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Rules Of American Football – Beginners Guide

American football can be a complicated game for those who are unfamiliar with it. In this article, we’re going to show you everything you need to know, including the rules of American Football.

By the end of this article, you will have a better understanding and watch football on TV with no confusion or misunderstanding of the game.

Let’s get started.

Rules Of American Football

Before we talk about the rules, first, we need to show you the playing surface that football players play on.

Football games are played on grass or artificial turf surfaces. This all depends on what the athletic admistration decides to play on. There are no requirements.

How Long Is The Football Field ?

American football is played on a field that is 120 yards in length and 53.3 yards in width. This is standard for all American football fields, no matter if it’s professional or youth football.

From goal line to goal line, the field measures 100 yards in length. Each endzone is 10 yards, so from the back of the endzone to the other back of the endzone is 120 yards.

Football fields were first originally measured in feet. This means football fields were 360 feet by 160 feet. The measurements were then converted to yards, which means all of the numbers got divided by 3 (3 feet in 1 yard). This is why it is 53.3 yards when talking about the width.

How Many Players Are On The Field?

There are 22 football players on the field at all times. 11 on the offense and 11 on the defense. Teams may choose to have fewer players but may not have any more than 11.

If any team has more than 11 players, it will result in a penalty.

Learn more about the individual players on the field and their positions here.

Coin Toss

Every game starts with a coin toss. Both teams will elect “captains” to meet at midfield with the referees. From here, the referee will flip a coin in the air. The away team will call “heads” or “tails” while the coin is in the air. If it lands on the side that the away team called, they will decide what to do to start the game. The 4 options are:

  • Kick
  • Receive
  • Defer
  • Defend A Zone

The team that wins the coin toss will have the option to choose one of the 4 options.

Game Rules

Football is played in quarters. Professional and college teams will play 4, 15 minute quarters.

Youth and high school teams play 4, 12 minute quarters.

At the end of the second quarter, teams will go to their locker room for halftime. This is a break in the game where players can rest, and coaches can make adjustments.

The team that has the winning score at the end of the 4 quarters will win the game.

Kickoff & Kick Return

To start the game, one team will kick the football, and one team will receive the football. Whoever kicks to start the game will receive at the start of the second half.

Kickoff teams are required to line up in a straight line, with the kicker in the middle. From here, the kicker will kick the ball off of a tee to the kick return team.

The kick return team will then try to return the ball for as many yards as they can.

Once the kick return team player is tackled, both the offense and defense will come on the field.

Downs In Football

American football rules are based on the offense successfully or unsuccessfully moving the ball past the 10-yard marker.

On the sideline, there will be chains and a down marker that looks like this.

Offenses have 4 opportunities (referred to as downs) to move the ball 10 yards. If they successfully move the football 10 yards, they will have another 4 chances to move the ball 10 yards.

If the offense does not move the ball 10 yards in 4 downs, the other team’s offense will come on the field to try to score points.

Moving The Football

For the offense to move the football, they will either run or pass the football.

Running the football is easier, as the quarterback will hand the ball off to another player. They will try to gain as many yards as they can before they are tackled.

The other option is to pass the football. This means the quarterback will throw the football through the air to another offensive player.

Each time a player runs or catches the football, they are trying to score a touchdown.

How Many Points A Touchdown Is Worth

A touchdown in football is worth 6 points. Offenses in football will try to score as many touchdowns as possible while they have possession of the football. The main goal of football is to score touchdowns.

To score a touchdown in football, a player on the offense (or defense) must control the football and pass the goal line. The goal line is the thick white stripe that is the start of the endzone.

When an offensive player crosses the goal line, the referee will put his hands in the air to signal a touchdown like this.

After a touchdown is scored, teams can kick a field goal or go for a two-point conversion.

It’s very common to see a team kick a field goal, which means they will kick the ball off the ground and in between the field goal post. If successful, the team that scored a touchdown will be awarded one point.

Another option is for the offense to run another play. This is called a two-point conversion. If successful, the scoring team will be awarded two points.

The other way for an offense to score points in football is by kicking a field goal before they score a touchdown. If the offense kicks a successful field goal, it will be worth 3 points.

Scoring A Field Goal

If the offense moves the ball into the defense’s territory but runs into a situation where it’s fourth down, they may elect to kick a field goal.

A field goal before a touchdown is scored worth 3 points but only worth one point after a touchdown (as noted above).

A team may line up to kick a field goal at any point during the game. If the ball is successfully kicked through the uprights, the referee will put his hands in the air signaling the attempt is good. 3 points will be awarded to the kicking team.

These are the two ways that an offense can score points.

Defensive Scoring

While the defense is trying to prevent the offense from scoring a touchdown or a field goal, they can also score points for their team.


The defense can intercept the pass from the quarterback anytime the ball is in the air. If they successfully catch it, the defense’s offense will come on the field once their defensive player is tackled.

If the defensive player intercepts the ball and doesn’t get tackled, he can score points for his team. This is also known as a pick-6.

Fumble Recovery

Teams who like to run the football may have the ball stripped or taken from a defensive player. When the ball is on the ground (or taken), the defense can pick it up and score a touchdown. If they get tackled, then the offense will take the field.

This is known as a “turnover.”


A safety is a unique way to score points in football. It happens when the defense tackles a ball carrier in the offenses’ own endzone.

The defense is awarded 2 points, and the other team will have to kick the ball to them on the kickoff.

If you want to learn more about the safety, we recommend you check out this article which covers scoring a safety.

Overtime Rules

In the rare case of a tie game, teams will go into overtime.

There are two types of overtimes in football for both professional, college & high school teams.

Learn more about the overtime rules here.

Penalties In Football

Football is organized chaos. Teams are physically battling each other for leverage and positioning. Tackles are being made and missed.

To keep players from being too aggressive, football has penalities. Penalties are identified in football by the yellow flags that are thrown on the ground. If the referee sees a penalty, they will throw their flag on the ground at any point in time.

Offensive Penalties

Most of the penalties you see during the game will be on offense. This is because one of the more common penalties in football, on offense, is holding. This occurs when an offensive player holds the jersey or piece of equipment and impedes the defensive player from making a tackle.

Learn more about legal and illegal blocks in football here.

Offensive players must also remain still until the ball the snapped. Only 1 player can move, but if any more than 1 player moves, it will be a penalty.

Here is a complete list of penalties and referee signals to help you learn more about offensive penalties.

Defensive Penalties

Regarding defensive penalties, most of the penalties that are called are in regards to unnecessary roughness, not lining up properly, or not allowing the offensive player a fair chance at catching the football.

One of the most common defensive penalties is pass interference. This means the defensive player prevented the offensive player from catching the football.

Players need to be able to lineup properly to not get flagged; this means they need to line up on their side of the football and not go past the line of scrimmage.

Learn more about offsides, neutral zone infractions, and encroachment here.

Like the offense, the defense cannot hold a wide receiver or running back without the football. Facemasks are also not able to be grabbed, as safety is the main concern in football.

Learn more about referee signals on defense here.

Positions In Football

There are many positions in football. All of these positions have certain roles and responsibilities.

Some players are able to run and catch the football; others are not. It’s important to know what each player does, such as the quarterback, to help you better understand how the game is played.

We’ve made a complete guide on positions on both the offensive and defensive sides of the ball. View the positions guide here.

Keep Learning

The rules of American football can be complicated when you try to learn them all at once. We recommend you go through (again) each part of this blog and piece together the game for yourself.

We have some great resources available that can help you learn at an accelerated rate.

Our learning center is packed with information regarding technique, scheme, and more!

If you’re looking for more in-depth breakdowns & coaching resources, visit our coaching resource page here.