Updated: Jan 25, 2019
Flag and Touch Football is growing at an astonishing rate and there are many reasons for this trend. Both kids and adults alike are finding more leagues available which has allowed more athletes to prolong their career, as well as introduced the sport of football to more kids at a younger age. So let's look at the reasons for this trend and you might just find yourself looking for a league yourself.
Unlike most other sports, football doesn't have a year-round season where players go from one league to another with specialized team training sessions in between. This is a trend as well, one of which I would argue is unnecessary at younger age levels and often counter-productive as athletes can get overwhelmed and burned out. When signing up an 8-year old for a soccer team, parents now need to expect that they will be committed to practices and training sessions all 12 months of the year. In fact, many programs are building this into their fee structure and making the extra sessions "optional" even though families are paying for it regardless. But I digress.
Without a year-round season, football coaches and programs battle with the competition of other sports and have to find other ways to stay engaged with their athletes. At some levels, communication between coaches and athletes is restricted so they rely on other outlets for players to stay sharp on their game. This is where non-contact football leagues can help keep players engaged with their playbook.
MORE ROUTE REPS
"The importance of repetition until automaticity cannot be overstated. Repetition is the key to learning."
- John Wooden, 10-time NCAA Champion Basketball Coach
Many coaches live by this mantra and do everything they can to structure practices to allow for as many reps as possible for each player. And again, restrictions on practice time make this a challenge, so where can they find more reps?
By simplifying formations, coaches can translate their playbook to a 7v7 or 5v5 format and make it useful for flag and touch league players. Take out the offensive line, keep the receiving routes the same, and create a route for the center and you've got a play very similar to your standard playbook. This provides more reps in the off-season and can allow QBs to continuously refine their reads and timing with their receivers.
If you listen in on an end-of-season team huddle these days, you'll likely hear coaches encourage their players to participate in other sports and activities. This is a positive change from years past when you'd hear coaches from all sports give players an ultimatum when learning that they want to go out for another sport. The fear of injury in other sports and the potential for losing a key player next season no longer runs rampant.
In fact, statistics show that multi-sport athletes benefit in many ways. Players can minimize the chance of injury as they are utilizing their entire body, instead of overworking isolated muscles and tendons. They also learn different strategies that could apply to football, or enhance their reaction-time and spatial awareness. All of these factors have changed the game for athletes and coaches, and the outcomes have been positive.
Additionally, flag and touch football has become an opportunity for some football players to get a shot at playing another position. As athletes get to the high school level, they often specialize in one or two positions based on their size, speed, and abilities. But we all know that everyone would love a chance to run, catch or throw a touchdown. So don't be surprised if you pass a flag football game and see a team of offensive linemen barreling down the field and breaking into a sharp slant route!
GROW THE GAME
I've heard some parents and fans claim that football is a dying sport, but that doesn't seem to hold true where I live. At the youth level, participation numbers are either growing or remain consistent at most programs, and more options are being made available to players and parents.
Growing up, I didn't have an opportunity to play football until 5th grade and it was limited to tackle, but just last year I coached my son's pre-school/kindergarten team in a full league of 8 flag teams with a waitlist. In our area, we have national programs available including NFL Flag and my7on7. Both programs are well-run with volunteer coaches who are given the resources needed to create a fun and exciting season for the kids.
By introducing kids to flag and touch football at an earlier age, we can give them a chance to learn the game in a non-contact environment. The skills and concepts learned translate to tackle football, allowing an athlete to be more prepared which also creates a safer experience. Many injuries in football are the result of a player being in the wrong position at the wrong time, which can lead to unexpected contact and a potential injury. So smarter players make safer players.
But kids don't get to have all the fun to themselves! There are numerous leagues available to adults, both competitive and recreational, giving former players a chance to prolong their career, as well as giving armchair quarterbacks an opportunity to feel what it's like to do what they thought looked so easy on TV! This ranges from local rec leagues, to the FFWCT, to the newly-formed professional AFFL. Some even believe this is the future of football, so stay tuned...
At SMASH Routes, we strive to be a part of this growth as we want everyone to have a chance to step foot on a football field. Players of all sizes, abilities, and knowledge have a place in football, but the more you understand the sport the better your experience will be.
I've witnessed young athletes quit playing a sport because it became too complex and stressful at an early age. While I've seen improvements, there are still some organizations and coaches who prioritize outcomes over the experience, leading to an environment lacking the FUN element which is what we should be emphasizing to our youth athletes.
By bringing the learning experience to young athletes in a medium they can relate to, mobile gaming, we're not only increasing the FUN element but also shaping smarter players. Smarter players are more prepared which also makes them more confident. And confidence breeds excellence.
Check out how SMASH Routes can enhance your team experience and give you insight on your players that will help in developing their skills. And I hope to see you on the field this spring!