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Football 101 For Moms (and Clueless Dads)

Updated on February 18, 2008
Photo: JamieLWilliamsPhotography, Flickr
Photo: JamieLWilliamsPhotography, Flickr

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Help, my kid plays football and I haven't got a clue!

This information is by no means comprehensive, but it'll get you started. Remember, there's no point in getting overwhelmed. You just need to know enough to pay attention and be able to toss out some lingo over pizza after the game. Study up on the basics of football, go to some games, ask lots of questions and you'll be tailgating before you know it. That's the fun part anyway!

Scoring Points

Although you may find it boring, your child has chosen to play so you need to get excited - or at least learn to fake it. The goal in football is to score points by the following:

  • Touchdown - 6 points, putting the ball in the opponents' end zone
  • Field Goal - 3 points, kicking the ball through a set of upright goal posts at the back of that end zone
  • Extra Point - 1 point, like a field goal, but from a shorter distance and done right after a touchdown

Accomplishing these two goals, as well as preventing the other team from scoring is achieved through a combination of running plays and passing plays.

When a team has the ball they are the offensive team, or offense. (No, it doesn't mean they smell bad... even though they do) When a team doesn't have the ball they are the defensive team, or defense. Pretty simple so far, right?

Getting The Ball Down The Field

In football, each team has 11 players on the field at any given time. Players are frequently switched out for others who are waiting patiently on the side of the field.

The offense has 4 chances, or downs, to advance the ball 10 yards or more from the spot where they took possession of it. If it succeeds, it gets 4 more downs (chances) to advance the ball another 10 or more yards. (Note: If the offense has less than 10 yards to go to reach the other team's end zone, it only needs to get there - not the full 10 yards.)

After a play, the officials measure how far the ball traveled a first down for 10 yards or more. The ball resumes in play from the spot where it was stopped during the previous play.

Running & Passing

The offense generally advances the ball by handing it to a runner or by throwing it (called passing) to a receiver. Doing either is called running a play. An individual play starts when the ball is snapped and given to the quarterback. A play ends when the player holding the ball is tackled. The player is now down, and one of the chances (downs) has been used up. The official blows the whistle to halt play. Sometimes a series of forward plays is called a drive.

Understanding Defense

Defense tries to stop the offense from advancing the ball by moving it down the field 10 yards at a time. Defensive players are allowed to tackle any player that has the ball. They also try to prevent passes (throws) from reaching receivers. They can't physically interfere with a receiver, but they can tackle or hit that player hard enough to make him drop it before it is under control. They can also try to make players fumble by knocking the ball out of any offensive player's grasp.

What's a Punt?

Usually, teams only use 3 of its 4 downs to try advancing the ball at least 10 yards. If it's not successful, it will then punt (kick) the ball on 4th down. The reason is because if a loses the ball does not gain the 10 yards it needs to maintain possession on the fourth try, the other team gets the ball from wherever the offense loses it. Punting gets the ball further down the field.


defense: the team in charge of preventing the offense from scoring, also called defensive team

down: one of the 4 chances the offense has to gain 10 or more yards, once in possession of the ball. If the yardage is attained, the offense gets a first down and 4 more tries for another.

end zone: the scoring area located at either end of the football field, 10 yards deep and the width of the playing area. A team can score by having a player take the ball into the other team's end zone.

goal posts: Y-shaped structures at the far end of each end zone.

offense: the team in charge of driving the ball down the field to score, also called the offensive team

passing play: an attempt to advance the ball by throwing it down the field

quarterback: key offensive player in charge of initiating the play that's been called by the coaching staff.

running play: an attempt to get a first down by having a member of the offense run with the ball rather than throw it.

snap: the quick movement at the beginning of an offensive play that results in the quarterback getting possession of the ball


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  • stanleyreese profile image

    stanleyreese 5 years ago from Alabama

    Great post. We take for granted the things we know. Most people won't ask questions about such a well established sport because they don't want to look stupid. Applause to you for this. By the way, wanna teach me something about soccer or hockey?

    Stan Reese

    author of "Relax Dad, It's Just the Kitchen"

  • profile image

    guidethem 7 years ago

    Great hub idea. I know the basics will be beneficial to many. Single parents may elect not to ket their child involved for lack of familiarity with the sport and its gameplay. Cool -

  • profile image

    Coco 7 years ago

    You are a genius. I finally get it. And right in time for Super Bowl parties!!!!

  • Drew Breezzy profile image

    Drew Breezzy 7 years ago from somewhere in my mind

    Nice helping people understand!

  • profile image

    Adrienne  7 years ago

    Thank you so much! I finally understand football and can really support my son who is his High School's Quarterback!

  • profile image

    Judy 8 years ago

    Thanks for the info. Now I understand what the game is about

  • ericfeld profile image

    ericfeld 8 years ago

    Great post, I showed this to my GF and she kinda gets it now lol.

  • profile image

    Lisa 8 years ago

    Thanks for the info, it helped alot!