How To Understand Football as a Woman

Female Guide to the Game

Image of football game

Watch out, it's football season! It's time for the guys to get rowdy, drink, and have fun hollering at the game! For you, however, it's just another day. You're either cooking, cleaning, or elsewhere trying to avoid the commotion. You usually don't understand all of this rowdy behavior, even though it's very simple.

Guys get excited when:

  • A touchdown is scored
  • One team loses the ball to another team via an "interception" or a "fumble" (explained later).
  • One team gets a lot of yards on a single play, also known as a "big play"
  • A play "under review" goes in favor of their team

Interception? Fumble? What? This is where women usually lose hope of enjoying this game with their loved ones. Women lose this hope because they do not grasp the fundamentals of the game, and this is why they can never learn it. Most men aren't willing to show women how to enjoy and appreciate this great game.

The Mindset

It's absolutely imperative for you to have the right mindset before even thinking about anything football related. This is grossly underestimated, and it is why women cannot learn the game, or refuse to learn it. The goal of anything learned mentally is to put yourself in a calm, relaxed state of mind. This starts on Saturday night. Try to get a healthy eight hours of sleep. If your husband watches Saturday, then prepare on Friday.

The next morning, make sure to eat a good breakfast. If you do not eat breakfast normally, at least eat a snack or something that you would normally pick up. Again: Football is a three-hour game, and at all points in the game you find critical aspects that you could easily miss if you're not alert.

The most valuable thing you could bring, however, is a female friend who knows more about the game than you. Female interest in the NFL, and in football in general, has spiked since the 1990s, and more women than ever are getting into the sport. You will learn much faster if you are able to ask instant questions to someone who has certainly been through the same thing.


No matter who you have with you or how many years you've been around it, you cannot understand the game without grasping the basics of it. These are often overlooked, but many women don't even understand the basic size of a football field. I am going to show you assuming you know absolutely nothing.

The Football Field

Football is played on a field 100 yards long by 53 yards wide. Each goal (or End Zone) is an additional ten yards long. Beyond the 53 yard wide mark, and behind each goal zone (the ten yards inside of the goal) are both designated as out of bounds (play stops when a player gets to this line). Goal posts (uprights) are positioned behind each goal. Beyond the 53 yard wide mark are two designated spots for each team, which consists of coaches and players not playing at the time. These are called "The Sidelines", or "The X Team's bench" (X for which team owns it).

The 100 yard long field is divided into two territories. This can easily be noticed by looking at the numbers which count up to 50, then back down to make sure both territories are symmetrical. Territories are defended. Your goal is to get into your opponent's territory and get to the goal when you have the ball, and stop the other team from getting into your territory.

The Objective

In football, you win by scoring more points than your opponent. There are multiple ways to score points in football such as:

  • Getting inside of your opponent's goal (called a touchdown): 6 points
  • A placekick (kick from the ground which is held by someone called the holder) into the opponent's uprights (called a field goal): 3 points
  • Tackling the opposing team in their own goal (called a safety): 2 points

Once a touchdown is counted, the scoring team performs one of two actions:

  • A field goal attempt from the 5 yard-line: Worth 1 point
  • An attempt to reach the goal from the 2 or 3 yard-line: Worth 2 points

*2 yard line is for the NFL rules, 3 yard line is for NCAA rules*

Order of Events

After all of the pregame festivities, you might notice members of each team line up in the middle of the football field. This is the coin toss. The players on both sides are called Team Captains, which are chosen by the coaches of each team. The referee is known as the "head referee" or simply the ref. He is just one of many, so don't think he makes all of the decisions.

Though both teams are present, it is the visiting team's captains who call the coin toss. If the side of the coin is guessed correctly, the visiting team can make one of three decisions: Receive the ball first, kick the ball off first, or a choice of a goal to defend in the first quarter. Most teams will choose to receive the ball first (they are on offense first), but due to bad weather, a few will choose to defend a specific territory first due to heavy winds. Wind plays a very large factor, and wind from behind the team is much better than battling into it. Teams rarely elect to kick off. The losing team on the coin toss then decides one of the other two choices.

Immediately after the coin toss, the team who receives the ball receives it via the "kickoff". A team of 11 people are designated on the kickoff team versus an equal team of 11 on the receiving team. The kicker (one responsible for all place kicks during the game) kicks the ball from the 35 yard line. The goal of the kickoff team is to tackle the returner (the one who catches the kickoff), or force him out of bounds. After the play, and after every play an official spots the ball. There are four other scenarios that can unfold on kickoffs as well (explained below).

Under normal circumstances, the team who received the ball is the offense. The offense is said to possess the ball at this point. The offense attempts its first play from the kickoff spot. A play consists of the center (person lined up over where the football is placed) snapping (giving) the ball to the quarterback (person lined up just behind the center who performs an action with the football). The quarterback can then hand the ball to a runner, or he can attempt a forward pass (both explained later). A sequence of plays is called a drive. The drive is defined as the point between the initial possession of the ball, and when the opposing team gains possession of it. You'll often see charts on TV when they are talking about drives. This is what the terms they use mean:

  • PUNT: Punting the ball is the act of kicking the ball WITHOUT letting it touch the ground (opposite of a place kick). Instead of scoring points, this kick is used when the offense must gain first down yardage or turn the ball over at their current spot. An alternative solution is to simply kick the ball as far as you can to limit the chances of the opposing team getting points.
  • FG: Field Goal; the team has successfully added three points to their total score.
  • TD: Touchdown; the team has successfully added a touchdown to their total score.
  • INT: Interception; the defense caught a forward pass by the offense.
  • FUM: Fumble; the defense possessed the ball proceeding an offensive ball-carrier losing his grasp of the football before being called down by the game officials (refs).
  • SAFETY: A special situation where the ball is spotted inside of the offensive team's end zone. This awards two points to the defending team, as well as receiving a safety punt from the team that received the safety (just a normal punt from the the safety team's 30 yard line)
  • MISSED FG: Missed Field Goal; the team attempted a field goal, but it did not go inside of the uprights.

Play resumes until the end of the first quarter. At the end of the quarter, the long delay usually experienced is because teams must walk to the other side of the field to start the second quarter by defending the opposite goal line from the same yard line. If I am the offense and I am in your territory at the 20 yard line, I have to walk 60 yards to the other side of the field, as well as switch sides so you are defending the goal I defended in the first quarter. The process continues for four quarters. Play continues as if nothing had changed after that.

The second quarter works the same way, except that the usage of timeouts becomes critical to managing the game. Timeouts give teams up to one minute to make adjustments to their team. After one minute, the play clock starts up again. The play clock is the 40 seconds teams are given in the NFL between the end of the previous play, and the snap of the next one. The game clock becomes critical as well, because the game clock is not indicative of actual time. The game clock stops if a pass is incomplete, if a player goes out of bounds, if possession of the ball is changed, or if a team calls that all-important timeout that stops the game clock regardless of what happened on the previous play.


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