New to the game of gridiron?

Object of the Game

The object of American football is to score more points than your opponents in the allotted time. To do this they must move the ball down the pitch in phases of play before eventually getting the ball into the ‘end zone’ for a touchdown. This can be achieved by either throwing the ball to a teammate or running with the ball.

Each team gets 4 chances (downs) to move the ball 10 yards forward. Once they pass the 10 yards their downs reset and they start again for another 10 yards. After 4 downs have passed and they have failed to make it over the 10 yards required the ball will be turned over to the defensive team.

Normal play consists of two teams of 11 players on field (one on offence the other on defence) competing during four 15 minute quarters.


There are usually three ‘time-outs’ per half for each team, with a 12 minutes half-time interval.

Although there are only 11 players from each side on the field at any one time, a team is actually made up of 45 players. The key player on each side is the quarterback who attempts to dictate play.

The game begins with a kick-off where one team punts the ball down field for the other team to then run back with the ball as far as possible.




Downs are the part of the game which often needlessly confuses newcomers. They are actually fairly straightforward. In a nutshell, the rule is as follows:

The team in possession of the ball (offence) needs to move the ball forward by at least 10 yards while they are on offence. This is why the pitch has clearly marked yardage lines on it.

They have four chances, or downs, to gain those 10 yards and if they advance the ball that far, the count resets and the team earns another set of four downs to try go a further 10 yards.

If the offensive team fails to move these 10 yards within four downs, possession is then given up and the defensive side gets their turn to play offence. Teams will usually kick for a field goal or downfield to the defending team on the fourth down to try and salvage some points before they lose possession.


There are hundreds of different plays that players can run on any down. Plays are made up by the teams and often have players running all over the place (routes) in what is essentially organised chaos. The head coach or quarter back calls the on field plays for the attacking team whilst the defensive captain calls the plays for the defensive team.


When a player scores a touchdown six points are awarded to their team. A touchdown can be scored by either carrying the ball into the end zone or receiving the ball from a pass whilst in the end zone. After a touchdown has been scored the attacking team have opportunity to kick the ball for an extra point. The ball must pass between the upright posts for a successful kick.

A field goal can be scored from anywhere on the pitch at any time (usually on the final down) and a successful kick will result in three points. A safety is where the defensive team manages to tackle an attacking opponent in their own end zone; for this the team will receive 2 points.


The Positions


The Centre: He is the guy who snaps the ball and blocks defenders. He is not allowed to catch or run the ball. He is there to protect his mates and shift the opposition.

The Quarterback: He is the captain of the offence. This is the guy who receives the snap and then hands it off to the running back or passes it down field to a receiver. In this league the quarterback cannot run the ball himself and he must remain between the hashes if he chooses to pass the ball.

The Running Back: The primary ball runner on the field, his duties also include receiving the ball and blocking depending on the play.

The Wide Receivers: The ball catchers, these are the guys that make the big catches down the field and help move the ball a long way at a time.

The Defensive Lineman: This player lines up with 1 hand on the ground 1 yard back from the centre and his usual responsibility is to try and put pressure on the quarterback or tackle the running back. It is usually agreed that these are some of the scariest men on the planet.

The Linebacker: The leader of the defence. This man lives to tackle running backs, which is good because that is their job. If the offence passes then he will usually drop back into coverage but will sometimes also rush the passer and try and get a sack.

The Corner Back: Charged with marking the Wide Receivers, these nippy and agile players are most important in protecting against the pass.

The Safety: Equally as happy flying forward to stop the run or dropping back to stop the pass the safety is the supreme athlete on the football field. This position is close to a fullback in rugby as they are the last line of defence.

The Gear

A guide to the basic gridiron gear​

The ball

Many companies produce both leather and synthetic leather footballs designed for players of different ages. These range from foam footballs for under 6s, to balls for junior and youth football, right through to collegiate and official professional footballs. If you want to your child to become an all-star quarterback you should buy a smaller practice football so that they can properly develop their throwing technique.

The helmet

The helmet consists of a hard plastic top with thick padding (usually replaceable) on the inside, a facemask made of several metal bars, and a chinstrap used to secure it. Some players also add visors to their helmets to protect their eyes from glare and impact. Helmets are required at all levels of the game, except for non-tackle variations such as touch or flag football.



The jersey will be oversized to accommodate the padding which goes underneath it, while the pants or 'lowers' will be of a stretch material so that any additional padding can be fitted underneath them or slipped inside special slots in the pants which are intended to hold the padding, such as that on the thighs and knees.

Shoulder pads

Shoulder pads are the most obvious form of padding worn by players. Most modern shoulder pads consist of a shock absorbing foam material with a hard plastic piece on top of the foam. Select the appropriate shoulder pads for your size and position. For example, quarterbacks, place kickers, and punters generally use lightweight shoulder pads that stay in place and don’t affect line of sight or head movement while other players may go heavier pads which stay in place after taking a big hit.


Mouth guard

The mouth guard is the essential device that fits into the mouth over one or both arches of teeth to protect against injury during contact. These can be made-to-measure by a dentist or you can buy ones that you can heat and then fit and mould to your own teeth.


Many games are played on artificial turf and proper shoes should be worn to ensure a good grip on the surface. These would normally be ones consisting of small moulded rubber cleats or studs, while footwear with detachable cleats would often be worn in conditions such as playing on grass. The footwear will usually either be made of leather which is durable and flexible compared to inexpensive synthetic cleats which are a good choice for kids who will outgrow their footwear regularly.