Football Basics for Kids

American football field. image by Sandra Henderson from

An understanding of the basics of football can help an aspiring player better grasp the game, or make it easier for kids to follow the sport on television. With so many rules and the constant interruption of play, football is difficult to follow, at least for those new to the sport. Providing a child with the basic rules of the game can help build a foundation on which he will add a breadth of new football knowledge.

Objective of the Game

Football is a territorial contest. Each team has an end zone that it attempts to protect, and points are awarded for the team that successfully reaches its opponent's end zone. The completion of that task is known as a touchdown, which awards the scoring team six points. The team with the most points at the end of the game wins.

Game Layout

A football game is divided into four quarters. Lengths of quarters vary based on the level of play. College and National Football League games consist of 15-minute quarters for a total of 60 minutes. Between the second and third quarters is a short break, known as halftime. During that time, both teams usually retreat to the locker rooms to rejuvenate and discuss strategies. High schools usually play 12-minute quarters.


There are five ways to score in football. A touchdown is worth six points and is awarded when the ball is successfully possessed by a player in the opponent's end zone. A touchdown is accompanied by a point-after attempt, during which a team can elect to kick an extra point for one point, or attempt a two-point conversion by running or passing the ball into the end zone. A field goal is worth three points and consists of a player kicking the ball through the uprights located in the back of the end zone. The final method of scoring is known as a safety and awards two points. A safety occurs when a player is tackled in his own end zone or the ball is fumbled out of a team's own end zone.

Field Dimensions

A football field is 100 yards long with two 10-yard end zones at either end. Width-wise, a field measures 53 yards across. Every yard on a football field is marked with a small yard-marker on the horizontal boundaries of the field. Every five yards there is a horizontal line that extends from sideline to sideline. Typically, every 10 yards is visually displayed on the field with the corresponding number. Thus, the numbers on a field would read 10, 20, 30, 40, 50, 40, 30, 20, 10 from one end of the field to the other.


A team is given four downs to obtain a first down, which is located 10 yards from the initial first-down spot. Each down is started with the snap of the ball from what is called the line of scrimmage. The snap is the process by which the center passes the ball through his legs to the quarterback. If a player is tackled while holding the ball, the next play starts from that yard-marker. If the quarterback throws the ball and it is not caught, the ball returns to the same spot it had been on the previous down. On fourth down, a team may choose to go for the first down, kick a field goal for three points or punt the ball. Punting means kicking the ball to the other team to avoid turning it over after four downs. A failed fourth down attempt results in the defending team taking over possession at the spot of the failed attempt.


A tackle is the action that causes a play to end. If a player with the ball hits the ground with his knees, elbow or any part of the body other than his feet and hands, he is down at that spot. The process of knocking that player down or pulling him down to the ground is known as a tackle. It is often a violent collision which brings about the need for helmets and pads for protection.

Referees and Penalties

The men wearing the zebra-striped uniforms are known as officials. The head official is the referee. He announces penalties. There are numerous penalties in the game of football, each signified when an official throws a yellow flag onto the field. Penalties are assessed by moving the ball backward a certain number of yards. Penalty values are typically given as 5 yards, 10 yards or 15 yards. As the referee announces the penalty, he simultaneously performs a gesture that is associated with the infraction. This ritual came about prior to the invention of microphones and loudspeakers.