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Rules of American football

American football in short

American football is a ball game. The game is about getting the ball to the opponents end of the field whether you get it all the way to the end zone or just kick it between the 2 goal posts. Both of fhese result in points for your team. The team with the most points after 60 minutes is the winner.

Basic knowledge about American football.

  • Getting the ball into the opponents endzone gains your team 6 points. That's called a  touchdown.
  • After at touchdown, the scoring team has  one try to either kick the ball through the 2 goal posts or try to get it into the endzone again.  This gives your team an additional 1 point for kicking and 2 points for getting it to the endzone. 
  • If you decide to kick it after a touch down, it's called "Extra point". If you chose the more risky play going for the endzone again, it's called a "2-point conversion".
  • If that attacking team does not succeed in getting all the way into the endzone, the team can try and kick it through the 2 goal posts for a field goal. This results in 3 points for the scoring team.
  • A game is 60 minutes. The 60 minutes of the match are played in 4 quarters of 15 minutes. Between the 2nd and 3rd quarter, the teams get a prolonged break.
  • To keep the ball, the attacking team has 4 tries to move the ball atleast 10  yards (9,1m) forward. These tries are called downs. Between every down, information is shown about which down is about to be played and how many yards the attacking team has left to gain 4 new downs (and not turning it over to the opponent). If the attacking team only manages to gain 1 yard on their 1st down, the following down will be 2nd & 9, meaning 2nd down and 9 yards to go.
  • If the attacking team does not gain 10 yards on the 4 downs, the ball turns over to the opposing team. That's why you often use the 4th down to either try a field goal or punting the ball. 
  • When you punt the ball, you kick the ball as far down towards the opponents endzone as you can to give them the toughest start possible to their scoring try.

The teams

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An American football team. Each team has 11 players on the field at a time.
  • 2 teams, each with 11 players on the field at a time.
  • The players are often divided into 3 different categories. Offense, defense and special teams.
  • Which 11 players are on the field is determined by which formation both the offense and defense decide to  run.
  • The offense's formation is often based on whether they want to run or throw the ball. On the other hand, the defense's formation is often based on what they think is the best defense to counter what they think the offense is going to do.
  • When the team plays either offense or defense, it's very rare for the same players to have roles in both formations.

Field

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An American football field is a total of 120 yards, 20 of those yards are the 10-yard endzones in each end.
  • The field's dimensions are 120 x 53 1/3 yards - or 109,7 x 48,8 metres.
  • Each endzone are 10 yards deep, which leaves a 100-yard long field.
  • In the middle of each endzone's baseline are the goal posts, which are used for the extra point or field goal.
  • The line before the endzone is called "goal line". If the attacking team crosses the line with the ball, a touchdown is scored.
  • The last 20 yards towards the defense's endzone is called the "Red zone". Red zone has no official meaning for the game but is used more as an indicator. When the attacking team reach the red zone, they should be able to score points. As a minimum 3 points through a field goal where the team's kicker should be able to  kick the ball between the goal posts within the last 20 yards.

The ball

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An american football with its iconic white stiching and brown leather.

An American football is oval and easily recognisable as it's often produced in brown leather and has a distinct stiching down one side. When the ball is thrown right, it flies in a spiral and rotates around itself.

Point scoring

Touchdown: 6 points - The ball crosses the goal line into the opponents endzone. After a touchdown, the scoring team has 1 try to score either an extra point or a 2-point conversion.

Extra point: 1 point - After a touchdown, the scoring team can chose to kick the ball between the goal posts in between the 2 goal posts behind the opponents endzone. This is the safest choice after a touchdown.

2-point conversion: 2 points - Instead of going after the safe "extra point", the scoring team can try to get the ball across the goal line into the endzone one more time after succesfully scoring the touchdown for 6 points first.

Safety: 2 points - If a defending player manages to tackle the player carrying the ball in the attacking team's own endzone. Besides the 2 points they get, they also receive the ball from from a kickoff. 

Formations

The offense often line up in a formation depending on whether they want to run the ball or throw it. An example of a running formation could be a larger amount of big players that can push the defense back and give the running player (often a "runningback") a chance to get down the field. In a throwing formation, the attacking team will have a larger amount of lighter and faster players on the field. Their objective is to get down the field and free themselves from the opposing defenders and get open.

Common for all attacking formations is that the team must have atleast 5 linesmen on the field at a time. They all stand at the line of scrimmage, where the ball is before the play starts. The 5 linesmen are divided into 1 center, which stands in the middle of the linesmen, followed by 2 guards, who stand on each side of the center. On the outside are the 2 tackles.

A defense always lines up with the formation they think can defend the play they anticipate the offense to run in the best way possible. If the offense lines up with something that looks like a running formation, the defense will have more big players on the field - for example line backers. If the offense lines up with something that looks like a throwing formation, the defense will have more smaller and faster players - for example cornerbacks or safeties, also called defensive backs.

Terms & penalties

Interception: When a player from the attacking team throws the ball and a defender catches it. Untill the catching defender is tackled by one of the attacking players, he/she has the chance to run down and score a touchdown. The place where the player who intercepted the ball is brought down is the place his/her offense will start the following play, unless he/she manages to score a touchdown on the return.

Fumble: When a player in posession loses control of the ball and drops it before the player gets a knee to the ground. The ball is free for grabs and the player who gets the ball first will gain posession regardless of the player's team. The player can run with the ball towards the opponents endzone in a try to score a touchdown untill he/she is tackled. The place where the player is tackled is where the play is called dead, and the player's team gets the next play. If the player who loses the ball has a knee to the ground before he/she loses posession, the player is called down and therefore the play is dead.

If the ball is thrown backwards and lands on the ground, the ball is also up for grabs and all players on both teams can pick up the ball.

Sack: When the attacking team's quaterback is tackled by a defender while he/she still has possesion, it's called a sack. That's a very good play for the defense because the offense is moved back on the field to where the quaterback was tackled while they lose a down. This means that the offense gain negative yards on that down.

Off-side:  A player on one of the 2 teams are on the opposing side's line of scrimmage when the play starts. This results in a  replay of the down, while the team guilty of the penalty is punished by 5 yards to the opposing team.

False start: When the offense has chosen their formation and walks up to the line of scrimmage and prepares, all players beside the center have to stand in what is called a "set position". They have to show that they are ready to perform the play. After the players are in a set position, they can't start moving as that can lead the defenders to believe that the play is started. This results in a 5 yard penalty.

Delay of game: After the play is called dead, the offense has 40 seconds to start the next play. If the play hasn't started within the 40 seconds, a 5-yard penalty is  called.

Pass Interference: When the offense throws the ball and a player capable of catching the ball is disrupted by tho opponent. Both offense and defense can be called for pass interference towards the opponent. If the attacking team commits the foul, it results in a 10-yard penalty. If the defense commits the foul, it results in a "spot foul", and the offense get to start the next play where the foul is comitted. If the foul is comitted in the defense's endzone, the offense starts the next play on the 1-yard line, only 1 yard away from a potential touchdown.

American football and SportMember

American football is played all over the world and naturally, mostly in USA. There are around 75 clubs in UK in 2019.

Here at SportMember, we have over 700.000 users now. A lot of clubs playing American football are using our digital platform, which unites players, coaches, parents, treasuers, webmasters and much more. Our platform allows you to gather all the club's functions. Sign up for practice, matches and get notified about different activities within the team or club. Our system contains a lot more functions like resource management, paying membership fees and set up a free website. 

Creating a club or team on SportMember is 100% free whether you are a part of a small team og a big club. Try it out by clicking "Create profile" in the top right corner of this page.


The rules in this article is based on the official rules from the NFL.

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