What 1st & 10 Means In Football

Written By: Chris Haddad
Updated: December 29, 2023

Football is a unique sport because of its complexity and unique strategies that actually win the game. Football also has a multitude of sayings and cliches that have been created to make communication easier. What does 1st and 10 mean?

1st and 10 means that it is first down, and there are 10 yards to go to get a first down. The offense has to try to get 10 yards in 4 tries or they will turn the ball over to the other team.

Instead of the referees and announcers saying first down and 10 yards to go, they will say 1st and 10.

This article will show you what other distances mean and how you can identify them in a game.

What 1st and 10 Means In Football

To understand American football, it’s important to understand the basic rules to move the ball downfield.

Other sports, such as soccer and basketball, have a continuous play, where the ball constantly moves back and forth. American football is different; play stops when a player is tackled.

Down & Distance

The offense has 4 chances (otherwise known as downs) to get 10 yards. If they successfully get 10 yards with the 4 downs, the chains that mark off 10 yards will reset. The offense then has another 4 chances to get 10 yards. This continues until the offense scores points or turns the ball over to the defense.

First, players must understand what the down is. The down marker is kept on the field. It will often be shown by this square marker that has a number within it.

First down marker

The number in the down marker is what down it is. For example, if the offense comes onto the field for the first time, it will be 1st and 10. This means it is first down, and the offense has to travel 10 more yards to get another first down.

The distance marker is marked by two bullseye markers, which stretch exactly 10 yards. The distance markers often look like this:

down and distance marker

After each play, the referee will check to see if the football gets past the 10-yard marker. If it doesn’t, the referee will tell the person holding the down marker to change it to the next down.

This process continues the entire game, as the offense will try to score a touchdown.

American Football can be overwhelming. That’s why we created a FREE 9-minute video to help you learn everything you need to learn about football as a beginner.

What Does 2nd, 3rd, and 4th Down Mean?

After the play is over on 1st and 10, the down and yardage will change if the offense doesn’t pass 10 yards.

For example, if it’s 1st and 10, and the offense only gains 3 yards, the new down and distance will be 2nd and 7.

We arrived at 2nd and 7 because the offense didn’t get 10 yards, meaning the down changed to 2nd. Also, the offense only gained 3 yards, so we subtracted 3 from 10 and got 7.

This is how football works as the team tries to get the full 10 yards in 4 tries. 10 yards may not seem like a lot, but with high-flying defenses trying to tackle one player with the football, it’s harder than you may think.

The offense ultimately has 4 chances, or downs, to get a first down. This is what makes football exciting as with each down, the offense can score at any point. Offensive coordinators prepare for every situation possible.

They often have a play sheet that they prepare for any down and distance. For example, they will have a play for 2nd and 7, 3rd and 5, and 4th and 2. Every down and distance situation is covered, and they must be prepared to call it within a 30-second time limit.

This makes American football special, as both coach and player practice every single situation in football. The scheme and situation are the backbones of American football. Although it may seem like chaos, organized chaos allows offenses to move up rapidly and down the field.

What Happens On 4th Down?

As mentioned, the offense has 4 chances to get 10 yards. If they get to a 4th down situation, the team may try to get the 10 yards.

However, there is a risk with trying to get the yards on 4th down.

For example, if the down and distance are 4th and 8, the offensive coach needs to decide if he wants to try to get the 8 yards or punt the football.

The game of football is a field position game. The goal of the defense is to make sure the offense doesn’t have an improved chance of scoring. The way to change the field position is to punt the football on fourth down.

This means the offense will come off the field, and the punt team will come on the field when a player receives the football and kicks it to the other team to change the field position. Here is a video of punting the football to the other team.

Once the team punts the football, the other team’s offense will come on the field, and your defense will come on the field. The down will reset to 1st and 10, and both teams will play from there.

Having the offense run a play on 4th down is a high-risk, high reward situation. If the offense fails to get a first down, the team automatically turns the ball over to the other team, and the defense will come on the field. If they successfully get the first down, the down and distance will reset to 1st and 10.

Keep Learning

The downs are the most important part of football. They let the offense and defense know how much effort it will take to get a first down.

If you like learning about football, we recommend you check out The Beginners Guide To Football below. It has everything you need to improve your football IQ!

To understand the game of football, you must first understand what 1st and 10 means. 1st and 10 is the down and distance it will take to get another first down.

Teams get 4 chances, also known as downs, to get 10 yards. Once 10 yards are reached, the down and distance will reset to 1st and 10. This continues until the team turns the ball over to the other team or scores points.

The down and distance markers are the foundation of football rules, as moving the football up and down the field is all based on the strategy of down and distance.

Let’s keep learning! Our learning center is packed with information regarding techniques, schemes, and more!

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

Have questions about down and distance or 1st and 10, let us know, as we’re happy to help answer your football questions.

About the author 

Chris Haddad

Chris Haddad is the founder of vIQtory Sports & high school coach for over 12+ years. He has been featured as an authority on Hudl, Bleacher Report and countless other football-centric platforms. Chris continues to study and provide valuable content for those looking to learn more about the game of football.