USA Football recently reached out to several youth football leaders nationwide to learn more about their organizations’ experiences operating flag football divisions or leagues. National Youth Sports Nevada flag football Director of Youth Sports Scott Blackford provided some key insight into the benefits of flag football for both athletes and youth sports organizations.
National Youth Sports Nevada initially offered only flag football before using the game’s success and popularity to launch a tackle program. This path and model of program development makes Blackford uniquely qualified to speak on flag football’s value to youth football organizations.
Below are Blackford’s responses to USA Football’s outreach in a Q&A format.
How has the addition of flag football impacted your organization overall and why should organizations consider adding flag to their current offerings?
We offered flag football before we started our tackle program. Here are a few ways that we feel flag football has impacted our organization.
1. Increased Participation: Adding flag football can attract individuals who may be hesitant to play tackle football due to safety concerns. This can lead to higher participation rates, especially among children and young adults.
2. Diversification: Introducing flag football can diversify the offerings of the organization, attracting a different audience or demographic, including those interested in a non-contact version of the sport.
3. Revenue Generation: If the organization charges fees for participation, the addition of flag football can lead to increased revenue from registration and associated fees.
4. Community Engagement: Organizing flag football leagues and events can foster community engagement and build a sense of camaraderie among participants, families, and supporters.
5. Branding and Image: The addition of flag football can enhance the organization's image, particularly if it promotes a safe and inclusive environment for sports participation.
What have your athletes gained from flag football?
Cardiovascular Fitness: Flag football involves a lot of running, cutting and quick changes of direction. Regular participation helps improve cardiovascular endurance, promoting healthy heart and lungs.
Agility and Coordination: The dynamic nature of flag football, with its emphasis on quick movements and precise footwork, enhances agility and coordination. Athletes develop the ability to change direction rapidly and navigate through opponents.
Speed and Acceleration: Sprinting to evade defenders or chase down opponents improves an athlete’s speed and acceleration. These are valuable attributes in various sports and physical activities.
Teamwork and Communication: Flag football is a team sport that requires effective communication and collaboration. Athletes learn to work together, communicate on the field and understand their teammates’ strengths and weaknesses.
Decision-Making Skills: Participants need to make quick decisions on the field, whether it’s choosing a route, deciding when to pass or determining when to pull a flag. This enhances cognitive abilities and decision-making skills.
Social Interaction: Playing on a flag football team provides an opportunity for social interaction and the development of friendships. Team sports foster a sense of camaraderie and cooperation among teammates.
Sportsmanship and Respect: Flag football encourages sportsmanship and respect for opponents, officials and teammates. Learning to win and lose gracefully is an important aspect of character development.
Stress Relief and Mental Well-Being: Engaging in physical activity, including flag football, is known to reduce stress and improve mood. Regular exercise releases endorphins, contributing to mental well-being and overall stress relief.
Fundamental Football Skills: Flag football serves as an excellent introduction to fundamental football skills such as passing, catching and running routes. These skills can provide a solid foundation for those interested in transitioning to tackle football later on.
Injury Prevention: Flag football is generally considered lower risk in terms of injuries compared to tackle football. Participants can enjoy the physical benefits of football without the same level of contact and potential for injury.
Enjoyment and Fun: Ultimately, participation in flag football should be enjoyable. The fun and excitement of the game contribute to a positive experience for athletes, making them more likely to stay active and engaged in sports. Whether played recreationally or competitively, flag football offers a variety of physical, mental and social benefits that contribute to the overall well-rounded development of athletes.
What feedback have you received from parents or coaches related to flag?
Positive feedback includes aspects such as the enjoyment of the game, the development of teamwork and communication skills and the physical fitness benefits. Participants may also appreciate the accessibility of flag football as it is often considered a less physically demanding alternative to tackle football.
Negative feedback includes the lack of physicality.
How has USA Football been of assistance in running your flag program?
USA Football is always available for support. They have offered youth experiences, which include camps, clinics and tournaments for our teams. They also provide support with coaching certifications and officials training.
Prior to implementing flag football, what was your perception of it?
I personally played flag football in middle school. I think it’s an extremely fun and inclusive game. Flag football has been a staple of our organization for many years.
How do you believe the perception of flag football has changed over the years?
Flag football has gained popularity as a recreational sport. Many people appreciate it as a less physically intense alternative to tackle football while still providing the excitement and strategy of the game. This has contributed to a positive perception among individuals seeking a fun and inclusive team sport.
The growth of youth and amateur flag football leagues has increased the visibility and accessibility of the sport. More families are choosing flag football as a starting point for introducing their children to organized football, contributing to a positive perception of the sport as a developmentally appropriate and safe option.
Flag football is increasingly viewed as a steppingstone for those interested in transitioning to tackle football. Youth and amateur players may start with flag football to develop fundamental skills and gain an understanding of the game before moving on to the more physical and contact-oriented tackle football.
Flag football is seen as a more inclusive version of traditional football, with lower barriers to entry. Its non-contact nature makes it accessible to a broader range of participants, including those who might be hesitant to engage in more physically demanding sports.
What were some of the objections within your organization to starting flag, and how did you overcome them?
Our organization adopted flag football from the start. Here are some objections that you may come across.
Some individuals may argue that flag football lacks the physicality of tackle football, and therefore, it might not adequately prepare players for the full-contact version of the sport. To address this, it's important to highlight the specific skills and fitness benefits that flag football develops, emphasizing its role as a steppingstone to tackle football.
In organizations with a strong tradition of tackle football, there might be resistance to introducing flag football as a new element. Open communication and education about the benefits of flag football, including its inclusivity and lower injury risk, can help overcome resistance. Emphasizing that flag football can complement rather than replace tackle football might also be beneficial.
Implementing small-scale pilot programs allows organizations to test the waters and gather feedback. This approach can help address objections by demonstrating the feasibility and benefits of introducing flag football in a controlled and monitored setting.
Ultimately, overcoming objections often involves a combination of education, communication and demonstration of the positive aspects of flag football. Understanding the specific concerns within an organization and tailoring the approach to address those concerns is key to a successful transition or introduction of flag football.
USA Football is grateful to work with grassroots football leaders like Scott Blackford nationwide. If your league is interested in starting a flag football program or expanding your current offerings, connect with your regional consulting representative or contact email@example.com. USA Football has resources and advice that can help you throughout the process.
Two points Blackford mentioned that readers might find useful are coach certification and tournament sanctioning. USA Football has developed an accredited coach certification program through which more than one million certifications have been completed by tackle and flag coaches. Certification helps coaches and community leaders be informed and prepared while showing their care and commitment to the children they oversee.
USA Football is looking to sanction flag football tournaments in 2024 on the road to The One Flag Championship. Having your tournament sanctioned provides you, your teams and the athletes with a number of benefits. Applications for the 2024 Sanctioned Tournament season are now open. To inquire more about sanctioning your tournament, email firstname.lastname@example.org.