How To Read Formations In Football

If you’ve just made the team and are trying to impress the guys, or you’re a girl and really trying to impress the guys, it helps to know how to read formations in football. There may be a lot of action on the field, but it’s not as confusing as it looks. There’s nothing more impressive to a guy than a girl who knows the game, and there’s nothing more important to a guy’s sports bar credibility than knowing what he’s talking about when the game is actually on. That’s if you didn’t make the team, of course. Football is played with two sides opposing each other, offense and defense. Each side has eleven people on the field at a time. On paper the formations are drawn up in what are called Xs and Os. When reading formations in football, Os represent the offensive players, and the Xs represent the defensive players.

To read formations in football, you will need:

  • Tickets to a football game
  • Access to a television
  • A DVD player or VCR with remote control
  • A pen or pencil and paper
  • Patience and a quick eye
  1. Watch a football game. It doesn’t matter if it is professional, college or high school. In order to properly learn to read football formations it is best to see a game live and in-person. Sit up high in the bleachers or stadium if possible so that you have a bird’s eye view. You want to be able to see all of the action at the same time.
  2. Watch a football game on television. Wait for the shots where the camera shows the whole field, just like when you watched the game live. Notice where the players are lined up before the play begins. Now pause and use the controls on your remote to advance or reverse as necessary.
  3. Learn your Xs and Os. You can’t learn to read football formations if you don’t know what the positions are. Everybody knows what a quarterback is, but it’s not until you know what a nickelback is that you really know your stuff.
  4. Learn about offensive formations. Offensive formations have a center who snaps the ball to the quarterback, two guards and two tackles who block for the quarterback. There are usually two receivers and one tight end who blocks but can also catch passes. Generally there are two running backs who stand side by side or single file behind the quarterback, ready to run the ball or help block attacking players.
  5. Learn about defensive formations. Defensive formations have two safeties that defend against the pass and help support the run. Two cornerbacks defend against the offense's two receivers. There are usually at least three linebackers in front of the safeties, ready to stop the running backs. Two defensive tackles and two defensive ends stand opposite the offense's tackles and guards, going head-to-head.
  6. Visualize the formations. Draw out the formations on paper for both offense and defense the way you saw it live, or on the TV, until you are comfortable enough to name every position. There are a variety of variations on formations, so start with the simplest first as described above. There is plenty of time to learn about the three-four, five-two, cover two, man free, wildcat, spread, unbalanced, etc.

Those are the basics for reading football formations. Once you can recognize the positions and their basic responsibilities, the game is much easier to understand both as a fan and as a player. There are so many variations on the basic football formations that playbooks (the manuals players learn their plays from) can sometimes be as thick as a phone book. Not to worry, though. With a little patience and determination, you will be reading formations and second-guessing coaches with the best of the armchair quarterbacks.

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