What You’ll Need:
- 2 teams of 2 or more players
- A flat backyard surface, free of obstacles and safe for running (grass is ideal)
- A football: Regulation-size for older kids or adults, and a smaller, foam or plastic ball for the young ones
- Small cones or brightly colored objects, like bean bags or mittens, to mark lines and boundaries (optional)
- Check the field for obstacles. Remove any tripping hazards, like stones or sticks.
- Mark the field for boundaries. Use cones or colored objects to indicate sidelines, the line of scrimmage, and end zones, or identify landmarks that all players will understand. If you’re playing in a small space, take turns using one end zone.
- Decide how you’ll move the ball. You can set a distance the ball needs to travel for each down, or give each team a certain number of plays to try to reach the end zone. (Our game uses 3 plays as an example.)
- Decide how you’ll keep score. Keep things simple for younger players by awarding one point per touchdown, or award seven points per touchdown to get closer to pro football rules—there’s no need for field goals or conversions in backyard football.
- Decide how long you’ll play. Will you base your game on scores or the clock? Will you play until one team reaches a point goal, or set a timer and play until the clock runs out?
Show players the boundaries and explain your rules:
- Each team can pass or throw the football to try to reach the end zone and score points. (There’s no kicking or punting.) The “offense” is the team trying to score a touchdown. The “defense” is the team trying to prevent that from happening.
- To “down” the player holding the ball, a player from the defense must touch or tag them with one hand, anywhere between their shoulders and waist.
- The ball turns over to the other team if it’s intercepted during a pass, if there’s no touchdown scored after three plays, or if someone tags a player anywhere above their shoulders or below their waist.
- Have each team designate a quarterback.
- Decide which team will snap the ball first.
- Set up on the line of scrimmage—the starting line for the offense’s first snap—with the teams facing each other.
- After the snap, the defense counts to five, out loud, using their favorite counting method: “one-Mississippi,” “one-banana,” one-one-thousand” and other variations are fun. Once they say “5”, a defensive player can rush the quarterback and force a pass or handoff. (For younger kids, skip the rush.)
- When the player holding the ball is tagged, that play ends and another starts with a new snap at the location of the down.
- The offense gets 3 tries to move the football into the end zone while the defense attempts to intercept or down the ball.
- If the offense makes it safely to the end zone within 3 plays, they score! If they don’t, the ball turns over to the other team.
Keep playing until you’ve reached your point goal or your time limit—or until it’s time for dinner!