Rules of American Football | How it is Played?

American football, which is also referred to as football in Canada and USA, is a team sport which is played on a rectangular field with goalposts at each end.

As the name says, the American football was developed in the USA, the game is believed to have originated from the sports of soccer and rugby.

Rules of American Football

The first match of American football was played on November 6, 1869 between two college teams in the USA. The American football is not exactly football, but it also contains different elements from rugby and soccer, therefore, players can be seen running in the field with protective equipment on their body to prevent injuries.

Object of the Game

Like every football game, in American football, the object of the game is to score more points than your opponent in the allotted time. Point scoring is very interesting in this game as both teams get equal opportunities to score goals. Players from both sides get the ball down the pitch and try to get the ball in the end zone for a touchdown. You can throw the ball and run with it as well.

The interesting part is, both teams get 4 chances (down) each to move the ball 10 yards forward. Once they have covered the 10 yards under 4 down, their downs reset and they start another game to cover the next 10 yards. In case of failing to cover 10 yards under 4 downs, the ball will be returned to the defensive team.

How to Play?

American Football is played by using your feet and you can also throw the ball to score points. Furthermore, you either have to punt or go for a field goal ( these are the two options to score a goal). Both teams have their end zones which they have to protect.

From the start of the game, both teams get 4 chances to move the ball for 10 yards, and if they fail to do so, the ball is given away to the opposite team. Just like traditional football, there are fouls and infringements which result in punishment to the offensive side.

This is a brief introduction of the sport, the detailed set of rules regarding the game can be found below.

General Rules of American Football

  • Both teams field 11 players at a time.
  • The game starts with a kick-off by the chosen side.
  • The team that gets the possession of the ball is known as offense while the other team is known as defense.
  • The job of the offense team is to move the ball on the field and try to score points.
  • The offense gets 4 chances (downs) to make it to the next 10 yard.
  • If the offense team successfully moves the ball for the next 10 yards within 4 downs, they retain possession of the ball and move further ahead for 10 yards.
  • If the offense fails to move 10 yards within 4 downs at any time, the other is given possession of the ball and the cycle perpetuates.
  • If during the pass the ball falls down, it is called an incomplete pass. A down is wasted and the play begins from the same spot.
  • If during the play, an offense side fumbles the ball and it falls on the ground, any team can take the ball from here. The team collecting the ball first will now have the possession of the ball.
  • There are a certain number of challenges (reviews) available, if a team field referee has made the wrong decision, they can challenge it and the disputed moment will be checked again on Replay.


A coin toss takes place before the game in which it is decided which team will receive the ball first and which side of the pitch they want to play with.

Time Duration of the American Football

Each game lasts for four 15-minute quarters. A 2-minute break is given between 1st and 2nd quarter, and 3rd and 4th., While a 15-minute break is taken after the end of 2nd half.

Playing Field

The American football is played on a grassy field, 100 yards long and 53 yards wide. There are lines marked along the end and sides of the field. These lines are known as end lines and sidelines. Goal Lines are marked 10 yards inward from these lines one each end.

Markings in terms of yards are easily visible so referees and players can easily know how many yards they have covered and how many are left.

Goalposts are located at each end with their crossbars 10 feet above the ground.

Playing Equipment

The only thing required to play American football is the ball used in it. The ball used in it is of spherical shape and can weigh between 410g-460g.

Players also wear protective equipment like helmet, gum shield and guards as falling on the ground is common and head injuries can be very nasty if they don’t use helmets over their heads.

Point Scoring in American Football

In American football, there are 4 different ways of scoring:

Touchdown: If the ball is carried into the endzone area, it is called “Touch Down” and 6 points are awarded to the offense team.

Extra Point: Once the Touch down has been scored, the offense team gets the opportunity to kick the ball between goalposts, if they manage to do so, they get an extra point.

Field Goal: At any time during their turn, the offense team can kick the ball between the goalposts. If they successfully do so, they get 3 points.

Safety: If a defensive side manages to tackle an opponent in their own endzone, they get 2 points for this.

Referee & Umpire

A referee stands behind and to the side of the offensive’s backs. His role is to maintain order in the game and he is supposed to be the final authority on the score.

And there’s an umpire as well who’s positioned in the defensive backfield. The umpire ensures that no more than 11 offensive players are on the field. The umpire also records the number of timeouts taken and toss is also done under his supervision.

Famous American Football Events

American football is played at domestic level in the USA and Canada where it is greatly popular. Moreover, the IFAF (International Federation of American Football) championship of American football is held after 4 years and teams from different countries participate in this highly anticipated event.

Governing Body

The International Federation of American Football (IFAF) is the international governing body of the sports and it oversees the IFAF World Championship of American football. The federation became a provisional member of SportAccord in 2003 and its head office is located in the French commune of La Courneuve, in the Île-de-France region.