Developing skills for both flag and tackle - Let's Talk Football

By Tom Bass | Posted 1/13/2014

In Let’s Talk Football, Coach Tom Bass brings his 30 years of NFL coaching experience to USA Football. Email Coach Bass your question.


Sam sent the following question:

We have a spring flag football league, and many of our tackle players participate. What are some things we can practice that will help them develop the skills they need for the flag game but also help prepare them for the fall?

Hi, Sam.

I have always encouraged the playing of flag football because it provides you the opportunity to spend a majority of time coaching important techniques in detail and at the same time spend valuable moments teaching and encouraging the players to understand the mental side of football, especially visualization.

Flag football gives us the opportunity to walk through the different segments of each technique common to flag and tackle, tear the technique apart, then put them back together in one smooth motion to give players a true understanding of why we are teaching the technique in that way.

All this can be done with the players knowing there will be a minimum of contact, allowing them to focus on and perfect the techniques you are teaching.

Prior to the start of the flag season, develop an inventory of the techniques that will be common to both styles of football. I would certainly do this as an entire staff so that you make certain that all techniques common to a particular position are covered by that position coach.

It may be easiest to start with techniques that are not common to each style of the game and then add the ones that will have carryover value if the player moves to tackle in the fall.  

Obviously, tackling would not be common to both, but teaching players to breakdown, come under control, find their balance and be prepared to move in any direction taken by the ball-carrier will be the same for flag or tackle. The technique you teach and drill to breakdown for flag should match and carry over to your tackle drills.

Coaching flag provides you with a great opportunity to work on the small refinements of route running, passing, catching, ball handling, direct snapping, short snapping and evasive running skills on the offensive side of the ball.

On defense, you can work on all your coverage techniques: backpedal, zone drops, eye focus, route recognition, interception points and skills, change of direction movement and how to breakdown and properly pull the flag from the ball-carrier.

I would encourage you to arrange and plan your flag practice sessions so that you have a lengthy individual period when your coach can really teach technique and the players have time for increased repetitions. Drills should be high energy, quick, varied, specific to one part of an entire technique and with maximum participation by the entire squad.

The flag football season is ]a time when you can emphasize individual improvement and not be as concerned with winning as a team as you will be in the fall tackle program. It will help if you can agree as a staff that the flag program is first designed to improve their individual player’s skills and second the team’s overall competitive performance.

As you prepare for flag season, plan to teach the same techniques but also try to use the same terminology so that the mental learning carriers over to tackle just as the muscle memory will carry over from the dills.

Above all, try to make the flag football program an experience where the players feel that they are learning and improving on a personal level and that they are having fun without contact or intense competition. Make sure that you and the staff also enjoy the time and that all of you have the time to improve and experiment with their teaching skills. Good luck this year.

Coach Tom Bass

Coach Tom Bass, a 30-year NFL coach and a technical writer and advisor for USA Football, also is the author of several football coaching books, including "Play Football the NFL Way" (St. Martin's Press), the only authorized NFL coaching book, "Football Skills and Drills" (Human Kinetics) and "The New Coaches Guide to Youth Football Skills and Drills" (McGraw Hill). If you would like to order a personalized autographed copy of Coach Bass' books, copies of his printed “In-Depth Coaching Clinics” or “NFL or College Sport Maps,” visit