Flag football is a diverse sport. Here are the most common flag football rules and formats played throughout the world.
There are many different variations of flag football rules, to go along with the countless leagues and tournaments across the country, youth and adult. Most organizations use their own version of flag football rules customized to fit their players preferred style and differentiate them from their competition. We’ve put together a collection of some of the most common flag football rules for general guidance, along with common differences between formats, but of course consult your local league or tournament organizer for their official guidelines.
4 on 4 FLAG FOOTBALL RULES
The rules for 4on4 flag football don’t vary too wildly, and is fairly consistently played the same across the country due to it’s simplified nature. Typically played on the smallest field of any format at around 20-25 yards wide by 50 yards long, with 5-7 yard end zones. Most formats allow just one first down at midfield, with 3 plays to get a first down, and 3 plays to score.
Where things typically start to differ in the way people enforce their version of the 4on4 flag football rules, is in the quarterbacks ability to run or not, whether directly or via handoff/throwback, and the ability to lateral or pitch the ball both behind the line of scrimmage and downfield. Some minor differences in the game clock, size of the field, rusher distance, and penalty enforcement can vary as well but is not nearly as impactful on the style of play as the above.
Style of Play
4on4 flag football is typically played at the fastest pace of all the formats, with a much bigger emphasis on one-on-one matchups and individual routes versus complicated playcalling and strategy. Most people consider this format to be the most reliant on having elite athletes where speed is paramount, and also the lowest barrier to new players coming straight from traditional football.
5 on 5 FLAG FOOTBALL RULES
The rules for adult 5 on 5 flag football vary quite a bit from one region to the next, both inside the United States and across the world. The 5 on 5 format seems to be the most common and fastest growing division in all of flag football. Typically, the field size is similar if not slightly larger than 4 on 4, somewhere around 25-30 yards wide and 50-60 yards long, with 2 halves of the field and a 7-10 yard end zone.
Past the size of the field, there are many varieties of styles of play and flag football rules to abide by. For instance, on the East Coast of the US, it’s can be full contact format with blocking and/or running allowed, narrower rusher distance, and more. The central US tends to play non-contact, with everyone eligible to receive a pass, pitching and laterals allowed downfield and/or behind the line of scrimmage, no-run zones 5 yards before midfield and the end zone and other small variances. Then on the East Coast, it more resembles the 4on4 game, with no pitching or laterals and more of a drop back QB friendly game that’s more reliant on superior athletes and speed.
Style of Play
5on5 flag football is typically what I would consider to be a bridge format between 4man and 7 or 8man formats. You have the ability, in most rules, to spread the field and create 1 on 1 matchups if you prefer, or you can use zone-flooding strategies due to the defense having more options as well between man and zone techniques. It’s not quite as fast paced, including the playclock in the huddle, generally allowing for more strategy and advanced playcalling with more motion and other options. It’s not uncommon to have two totally opposite teams be extremely competitive with each other, one super fast and more athletic, with a big time QB but who might not do the little things like pitch or run more advanced plays, and a more strategy oriented, pitch, lateral and throwback heavy team that utilizes the full playbook.