Aaron Waid
Latest posts by Aaron Waid (see all)

Youth groups (at least in the United States), always want to play some form of football. But the tackling, hitting, and other physical elements make it nearly impossible to do safely. However, we have for you a safe version of football that combines exciting elements of the game and competition in a friendly format that everyone in the youth group will enjoy playing without risk! So if your youth have been dying to play some football, this is a great way to have some fun with it!

Number of participants – 12 minimum, no maximum
Materials and Equipment – Safe American-style football (i.e. Nerf), soft cones or other object for marking boundaries. Other safe and soft balls can also be used. Optional – colored shirts, bandanas, or simply ribbons to mark teammates.
Can Be Modified For Social Distancing

Preparing The Playing Area

The largest amount of preparation for this game will be in setting up the playing area. However, this can be accomplished in just a few minutes.
21 Football can be played outdoors or in large open spaces indoor. Since a ball will be thrown, be sure that the ceiling is high enough and that any breakable objects are protected before gameplay.

In the playing area, you will be establishing zones for receivers and defenders, who will be catching the ball, or attempting to intercept the ball, when thrown to them by the quarterback. You’ll also be creating a zone for the quarterback, where no other players can enter, and the quarterback cannot leave while throwing.

We’ve created a diagram to help explain the zones. Note that each zone will have at least one receiver and one defender from each team.

A rectangular space is ideal for game play. Begin by dividing the rectangular space into three parts. For example, a 50 x 20 foot room would be divided into three parts, each which is approximately 16×20 feet. For the 3 point and two point zones, they will then be divided again, lengthwise, to create a space that would be, in our example, 16×10 feet each.

The 1 point zone is not divided and players are free to move.

The quarterback will have a zone to themselves and no other players can cross that line. Please note that the Quarterback cannot hand the ball off to players in the 1 point zone, they must always make a pass into the air, no matter how short.

Game Instructions (Read Aloud To Group)

We’re going to play a game called 21 Football! In this game, each team will have 4 chances to complete a pass each round from the quarterback to a receiver. Each receiver will be contained within a zone, with the zones furthest from the quarterback being worth 3 points, the middle zones worth 2 points, and the closest zone to the quarterback will be worth one point. To begin, we will divide into even-numbered teams. Each team will then pick a quarterback, who will throw the ball. The quarterback has a special zone where they throw from, and cannot leave the area. Other players will be receivers while your quarterback is throwing, and defenders when the opposing team is throwing. The playing area has been divided into 5 sections for receivers and defenders. Receivers and defenders cannot leave their zone once the quarterback has the ball and is ready to pass.

Each successfully completed pass will earn points for your team, depending on which zone the ball is caught. However, defenders can also catch the ball , or simply swat away passes. (See Variations below for how to change game rules based on interceptions.)

Each round the quarterback has 4 attempts to complete a pass and earn points for their team. After 4 passes, the quarterback changes and attempts to make passes to their teammates. The first team to reach 21 points wins the game.


You can significantly change the pace of this game by deciding what happens when the ball is intercepted by the defending team. Below are a list of options for what could happen in the event of an interception by a defender.

  1. Standard rules – Nothing happens, no points are scored and the passing team continues with their 4 attempts that round.
  2. One Point Earned – Each interception, regardless of zone, earns the defending team one point.
  3. Full points earned – Each interception awards the defending team the full points for their zone. For example, an interception in the 3 point zone would earn 3 points for the defending team. However, this makes longer passes much riskier for the passing team and could discourage going for longer throws.
  4. Change sides – No points earned, but each interception changes possession of the ball to the team that makes the interception, giving them 4 new chances to complete passes for points.

21 Football Game Instructions