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Flag Football Glossary

Get a rundown of the basics of NFL FLAG Football, from the rules, equipment and positions on the field.

Jump to:  Player Positions  |  The Field  |  The Game  |  Equipment  |  Scoring  |  Fouls  |  Timing  |  Rules

Player Positions


The center snaps the ball to the quarterback and then can run for a pass as a receiver.

The quarterback receives the snap and passes the ball or hands it off. A quarterback is not allowed to run with the ball after the snap.

The running back takes a handoff and runs with the ball or throws it. A running back is also eligible to receive a pass.

Depending on the play, some five-on-five teams field three receivers, or two receivers and a running back. The receiver runs designated routes to catch a pass (usually right and left receivers).


The defensive back covers wide receivers, either man-to-man or zone.

The rusher attempts to prevent the quarterback from passing the ball (must be at least seven feet off the line of scrimmage at the snap to rush the passer).

The safety stands farther back from the line of scrimmage and is responsible for stopping opponents who get loose.

The Field

To accommodate a smaller team size, a flag football field is shorter than a typical football field at 30 yards wide and 70 yards long, with two 10-yard end zones and a midfield line-to-gain.

The part of the field directly behind the line of scrimmage.

The outer perimeter lines around the field, including the sidelines and back of the end zone lines.

The two end zones, located on opposite sides of the field, are the scoring areas. The goal line, which a player must cross to score a touchdown, is the start of the end zone.

The line the offense must cross to get a first down or score.

This is an imaginary line that expands the width of the field and runs through the point of the football. It indicates where teams can’t cross until the play has begun.

The rules for flag football include no run zones that are located five yards before each goal line and the midfield. If the ball is spotted within a no run zone, the offensive team must use a pass play to earn a first down or touchdown. The objective is to prevent power football in tight spaces, limiting contact.

The Game

The team who has possession of the ball and is trying to advance to the opponent’s end zone for a touchdown.

The team who doesn’t have possession of the ball and is trying to prevent the other team from scoring by pulling the ball-carrier’s flags down. 

This refers to the period of time directly before or after a play, when the ball isn’t in motion. Flag football rules are more strict about deadlines: they commonly happen when the ball touches the ground, the ball-carrier’s flag is pulled from their belt, the ball-carrier steps out of bounds, the ball-carrier’s body — outside of their hands or feet — touches the ground, the pass is incomplete, the ball-carrier’s flag falls out or the receiver has one or no flags when catching the ball.

A down is the period after the ball is snapped and the team is attempting to advance down the field. In flag football rules, teams have four downs to cross midfield. If they successfully cross midfield within four downs, then they have three downs to score a touchdown.

This flag football term happens when the ball-carrier prevents a defender from pulling down their flags. For example, they might stiff arm, cover their flag with their open hand, or lower their elbow. It is illegal and results in a penalty.

A backward or sideway toss of the ball by the ball-carrier. Laterals are not permitted according to youth flag football rules. 

This is the period of time when the ball and play is in motion. It’s generally used in regard to penalties — live ball penalties are enforced before the down is considered complete.

The passer is the person throwing the ball. In flag football, the passer doesn’t necessarily have to be the quarterback.

An imaginary line running across the width of the field seven yards (into the defensive side) from the line of scrimmage. In other words, any defensive player who is positioned seven yards off the line of scrimmage is eligible to rush.

The defensive player assigned to rush the quarterback to prevent him/her from passing the ball by pulling his/her flags or blocking the pass. Offensive players must steer clear of the rusher. When the ball is handed off, any defender may rush.

A pitch attempted beyond the line of scrimmage. The quarterback “shovels” the ball directly forward to a receiver. These are legal, whereas laterals and pitches are illegal plays, according to flag football rules.


The standard “sneaker” type shoes players wear on game day. Cleats include studs on the bottom of each shoe that provide improved traction for players running on grass or turf. Metal cleats are not allowed in most flag football leagues.

Every player needs a flag football set, including flag football flags and belt. There are a few different kinds of flags for flag football on the market — some are fastened on the belt by Velcro, others by a pop socket that emits a noise when pulled.

Not required, but definitely a plus!

The rules of flag football require a mouthguard, and it’s the only protective gear that players wear.

Players wear shorts without pockets to avoid penalties and finger injuries.


The most valuable score in football, a touchdown is worth six points. A player scores a touchdown if he or she carries the ball across the goal line into the other team’s end zone or catches the ball within the opponent’s end zone.

After scoring a touchdown, a team can choose to earn one or two extra points. The team earns one extra point if a runner carries the ball across the goal line or catches the ball within the end zone starting from the five-yard line. By doing the same thing from the 10-yard line, the team can earn two extra points.

A safety occurs when the ball-carrier is declared down in their own end zone. This happens when their flag is pulled by a defensive player, their flag falls out, their knee or arm touches the ground, or if a snapped ball lands in the end zone. A safety is worth two points. 


All flag football penalties are assessed from the line of scrimmage, except for spot fouls. Spot fouls are penalties that are assessed from the spot on the field where the foul occurred.

Offensive spot fouls are assessed from the spot on the field where the foul occurred. All of these flag football penalties result in a loss of down. But any loss of down on third down results in a turnover, with the other team taking possession.

You’ll find that many defensive flag football penalties are behavior-oriented and can take on several definitions. Unsportsmanlike conduct, for example, can include any physical acts, like intentional tackling, elbows, or cheap shots. Verbal abuse and confrontational language are also prohibited. Referees can also penalize fans who aren’t keeping the field safe and kid-friendly.

Similar to defensive flag football penalties, offensive flag football penalties include infractions for unsportsmanlike behavior, whether it’s physical or verbal. On offense, there are also penalties for improper movements on the line of scrimmage, such as moving before the play starts or delaying the game. For example, each time the ball is spotted, a team has 25 seconds to snap the ball. Delay-of-game penalties are enforced after one warning.


Halftime is the intermission period between the first and second halves. During halftime, both teams leave the field and prepare for the second half of the game.

Games are two 15- to 25-minute halves, depending on the league.

If a player is injured, an official can call an injury timeout so the player may leave the field to get medical attention.

The quarterback has a seven-second pass clock to get rid of the ball.

Each team has three timeouts that they can use to stop the clock.


Typically there are two officials assigned to each NFL FLAG football game, although a third official may be assigned to the game depending on the league’s discretion. Learn how to become a NFL FLAG referee.