The State of Flag Football – A Pathway for Development

By Samuel Teets | Posted 8/23/2023

Flag football is under consideration for inclusion in the Los Angeles 2028 Olympics. The sport has rapidly expanded in scope over the past two decades, offering an affordable and accessible version of America’s favorite game. Flag football is becoming increasingly popular, but it continues to work hand-in-hand with tackle football to develop athletes and prepare them for the full-contact game.  

Flag football aids parents or athletes looking to develop basic skills before transitioning to tackle. USA Football’s Football Development Model (FDM) focuses on instilling the sport’s fundamentals in a progressive manner that teaches young athletes age-appropriate skills while limiting contact early in their progression. That often begins with a non-contact version of the sport like flag football, followed by a limited-contact game such as padded flag, before moving to full contact. 

This provides multiple pathways for children to become involved with football depending on their developmental readiness. The progression model also empowers parents or guardians, who know their children better than anyone, by providing them with more entry points for their young athletes. Some athletes decide to stay in flag forever, while others progress to contact football. The goal is to set them up for success regardless of where their football journey takes them.  

This progressive model and series of pathways for athletes of all ages to become involved with the game are embraced by football experts operating at the sport’s highest levels, including Penn State head coach James Franklin.  

“I think flag football provides an opportunity for some young people early in their developmental stages to play, enjoy, learn and experience the game,” said Franklin. “You also have older people still being able to play the game and compete at a high level because of flag. Before these opportunities, football was one of the few games where you finished playing in high school or college and you never played again. The fact that this has provided an opportunity for people to play the game long after a normal career has ended is powerful.” 

In its role as the governing body of American football, USA Football supplies resources and tools to assist grassroots athletes, coaches and programs. Some of these resources include the FDM, grants for flag and tackle leagues, virtual engagement opportunities, USA Football’s youth tackling and contact systems and coach certifications customized for flag or tackle pathways. USA Football also offers the League Excellence Program, which is a way for youth football organizations to earn recognition for their commitment to raising operational standards and providing a great environment for athletes and their families. 

Parents interested in finding leagues that offer the right game-types and progression elements for their children can use USA Football’s League Finder tool to discover local programs. The League Finder tool displays a league’s mission, game types, status in USA Football’s League Excellence Program and links to the league’s website. Parents also see if a league’s coaches are required to complete USA Football’s accredited coach certification. 

USA Football is dedicated to partnering with medical, child development, long-term athlete development, football subject matter experts and like-minded organizations to provide the best education and opportunities for athletes and coaches. The sport is ready to make a global leap, and USA Football has developed the infrastructure to support this transition.