It is not essential to learn the exact dimensions of an American Football pitch but a basic knowledge on the markings and layout will help in understanding the flow of the game. The field is 120 yards long and 53 yards wide and at each end of the pitch there is a 10 yard scoring zone called an end zone.
The field has lines running the width of the pitch every five yards with the final line being where the playing field meets the end zone, this is called the goal line. There are also smaller marks every yard of the pitch and these are called hash marks.
At the back of each end zone there is also a goal post similar to that used in rugby. In BAFL they are not all the wishbone style seen in the USA as there is a mix between this type and conventional rugby posts.
The one piece of equipment that the game revolves around is the ball. It is a prolate spheroid about 11 inches long and weighing just under a pound. It is more pointed than a rugby ball and also has a distinct, raised lace.
The other equipment that the game is characteristic of are the helmets and shoulder pads. These are worn by all positions with variations to the design depending on what position the players plays, usually a trade off between weight, movement-restriction and protection. Along with these there are various other pads to protect the knees, thighs and hips. There are also additonal pieces of equipment such as gloves, visors and additonal padding that are optional and worn according to each player's preference.
Looking at a sideline in British American Football you will often see 20 to 50 players kitted up ready to play. Of these only 11 are allowed on to the field at any one team, but the rules permit unlimited substitution between plays. This allows players to specialise at certain positions and roles and splits the team into three distinct units.
- Special Teams
The team has its offence on the field when they have possession of the ball. This is unit is responsible for moving the ball towards the opponent's goal line with the ultimate aim of scoring. The offensive players are:
- Running backs
- Offensive linemen
When the opposing team has their offence on the field the unit responsible for stopping them from scoring is the defence. The defence's aim is to prevent the opposition's offence from moving the ball and return possession of the ball back the their own offence. The defensive players are:
- Defensive linemen
- Defensive backs
When a kick is required each teams sends out a special team's unit. There are 3 offensive and 3 defensive special teams. The three offensive units are responsible for scoring or advancing a kicked ball as far back as they can. These are field goal, kick-return and punt return. The three defensive units are responsible for blocking the oppositions kicks or tackling their returners. These units are field goal block, kick-off and punt.
Quarterback - the leader of the offence who 'manages' every play. He thows the ball for his receivers to catch, or hands the ball off to a running back. Sometimes he may keep the ball and run with it himself. A good quarterback is a valuable commodity in the BAFCL.
Offensive linemen - these players are responsible for blocking the defence. They do this in pass blocking where they stop the defence from reaching the quarterback before he can throw the ball. Or they run block where they push defensive players out of the way to stop them tackling the running backs. One of the offensive linemen, the center, is responsible for starting every play. He passes the ball back between his legs to the quarterback. This is called the snap.
Receivers - their main responsibility is to catch passes thrown by the quarterback. They are either wide receivers, lined up nearer the sideline, or tight-ends, lined up next to the offensive line. Tight-ends tend to be a hybrid of offensive lineman and wide receiver.
Running backs - take the ball directly from the quarterback and run towards the opponents end zone. If a team uses more than one running back one is often used to block for the running back with the ball. They are sometimes referred to as full backs and half backs depending on where they line up and their main role.
Defensive linemen - their job is to tackle the quarterback on passing plays and running backs on rushing plays. The two linemen on the outside are often referred to as defensive ends and the linemen between them are defensive tackles.
Linebackers - they probably have the most varied role on defence. On passing plays they have to be able to rush past the offensive linemen (blitz) to get to the quarterback or cover players who the quarterback might want to pass the ball to. On rushing plays their job is to tackle the running back before he can make a big gain.
Defensive backs - these players cover offensive pass catchers like the receivers or are responsible for covering areas of the field. Their main duty is to stop offensive players from catching passes from the quarterback. Sometimes they are asked to blitz on passing plays.
Special Teams - these players take to the pitch when a kick is involved. They include a number of specialised positions such as returners, kickers, punters, holders and long snappers.
When it comes to watching the game, down and distance is probably the first thing to try to understand. A down is another name for a play, this starts from the moment the ball is moved from a stationary position either by a snap or by a kick. It ends when the referees blow their whistle. The offence has four attempts (downs) to move the ball 10 yards. If they achieve this they are said to have gained a first down and are given another set of four downs. If they fail the opposition's offence takes control of the ball after the fourth attempt.
The game starts with a kick-off where one team kicks the ball as far down the field as possible and the other team attempts to catch it and return it as far back as they can. If they return it the length of the field they score with a touchdown, if not their opposition takes control of the ball where the returner was stopped (usually by a tackle). The yardage line that the play starts from is called the line of scrimmage.
The offence then have the four downs to get the 10 yards. To advance the ball they can either pass it from the quarterback to a receiver or run the ball with the running back or sometimes the quarterback. After the whistle the new position of the ball is deducted from the 10 yards needed unless the ball has passed this required distance. It is also possible for the offence to require even more than the 10 yards after the play as the ball carrier may be tackled short of the line of scrimmage. Either side may also commit a rule infraction and this will also have an effect on where the ball is placed for the start of the next play.
If the ball carrier makes it into the end zone at the end of the play a touchdown is awarded to the offence. However, if the offence reaches 4th down they have three choices. The first option is to attempt to make the necessary yardage but failure will result in the ball being given to the opposition's offence where the ball carrier is stopped. If the team is within kicking distance of the opposition's goal posts they can attempt to kick the ball through them, again failure will give the opposition the ball at the spot the attempt was made from. If the offence still has a considerable distance to go before they are near the end zone they may elect to punt the ball. The opposition get possession of the ball where the ball stops after the kick or if one of their players catches it the line of scrimmage becomes the spot at which he is tackled. The offence can also lose possession of the ball on a turn over. This happens if the ball carrier drops the ball and it is recovered by a player on the defence or if a member of the defence catches a pass thrown by the quarterback.
There are four types of scores in American Football:
- Touchdown - 6 points
- PAT (Point After Touchdown) - 1 or 2 points
- Field Goal - 3 points
- Safety - 2 points
After a touchdown a team can elect to kick the ball through the uprights from the 10 yard line for 1 point or try and pass or run the ball into the endzone from the 3 yard line for 2 points.
A field goal is made if the ball is kicked through the uprights from a place kick (not a punt) from anywhere on the pitch
A safety is scored if a defensive unit tackles the ball carrier in the offence's own endzone. Or if the offence fumble the ball through the back or side of their own end zone.
|17 catches a passing TD||32 dives in for a rushing TD||82 holds for 24 to kick a FG|
American football games in BAFCL are officiated by 3 to 5 officials. They wear a distinct black and white striped shirt, white pants and a cap. They are all responsible for monitoring different aspects of the game. Play does not always stop on an infraction, for most penalties the official will throw a yellow duster on to the pitch indicating that an infaction has occurred on the play. Following the end of the play the non-guilty team are given the option to take the result of the play or accept the penalty, whichever is most favourable for them.
There a a whole number of rules and infactions but the most useful to know are:
Holding - offensive players are allowed to block players by using their hands to push or resist their motion. They are not allowed to grab hold of the defensive players and the penalty for this is 10 yards. Defensive players are also not allowed to grab receivers on passing plays otherwise they also receive a 10 yard penalty and the offence gets an automatic first down.
False start - the offence must not move until the center snaps the ball. If anyone 'jumps' before this snap then the play is stopped immediatley and the offence lose 5 yards.
Offsides - if a defensive player is on the offensive side of the ball when the ball is snapped they are ruled offside but the play is allowed to continue. If they make contact with an offensive player before the snap the play is stopped. The penalty for both infractions is 5 yards.
Pass interference - when the ball is passed all receivers and defensive players are allowed the opportunity to catch the ball. They may not be impeded by another player by pushing them or grabbing them. The penalty is 15 yards and if the defence is responsible the offence receive an automatic first down.
Face caging - it is illegal to tackle a player by their face cage. If more than incidental contact is made with the ball-carrier's facecage the tackler is penalised 15 yards and the offence are given an automatic first down.
The Hampshire Thrashers are a member of the British American Football League and play nationally accross England, Scotland and Wales in the British Senior League. The League is split into divisions with teams being grouped according to their skill level. These divisons are then split further into regional areas.
Teams play a 10 game regular season played from May to September and depending on their success during this they may proceed to a knock-out stage called the play-offs. The top two teams in the play-offs from Division 1 face each other in September for the Britbowl which is the National Championship.
There are some features of a British American Football game that are slightly different to those that you may have seen on television when watching the NFL.
- BAFCL uses NCAA rules (American Colleges) and not NFL rules.
- Positions are not always numbered the same and some players play on both offence and defence.
- Sometimes field lengths are restricted to 90 yards to fit into stadiums or pitches originally marked up for other English sports.
I want to play kitted football but I don't know the rules. The rules of American football are easier to learn once you come to practice. It is not important to know any rules as we will coach all you need to know.
Am I big enough? The sport is not purely about size. You will soon learn that a good grounding in the basics, fundamentals and required techniques allow those that progress to become good football players. Fortunately it is a sport that caters for all shapes and sizes.
So I want to come to practice, what do I need? For your first introduction you will only need studded boots (if we are on our grass pitch) or trainers (if we are on our 3G pitch), a gum-shield, tracksuit bottoms/shorts and bring a large bottle of water for hydration. If you prefer, you can also chose to turn up to watch a practice. This way you can get to see what's expected.
I like to get involved, but I can't play. Well the good news is that we have several positions that you can do to help and get involved with the club. We need sideline and committee help as well as other important tasks like scouting, photography, filming, fundraising etc.
I am female but still want to play. We are an equal opportunity sport and our league and club rules allow female players, coaches, etc. We welcome any potential new female member.