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Why Do Teams ‘Defer’ The Coin Toss In Football

Before the coin toss, players can be seen holding hands or interlocking arms before they walk toward midfield. The coin toss is one of the most important parts of the game.

When a team defers the coin toss, it means they will decide what to do in the second half. The opponent picks whether they want to kick or receive in the first half.

This article will walk you through a football coin toss and what exactly is done at midfield.

The Coin Toss

Here is how the process goes for those who haven’t been at midfield for the coin toss.

First, both teams will shake hands and introduce themselves to one another. In the NFL, we can often see players dapping each other up and giving a small hug.

This is strictly for sportsmanship and ensures the captains on the field can control the game if anything gets out of hand. The captains are responsible for controlling and keeping their players disciplined like a general would in the military.

Here is an example of players shaking hands at the coin toss

What Happens During A Coin Toss In Football?

The referee will then explain his guidelines and rules to the captains. It will typically go, “Let’s make sure we have a clean game, no swearing, no foul language, and no hitting after the whistle.”

Each referee will have their own pitch before the coin is actually flipped.

Once the referee is done with his introduction, he will reveal his coin that he’ll flip. Oftentimes, the coin is a simple quarter with a “heads” and a “tails” side.

Referees may choose to have a custom-designed coin or use a half dollar, completely up to the referee.

The key is to make sure there is a clear differential between heads and tails.

Once the referee shows both teams the coin he’s chosen, he’ll ask the visiting team captain to choose heads or tails. Because they have to travel, the visiting team will have the option to pick heads or tails.

Because the odds are 50/50, the captain will select one of the two options.

The referee will then flip the coin in the air. Below is a great visual of a referee coin flip.

Once the coin is in the air, the captain will “call it in the air” (meaning heads or tails). The coin must land on the ground.

If the ground is mud or there are poor conditions, the referee may catch it in his hand. The referee will always lay out the coin flip terms before he flips.

the football handbook

What Options Do Football Teams Have During The Coin Flip?

There are typically 4 options when the coin is flipped that the referee gives to the team who wins the toss:

  • Kick
  • Receive
  • Defer
  • Field Direction

Let’s break down each available option.

Kick

What It Means: Choosing to kick means your team will be on kickoff, and once the kickoff is successful, your team will be on defense. Kicking is good for teams with a strong defense and those who want to take the ball in the second half. Getting the ball in the second half is beneficial because it immediately allows teams to implement half-time offensive adjustments.

Receive

What It Means: Receiving means the kickoff return team will be on offense to start once the kickoff return team returns the ball successfully. The benefit of receiving first is the offense gets the first chance to score points. It’s a great opportunity to establish a first-half field position if the team can drive the ball downfield.

Defer

It Means: Defer is interesting because many players and coaches mean they’ll take the ball in the second half. While this is true, this is not entirely true, and one false mess-up could cost your team. Let us explain.

When choosing to defer, the referee is taking it as, ” I don’t want to choose now; I want to choose in the second half.” He will then ask the opposing team what they want.

Now, this is where things can get interesting. Because you say “defer,” you’re saying I’ll choose what I want in the second half. Meaning, the opposing team has the option for the first half.

Oftentimes, opposing teams will listen to their coach before heading to the coin toss, and the coach will say they want to kick.

Choosing to kick when the other team defers oftentimes means that they’ll kick in the first half and the second half (if you decide to receive, which you most likely will).

This means the team that chose to “defer” will get the ball to start the game and get the ball at the half—a great thing for the receiving team, a bad thing for the kicking team.

Choosing Direction

What It Means: Teams may choose a direction instead of choosing to kick, receive or defer. This may seem like an odd choice, but it could have some benefits.

For instance, the wind is strong, and the team may choose to kick with the wind instead of against the win. This may prove beneficial in a tight game, especially in the fourth quarter.

We saw this happen with the New England Patriots when Bill Belichick took the wind instead of receiving in overtime, which proved beneficial.

Also, during overtime, this can prove extremely beneficial as oftentimes, one score will end the game.

College football also has to make a crucial decision in overtime whether to choose an end zone to defend. Especially if it’s a large school like Penn State or Ohio State, the crowd and student sections are often located in the end zone. Teams may choose to defend the other end to avoid the noise factor.

How Important Is The Coin Toss In Football?

In our opinion, very important. It’s important to plan, especially to start the game and come out of halftime with a plan to execute. It’s important to be proactive, not reactive to what the referee says after the coin flip.

Teams should plan to attack if they win or lose the toss and be prepared not to say “kick” if the other team defers. Remember, the team with the ball more frequently typically wins the game.

Time of possession is often the key to winning football games, and it all starts at the coin toss.

Keep Learning

Teams have the option to choose what they want to do in the second half of the game. They can either kick or receive. Deferring the coin toss means that the team will choose in the second half, leaving the decision for the other team in the first half.

Let’s keep learning! 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.

What do you like to do if you win the coin toss? Do you prefer deferring or receiving the football? Let us know in the comment section below.