specific spot on the field (often the 5- or 14-yard line, depending on the size of the field).
  • Teams are given four downs to try and score a touchdown.
  • Teams can earn an additional set of four downs by advancing the ball a specified distance down the field.
  • If a team does not score within the four downs, the other team gets the ball on their 5- or 14-yard line. This team then gets four downs to try and score a touchdown.


There are many different plays that a team can use when playing flag football. Here is a list of some of the more common plays:

  • Hail-Mary Pass: Several players on a team run far down the field. The quarterback throws the ball as far as he can towards these players with hopes that one of the players from his team will catch the ball.
  • Out Route: A player will run straight down the field for several yards, then quickly turn and run towards the sidelines. The quarterback will throw the ball to this player before he goes out-of-bounds.
  • Quarterback Sneak: The quarterback acts like they are going to pass the ball, but instead runs the ball towards the end-zone.


Since success in flag football often requires players to have good hand-eye coordination and speed, many of the drills used in flag football will focus on improving these skills. The following chart describes some common drills used in this sport:

Drill Description
Pass & Catch Two players pair up and throw the football back and forth between each other. This drill allows a person to practice their throwing and catching skills (which is very important in flag football), as well as hone their hand-eye coordination.
Wind Sprints Wind sprints consist of a player running repeated sprints, with minimal rest breaks of walking or jogging between each sprint. Wind sprints help to improve speed and endurance.
Practice Specific Plays A great drill for a team to do is to simply practice some of the plays they plan on using during a game. For example, if a team plans on using a Hail-Mary pass, they should be sure to practice this play several times before using it in a game.

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