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Sometimes you want to play football, but don’t want to deal with the inevitable broken limbs and future brain damage that comes with being tackled by men who are larger than you. For you, there is the perfect compromise sport: flag football! All the fun of football, with only some of the potentially horrific injuries.
Here’s a handy guide for how to get your flag football on, using the standard rules for a 5-on-5 game set by the International Federation of American Football. If you want to read the entire rule book like some sort of rule book nerd, you can find it here. You nerd. The rest of you can just stay on this page and get a nice summary of the rules right here.
Tackling and kicking are not allowed
This should be common sense, but let’s just get that out of the way. No, you cannot tackle in flag football. That’s why you have the damn flags. And there are no field goals or punts, because no one has the time for that.
What was that about the flags?
Oh wow, you really want us to go to the very basics? Okay, so you will wear a belt that has detachable flags on them. Usually they’re held on with Velcro. If someone snags your flag, you have been tackled. Can we continue with the rules then?
You have four downs, and start at the 5-yard line
While regular football requires you to go 10 yards for a first down, flag football has a much more spaced out field. According to the IFAF rules, you start each possession at the 5-yard line. You can only get a first down if your team marches its way past the half-field mark, wherever that may be.
Scoring is the same as football (without kicking)
A touchdown is worth six points. Instead of kicking an extra point, you can make an attempt from the 6-yard line for an extra point, or the 12-yard line for a two point conversion.
The no-run zone
If you snap the ball within five yards of the goal line, you must pass to score. There are no running plays allowed in the no-running zone. If you’re outside that zone, and your running play results in a touchdown, that touchdown will still count, but if you are in the no-running zone, you have to pass for your touchdown to count.
There’s no offensive line, so the game would be pretty dull if you could just run in and tackle the quarterback as soon as they snapped it. But it would also be insufferable if the quarterback was able to stand in the pocket all day without any consequences. To combat this, the blitzing rules are as follows. Up to two players can request to blitz. To do so, they must be at least seven yards behind the line of scrimmage, and they must raise their hand to indicate blitzing at least a second before the snap is made. This way, the quarterback knows who to avoid, but also knows to get rid of the ball quickly.
No intentional contact
It’s flag football, guys. You’re not blocking each other at the line (see the blitz rule above) and you’re tackling by taking off a Velcro flag. Illegal contact results in a 10 yard penalty, and a first down. So that’s not something you want to do.
Wait until after the game to drink
Okay, this isn’t so much an official rule as it is a guideline. You should absolutely go to the bar with your team after a nice game of flag football, but unlike, say, kickball, this is not a sport you’ll be particularly safe participating in with a bit of a buzz.
And there you have it, everything you need to know to not be horribly confused during a flag football game. Now go out there and get pissed off that spinning to avoid a tackle is completely legal.