Before your child steps onto the field, it’s helpful to understand the basics of the game and what to expect.
Field of Play
Football is almost always played on natural grass or artificial turf fields. These fields can range from 120 yards long and 53.3 yards wide to 40 yards long and 35.5 yards wide. The last 10 yards on each end of the field are designated as the end zones, which have field goal posts set on the outside.
Many programs have teams play from the 40-yard line to one end zone, which shortens the field for younger players and allows more playing time. It also maximizes the amount of engagement for participants by fitting two games on a single field.
Traditionally, American football consists of 22 players on the field at one time, 11 players on offense and 11 on defense. Both teams will also have players on the bench as a lot of players are designated to play just one or the other, but it is not uncommon for players to play on both sides of the ball.
There are other football game types that involve fewer players and focus on a non-contact or limited-contact approach to the game such as flag football, which has six players on the field at once for each team. See “Ways to Play” for more information.
This is the most common way to score points and occurs if a player carries the ball into the opponent’s end zone and is worth six points. Both offensive and defensive players can score touchdowns.
After scoring a touchdown, teams can go for an extra point, which is worth one point. This almost always consists of a run or pass from the 3-yard line in youth leagues, and some non-contact leagues. This play becomes a field goal attempt when players get older.
After scoring a touchdown, teams can also go for a 2-point conversion instead of an extra point. This play is often a field goal attempt in youth leagues, but turns into a play that’s run from further out as players get older.
A safety occurs when the defense tackles or downs the offense in their own end zone. The defending team is then awarded two points and they get the ball to start the next set of downs.
Field goals aren’t too common in youth leagues as it takes players time to develop the leg strength necessary to kick them. Field goals are worth three points, and occur when the offensive team kicks the ball through the goalposts and above the crossbar.
American football is typically played out over four quarters with an extended halftime break between the second and third quarters, as well as short breaks between the first and second quarter, and the third and fourth quarter. The length of the quarters usually runs between eight minutes for younger ages up to 12 minutes for high school athletes.
Some forms of the game, however, have opted to shorten the game into halves. Flag football consists of two halves that range from 10 minutes to 25 minutes depending on the age of the participants.
Footballs vary in size based on the age of the player. They start as a pee wee football and work up to high school footballs for youth participants. However, there are also sizes for college and professional football players as well.
This football is targeted for players that are nine and younger. It weighs 10 ounces, has a long circumference of 24 inches, and a short circumference of 17.5 inches.
This football is for players from age nine up to 12. It weighs 11 ounces, has a long circumference of 25 inches, and a short circumference of 18.5 inches.
The target age for these balls is 12-14 years old. It weighs in at 12.5 ounces, has a long circumference of 26.25 inches, and a short circumference of 19.25 inches.
This football is for all players in high school, or 14 years and older. It weighs 14-15 ounces, has a long circumference of 27.75-28.5 inches, and a short circumference of 20.75-21.125 inches.