ESL Vocabulary for American Football

It's no secret that football is an extremely popular sport—and topic of conversation--in America. At Drew's ESL Fluency Lessons we can help you learn common ESL vocabulary for American football so that you can understand and enjoy watching a football game with others, even those who may have more experience with the English language. You may hear many of these casual and technical terms while watching American football:

Kick off

To start the game off one team will kick the ball to the other team. This is called the “kick off”.

“Kick off is at 1:00 PM”

A play

Each time a team attempts to move the ball forward it is called a play.

“That guy plays hard on every play.”

To tackle

To knock down the person that is carrying the football.

“You need to tackle any player that has the ball on the team you are playing.”


To score six points in the game of football by getting into the opposing team’s end zone.

“With one more touchdown  we could win this game.”

Field goal  

When a team kicks the ball through the goal post, which is located in the end zone, it is awarded three points. The team has to drive the ball close enough to the end zone to make this possible. Most professional kickers can only kick the ball about 50 yards, if that.

“We are only down by 2 points. One field goal and we win the game.”

End zone

A football game is played on a 100 yard field (about 91 meters). Each team has a ten yard area at the end of the field that they are to protect. If the opposing team gets into this area with the ball this team gets a touch down.

“If you can get the ball in the end zone you have a touchdown.”


This is an opportunity that a team has to move the football forward ten yards. Every time a team gets the ball it has four opportunities (downs) to move the ball 10 yards. If the team is successful in moving the ball ten yards they receive four more “downs” to move another 10 yards.

“We have to take advantage of every down we get.”

1st Down

This is the first opportunity a team gets to move the ball forward. If the team gets the 10 yards required, they start over in the cycle and this is called 1st down.

“Most teams like to run the ball on 1st down.”

To punt the ball

To kick the ball to the team that you are playing. This is done when a team that has the ball can not get a “first down” to continue with their drive.

“This airline allows two carry on bags per customer.”

To go for it on 4th

When a team is on the 4th down and instead of kicking the ball to the opponent they decide to try again for the first down. The risk in this is that if the 1st down is not made, the opposing team gets the ball there. If the team decides to punt the ball is a lot farther down the field.

“It is really risky to go for it on 4th down.”

To huddle

Before the offense of a team attempts a play the team members gather around in a circle to discuss what strategy they will use..

“Most teams will huddle before any offensive play”

Quarter back

Eleven people are on the field for a particular team for offense and defense. Usually there are about six or seven players that stand in a straight line in front of the ball for each play. The center player in this line gives the ball to one player behind him on each play. This person decides to either throw it to another teammate or hand it off to someone to run the ball. He is the quarterback.

“The quarter back decides where the ball is going on each play.”

Running back

This player stands behind the quarter back for each play and runs with the ball if the quarter back hands it to him.

“A running back needs to be strong and fast.

Offensive line

The players on the offense that line up right in front of the ball for each play. One person (called the “center”) gives the ball to the quarter back to start each play. The job of the offensive line is to protect the quarter back from defenders.

“We have a very big offensive line to protect our quarter back.”

To hike the ball

To start each play one player in the offensive line gives the ball to the quarter back. This is called “hiking” the ball.

“Once the ball is hiked the action starts.

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