BestReviews is reader-supported and may earn an affiliate commission. Details
Expert Shopper Sports & Fitness

A complete guide for your child to get started playing football: tips for all ages

The NFL season begins on the first Thursday after Labor Day and ends on the second Sunday in February. If there are preseason games, they can start in early August. This means half of every year, Americans can enjoy watching the sport.

Youth football seasons do not last as long. They often start in September and only last six to 12 weeks. However, your local athletic club may offer other alternatives, such as spring football or indoor winter football. If your child loves football, this allows them to play throughout most of the year. Here’s everything you need to know to get your child involved in America’s favorite sport.

Football 101

What is the object of football?

No matter which type of game you are playing — flag football, touch football or tackle football — the object of the game remains the same. The team that has possession of the ball tries to move the football down the field to cross the opponent’s goal line to score points. That team gets four tries to move the ball 10 yards. If they are unsuccessful, possession of the ball moves to the other team. The team that has the most points at the end of the game wins.

How do you score points in football?

While moving the ball across the goal line gets a team the highest amount of points (six points), there are four other ways to score points in the game: a field goal, an extra point, a two-point conversion, and a safety.

Field goal: A field goal is when a team decides to kick the ball through the two uprights rather than moving the ball across the goal line. A field goal is worth three points.

Extra point: After a team scores a touchdown — carrying or passing the ball across the goal line — they can try for an extra point. This is done by kicking the football through the uprights from a designated location (the 15-yard line in the NFL).

Two-point conversion: After scoring a touchdown, a team may opt for a two-point conversion instead of the extra point. In this instance, the ball is placed on the two-yard line and the team gets one chance to move the ball across the goal line either by passing or running.

Safety: A safety is worth two points. This happens whenever the defensive team downs a player with the ball in their end zone.

How old do you need to be to play football?

Flag football or touch football can be started by children as young as 5 or 6 years old. It should be played for fun and be largely a contact-free sport. Flag football and touch football can be played by children of all ages, they do not have to progress to tackle football.

Tackle football, on the other hand, has a bit of controversy surrounding it. Some proponents say the sport is appropriate for middle school and up, while others, including NFL pros, advocate waiting until at least high school to play tackle football.

What skills are required for football?

Football is a sport that requires several skills and disciplines. Although the position your child plays will determine which particular skills they need, in general, all the following abilities can help your child be a better player.

  • Strength. Football is a physical sport that requires strength to face and overpower your opponents head-on.
  • Speed. To move the ball down the field or to catch an opponent who is running with the ball, you need speed.
  • Agility. Maneuvering through a field filled with players requires quick thinking and agility.
  • Balance. A player might not always be in an ideal position of stability. When this happens, they must depend on a well-developed sense of balance to keep them from falling.
  • Endurance. To last throughout the game, a player has to build up their endurance.
  • Hand-eye coordination. Football involves throwing, catching and holding onto an oddly shaped ball. Each player needs to have exceptional hand-eye coordination to excel.
  • Spatial awareness. During football, players must always be aware of where their body is in relation to other players on the field. They must also learn how to respond when these players are constantly moving in a variety of directions.
  • Self-motivation. Football can be a rough sport. If a player cannot push themselves through less than desirable situations, they will not be able to enjoy the game.

What are the hazards of football?

As fun and rewarding as football can be, the sport is not without its dangers. Even a player wearing a football helmet and all the required safety equipment can sustain injuries. Some of these injuries will be temporary, but others, such as chronic traumatic encephalopathy, won’t present themselves until years after it occurs and will last for the rest of the player’s life.

What you need to play football

Schutt A11 Youth Football Helmet

The most important piece of gear you need on the field is a helmet. This impact-absorbent model performs well across a broad range of temperatures. It has a low profile and a lighter weight for a more comfortable fit.

Sold by Amazon and Dick's Sporting Goods

Shock Doctor Youth Gel Max Mouthguard

Dental work is expensive. A mouthguard isn’t. To ensure your child keeps all their teeth during the season, you need a quality mouthguard. This model molds to your child’s teeth and gums to provide a secure fit. The integrated breathing channel makes it easy to breathe while the mouthpiece is in.

Sold by Amazon and Dick's Sporting Goods

Xenith Youth Flyte Football Shoulder Pads

Xenith’s shoulder pads protect your child’s chest and sternum while remaining flexible enough to allow your young athlete to maintain full range of motion. When it is time to clean, the pads can be removed for easy washing.

Sold by Amazon and Dick's Sporting Goods

Riddell Chrome Football Back Plate

A back plate is a small accessory to shoulder pads that performs an important role. It protects the lower back from injury. The single-post mounting on this back plate makes it compatible with all Riddell non-RipKord shoulder pads that have a smooth, flat seam.

Sold by Amazon and Dick's Sporting Goods

Under Armour Youth Integrated Football Pants

Football pants have two important roles. First, they must protect the player’s legs and knees from injury. Second, they must allow the player to have complete freedom of movement so they are not inhibited in any way. These under Armour football pants excel in both areas.

Sold by Amazon and Dick's Sporting Goods

Nike Youth Vapor Jet 6.0 Receiver Gloves

If you are a receiver, during the game your hands may get sweaty. This diminishes your gripping ability. These Nike receiver gloves have an ultra-sticky catching surface and adjustable cuffs to customize their fit. The woven back allows for better air circulation and helps keep your hands cool.

Sold by Amazon and Dick's Sporting Goods

Shock Doctor Youth BioFlex Cup

Impacts hurt some areas more than others. With this BioFlex cup, your child will have low-profile, single-layer protection that lets him to play with confidence. The gel perimeter pad allows for unrestricted motion while the built-in vents provide better airflow.

Sold by Amazon and Dick's Sporting Goods

Adidas Kids' Freak Spark Team Football Cleats

Traction can make the difference between that game-winning touchdown and a “better luck next time” pat on the back. These Adidas cleats have a lycra bootie to ensure a secure fit, while the hook-and-loop closure provides a secure lockdown.

Sold by Amazon and Dick's Sporting Goods

Wilson GST Leather Football

If you’re serious about playing, this is the official ball for over 180 NCAA programs and 38 high school football state associations. The soft-leather design gives this ball a unique feel that lets the player have more control when catching or carrying and greater accuracy when throwing.

Sold by Amazon and Dick's Sporting Goods

Wilson GST Composite Football

If you desire a more affordable option, this composite leather football is a solid choice. It offers many of the same features as the leather football, only at a reduced price.

Sold by Amazon and Dick's Sporting Goods

SKLZ Flag Football Set

Flag football is a little different from regular football. When you play, each player needs two flags and a belt. This set contains enough equipment for two teams of five players each. It also comes with four goal line cones so you can make your gridiron wherever there is an open field.

Sold by Amazon and Dick's Sporting Goods

GlowCity Glow-in-the-Dark Football

If you want to have a catch after dusk, you need a stadium with lights — or a special football. This youth-sized football features an LED light that lasts for up to 30 hours. This allows you to have fun at all hours of the day, no matter where you are.

Sold by Amazon

Sign up here to receive the BestReviews weekly newsletter for useful advice on new products and noteworthy deals. 

Allen Foster writes for BestReviews. BestReviews has helped millions of consumers simplify their purchasing decisions, saving them time and money.

BestReviews spends thousands of hours researching, analyzing, and testing products to recommend the best picks for most consumers.

Share this post: