The State of Flag Football – Sanctioned Tournaments and National Teams

By Samuel Teets | Posted 8/30/2023

Flag football is recognized as a popular intramural and recreational sport for athletes to play once they graduate high school or during their main sport’s offseason. However, exponential international growth and the development of competitive opportunities to sharpen the sport’s top athletes have transformed flag football into a game vying for inclusion in the Los Angeles 2028 Olympics.  

Flag football’s popularity is booming in the United States and internationally. An annual participation study from the Sports and Fitness Industry Association (SFIA) in 2022 revealed that 7.1 million people in the U.S. participated in flag football with approximately 2.5 million people routinely engaging with the sport. 

As the governing body of American football in the United States and the sole U.S. member of the International Federation of American Football (IFAF), USA Football is positioned as a leading voice in flag football’s rise to prominence, providing the opportunities and infrastructure to support athletes’ demands for competitive play.  

At its core, flag football is an exciting, fast-paced and inclusive game that removes financial barriers to the sport and provides women and girls with opportunities to coach and play. USA Football encourages and supports the creation of these opportunities for athletes to participate in flag football from their youth through adult years across various age and gender-based divisions.  

This includes tournaments such as The One, a national championship hosted by USA Football that recently occurred in Charlotte, N.C. More than 1,500 athletes in nearly a dozen divisions representing over 130 club teams from across the country and abroad descended on the Queen City. The event capped months of nationwide sanctioned tournaments that helped determine the field of competitors.  

USA Football hosted The One this past July
USA Football hosted The One in Charlotte, N.C. for around 1,500 athletes this past July.

Sanctioned tournaments and events hosted by USA Football offer opportunities for athletes to be scouted for the U.S. National Teams, which field men’s and women’s teams and squads at the boys’ and girls’ 15U and 17U levels.  

“I think one of the biggest things, especially on the girls’ side, is the opportunity,” said Todd Thompson, who coaches the powerhouse Apex Predators flag football club program at the 14U and 17U levels. “USA Football getting involved is extra motivating. Not only do I get to go to this tourney with my team, but there’s scouting there for something bigger than just this. One of the main goals is to get the athletes to the next level.” 

USA Football is the only organization that selects and organizes the Men’s and Women’s U.S. Flag Football National Teams for IFAF-sanctioned five-on-five international competition. The national teams are selected through a rigorous, multi-layered process that ensures every member of the 12-personnel roster is a world-class athlete.  

All official flag football tournaments sanctioned by IFAF follow the federation’s five-on-five rules. USA Football’s tournaments and National Teams are organized around these rules to prepare athletes for international competition.  

Flag football’s most recent positive strides include inclusion at The World Games 2022, an Olympic-style event organized by the International World Games Association, which is recognized by the International Olympic Committee (IOC). Several events that took place in The World Games have entered the Olympics, such as beach volleyball, taekwondo and triathlon. 

Even more recently, USA Football hosted the 2023 IFAF Americas Continental Flag Football Championship and Junior Flag International Cup. The events featured elite athletes from more than 30 total teams representing eight countries across the 15U, 17U and adult divisions.  

Participants included American quarterbacks and IFAF and NFL Global Flag Football Ambassadors Vanita Krouch, who is one of the most decorated flag football players in history, and Darrell "Housh" Doucette. Doucette and Krouch earned MVP honors as they led the U.S. National Teams 40-36 and 26-21 wins over Mexico in front of an international crowd of approximately 1,000 spectators in the IFAF Americas Continental Flag Football Championship Gold Medal Games.  

U.S. Men's National Team quarterback Darrell "Housh" Doucette breaks into the open field
U.S. Men's National Team quarterback Darrell "Housh" Doucette breaks into the open field against Mexico.

Former Division I athletes such as Coastal Carolina wide receiver Bruce Mapp, Houston basketball guard Joann Overstreet, New Mexico guard Laneah Bryan, University of North Carolina long and triple jumper Amber Clark and Krouch, who played basketball at SMU, brought their experience to the tournament.  

Madison Fulford, who participated in seven events on the track and field team at Limestone University before joining the U.S. Air Force, had a historic tournament. In six games, she hauled in 33 receptions for 578 yards and 14 touchdowns, including all four scores in the gold medal game.  

The increased involvement of elite athletes from a wide variety of sports at the college ranks illustrates flag football’s competitive appeal. Many other sports teach skills that translate to flag football, making it a melting pot for athletes from other disciplines.   

Upcoming competitions for the U.S. National Teams include the 2024 IFAF Flag Football World Championships, in Lahti, Finland and The World Games 2025 in Chengdu, China. USA Football will continue building and improving its pathways for athletes to play competitive flag football as the game goes global.