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Teaching the Fundamentals of Flag Football

For some kids, this may be their first experience with football or with any organized sport. For such youngsters, you won't be able to teach them every concept of the game of football in a short season. Instead, the goal should be to teach players the fundamentals of the game.

The basic concepts to teach players are:

The Center/QB Exchange 
The Proper "Ready" Stance
The QB/RB Exchange
How to Carry the Football
How to Properly Throw The Football
How to Properly Catch The Football
Flag Pulling and Basic Defensive Concepts


The Center-Quarterback Exchange

The Quarterback needs to position himself with his hands under the center to get the snap of the ball to start the play. Without a good exchange, the play won't start.  If the Quarterback fumbles the exchange, the play will be blown dead by the official and the down will be lost. The Quarterback should get as close to Center as possible, bend the knees and have his hands open and ready to accept the ball (take the snap). It is important to have all Quarterbacks and Centers practice the exchange before every game.

Under-Center Snap
Center begins in a two-point stance (feet shoulder-width apart, knees bent, elbows resting on knees, head up).  Reach throwing hand out to the football. Grip the football with the first knuckle of the thumb placed in-between the white line and the first lace.  The palm of the hand should then rest on the outside of the ball, with the four fingers spread across the back. Lift head before snapping the ball.

As the ball is snapped, turn hand inward so the ball is delivered sideways to the quarterback who is standing right behind the center.

Release the ball and run the play called.

Age 5-6 Division players may use the side snap. The traditional snap can be difficult for the younger players with small hands even when using two hands.

Excellent video on teaching the fundamentals of the Center/Quarterback Exchange and shotgun snap


Shotgun Snap

Center begins in a two-point stance (feet shoulder-width apart, knees bent, elbows resting on knees, head up). Reach throwing hand out to the football. Grip the football with the first knuckle of the thumb placed in-between the white line and the first lace. The palm of the hand should then rest on the outside of the ball, with the four fingers spread across the back. Lift head before snapping the ball.

On the snap, flick wrist as the ball leaves the hand to deliver it several feet back to the quarterback.

*Depending on the player’s ability to grip the football with one hand, a center may shotgun-snap the football with either one or two hands. If two hands are needed, a player should use his non-dominant hand to guide the football as it is snapped by placing that hand on the open side of the football.

Proper Stance Prior to the Snap

The 2 point stance is the proper stance for all positions in flag football except the QB and Center (who must execute the exchange). The 3-point and 4-point stances are not legal in NFL Flag Football Leagues.

The two point stance: Players stand with their feet about shoulder width apart or a little wider if it's more comfortable for them. Put the palms of the hands on the knees and hunch over a bit more so that the arms are slightly bent. The player is now in a two point stance and ready for the play. 

Receivers need to get down the field fast so Receivers should utilize a modified 2-point stance with one leg further back than the other, with knees slightly bent. This stance will enable your Receivers to explode off the snap and head down field.

Running the Football

For some young players, just running with the football can be a challenge. Although the size of the football is age-appropriate, it still can be large and tough for some kids to handle. Inexperienced players need to be shown the proper way to take a hand-off from the Quarterback, and how to properly grip and run with the football.

The Quarterback/Running Back Exchange

For a flawless exchange between the quarterback and the running back the Running Back should make a "pocket" with their arms and hands to properly accept the football from the QB.

Top Half of the "Pocket"
  • Inside Elbow - even with the shoulders
  • Forearm - horizontal with the ground
  • Inside Hand - palm down, ready to accept the point of the ball

Bottom Half of the "Pocket"
  • Outside Elbow - straight down from the shoulder
  • Forearm - horizontal across the midsection
  • Outside Hand - slightly bent with the palm up, ready to accept the other end of the ball
  • Fingers - pointing toward the quarterback

Receiving the Ball
  • Hands - both hands instantly secure the ball upon contact
  • Eyes - focused on where the play is designed to go


How to Properly Grip and Carry the Football While Running

The proper way to hold a football for a running back is to place the tip of the index finger directly over the tip of the ball while the rest of the hand grasps as much of the surface of the football as possible. The remaining surface of the ball is then supported by the inside of the wrist and forearm. The tips of the fingers down to the middle of the forearm sustain the football during the initial grasp.

The RB should hold the football close to his/her side. Your side can support the football and keep the ball close to you. This makes it harder to lose your grip and fumble.  

Have a firm grip.
 Having a firm grip on the ball will help you hold onto the ball when you are running fast. If you hold it loosely, it it easier to lose your grip while running and fumble.

Avoid the temptation to show off . Common show off moves like dancing with the ball or holding out to your side are huge mistakes for some inexperienced players make. Even if you have an open field to run, showing off is not only poor sportsmanship, but can lead to loosing control of the ball and fumbling.

Throwing the Football

1. Grip the football. The most common way to grip the football for throwing is with the ring and little fingers crossing the laces and your thumb underneath. The index finger should be over a seam, and your thumb and index fingers should make an "L" shape.

  • Don't "palm" the football. Hold it lightly with the fingertips and try to keep space between the center of the palm and the ball.
  • Don't grip the ball too tightly. Keep your hold firm enough to keep control, but not tightly - adjust your grip as needed

2. Position your body in the throwing stance. Face perpendicular to your target. If you throw with your right hand, turn to the right, and vice versa if you throw with your left hand. Turn your pivot foot (opposite your throwing arm) so that it's pointing toward your target. Keep your eyes on the target.

3. Hold the ball near your ear. Before throwing the ball, keep it up near your ear, stabilizing it with your non-throwing hand. This allows you to be ready to throw the ball quickly

4. Wind back. Release your non-throwing hand from the ball. Wind your throwing arm back, stopping just behind your ear.

5. Throw in a half-circular motion. Quickly swing your throwing arm forward in a circular arc. Release the ball mid-way through the circle. Your empty hand should then head toward your non-dominant hip, palm facing away from you. Practice this motion a few times before you let go of the ball.
  • Use the rest of your body to build momentum for your throw. The hips, legs and shoulders can add great power to a pass.[4] Step forward with your non-dominant (or pivot) foot, and move your non-dominant elbow down toward your back. Rotate your hips and shoulders in the direction of the pass.
6.  Release the ball with your fingertips. As the football leaves your hand, it should roll off of your fingertips. Your index finger will be the last part of your body touching the ball. This provides the spin that creates the desired "spiral" effect.
  • A proper throw will feel like it's only utilizing the thumb, index, and middle finger. The other two fingers on your hand stabilize the ball as it's being flung. They are not generally used to impart spin on the ball.
  • To impart more spin on the pass, you may snap your wrist forward as you follow through to the hip


QB Drop-Backs

For quarterbacks, learning how to drop back properly is important. Being further back from the line-of-scrimmage creates additional distance between the quarterback and the defensive rusher(s).

1. As you receive the snap, turn sideways in the direction of your throwing arm.

2. The first step is a reach step. It is a powerful, quick, deep step with the back foot.

3. The next steps (middle steps) are crossover steps.

4. The last step is the plant step. It is a small reach step. As the plant step takes place, your front shoulder should dip down slightly to help maintain balance.

5. It is important to drop back quickly and keep looking downfield for an open receiver.

Depending on the age of your players, throwing a completed pass can be a real challenge. From the Quarterback standpoint, many players have a hard time simply holding the football much less securing a proper throwing grip, dropping back in the pocket, avoiding the rusher(s) and throwing the ball accurately to an open wide receiver.

For receivers, many young players have a tough time catching a football when no one is defending.  Add the need to run a good pass route, get open and catch the football while the defense pursues, and it's easy to see that completing a pass involves a number a challenges for young players.

In summary, don’t get too frustrated if you don’t have a successful passing game.

Catching the Football

Catching a football can be difficult for inexperienced players. One of the keys to catching a football that the Receiver should start by giving the QB a good target with hands out-stretched. Receivers should try to catch the ball with their hands, then bring the ball into their body. Many young players will try to catch the ball by trapping it with between their arms and body, which often results in the ball bouncing off their chest. Instead, try to emphasize catching with the hands. The most important thing is for players to keep their eyes on the ball. Many young players will take their eyes off the ball at the last moment (searching for the defender, looking to run, etc.)

Catching the Ball

The proper technique for catching a football needs to be taught. Most kids do not know how to catch a football properly.

1. Always catch the ball with your hands away from your body. Arms should be extended out about three-fourths of the way to allow room to cushion the catch.

2. To catch balls above waist-height, put your index finger and thumbs together to form a triangle. For a low ball, keep your little fingers and elbows together to cradle the catch. For deep passes that are over the shoulder, you want to have your pinkies and elbows together to cradle the catch in front of your chest. This pass should caught over the outside shoulder.

3. Keep your eye on the ball. The most important part in catching the ball is to watch the ball all the way, until it’s in your hands.

4. Once the ball is in your hands, secure it by quickly tucking it away, high under your armpit, clamping it tightly to your body. Cover the front tip of the football with your fingers. Use your free arm to maintain balance.

Running Good Pass Routes

Running good pass routes will go a long way toward helping your team move the ball. A good route has four main parts: start, stem, break, and burst.

1. Start – A good route begins with a good stance and start. It’s important to gain as much ground as you can as quickly as possible.

2. Stem – The receiver forces the defensive back up the field. Run toward the outside shoulder of the defender in an attempt to get him to turn his hips away from the line of scrimmage.

3. Break – The receiver transitions from the stem to the burst by making a direction-changing cut. In order to get in and out of a break quickly, stay low and maintain proper balance by keeping your shoulders directly over your feet.

4. Burst – The receiver comes out of the break and attempts to create additional separation from the defender. Different routes require different bursts. A curl requires the receiver to come off the break with two steps back to the quarterback and then stop. A post requires a full-speed, continued burst after the break.

*Teaching the importance of everyone running his/her assigned route will be a challenge. This is a good time to explain and teach the importance of teamwork. Remember to be patient with your players, especially the younger ones.

The Defense

“Defense wins games” - this is the philosophy of many professional, college, and high school coaches and is also a good philosophy for Flag Football. If you can prevent your opponent from scoring, you have a better chance of winning. Don’t just focus on the offense in your practices. Dedicate enough practice time to the defense and your team will be rewarded.

Flag Grabbing / “Tackling”

The obvious difference between flag football and regulation football is that in flag football the defense must grab the flag of the player with the ball instead of tackling the player. Believe it or not, it is often more difficult to grab and pull a flag than it is to tackle a player. Your team must learn the best way to grab an opponent’s flag. You may find that most of your players will want to lunge at one of the opponent’s flag with one hand. While this will occasionally work, a better technique is for the player to attempt to position themselves in front of the ball carrier, giving the defensive player a great opportunity to pull either flag.


Breaking Down
The best way to make a flag pull is to be in a good position to do so. Breaking down brings the defender under control and gives him the best chance of having a successful flag pull.

  • Shorten your steps. Use fast, choppy steps.
  • Be balanced and in control of your body. Be ready for the ball carrier to make a move.
  • Stay low, with your arms out slightly for balance and your shoulders above your feet.
  • Watch the player’s belly, and move toward your target (the flags).


Pulling flags is a skill that’s developed only after ample practice, so go through the motions several times. 

  • Sprint to the ball carrier.
  • As you approach the ball carrier, come to a good defensive position and shorten your strides into short, choppy steps (break down), getting ready for the ball carrier to make a move. 
  • Reach for the top of the flag (near the plug). Firmly grab the flag and pull hard.



Swarming Around the Ball

It is good practice to teach your team to “swarm around the ball” on defense. The goal on defense is grab the flag. So you should try to have as many players attempting to grab the flag as possible. The more defenders you have around the ball, the more chances your team will have to grab a flag. Also, when you have many players surrounding the ball carrier, there are not many places that the runner can run to. By swarming, your team will slow down the runner, cornering him/her and making it easier for your team to grab the flag.