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NFL flag: making dreams a reality – football recreation program for children – Promoting Healthy Lifestyles

NFL flag: making dreams a reality – football recreation program for children – Promoting Healthy Lifestyles – Cover Story

David Lockett

In the fall, the thoughts of many young children, both boys and girls, turn to football. From suburban backyards to city streets, children throughout America gather to play pick-up games with their friends. Many of these young fans daydream of someday playing competitive football, scoring the game-winning touchdown in the closing seconds of the game. When a child has the opportunity to realize this dream, it can create memories that will last a lifetime.

The National Football League and Nike have joined forces to bring this dream to fruition. The two groups have developed fall and spring flag-football leagues, programs that provide children with an exciting opportunity to emulate their football heroes. The NFL launched NFL Flag in 1996, providing children throughout the country with a structured environment where they could develop their skills — and have fun — playing the game of football. The program gives children the chance to be part of a team, develop new friendships, and participate in an activity that encourages teamwork and respect for others.

NFL Flag Targets Girls, Boys and Parents

NFL Flag programs target children ages 6 to 14, offering different age-specific games that are easy for everyone to understand and enjoy. Because the leagues are flag-based, they require minimal equipment and cost and promote participation by both girls and boys. NFL Flag also encourages parents to become involved by coaching teams.

“NFL Flag has been carefully designed to make sure that all children come away with equal enjoyment from the game,” said Scott Lancaster, director of youth development for NFL Properties, the marketing and licensing division of the NFL. “We have developed innovative flag-football games that reward children for unselfish play while minimizing the time that they stand around.”

The first game, NFL Ultimate Football, stresses the importance of teamwork. Similar to ultimate frisbee, which emphasizes continuous play, NFL Ultimate has no set positions and places an emphasis on passing the ball to teammates. The second game, NFL Flag Football, is played like traditional flag football, in that players are assigned set positions and must snatch a nag hanging from the waistbelt of their opponent.

“NFL Ultimate is ideal for younger players, because everyone touches the ball, and no child is forced to play a specific position based on his or her athletic ability or level of experience,” said Lancaster. “We hope to create a family environment that encourages kids to have fun playing the game they love and allows parents to enjoy watching their children develop. “

Getting the Ball Rolling

Andre Pichly, recreation supervisor for the city of West Sacramento (CA) Department of Parks and Community Services, is planning to participate in the NFL Flag program this fall for the first time. Pichly, who ran an independent youth flag-football program for West Sacramento last year, also has five years of experience conducting an adult flag-football league for a separate park and recreation district. He said that the quality of the jerseys and equipment has improved considerably since the NFL and its pumped-up resources have come on board. These improvements, along with parents’ excitement that the NFL is going to be involved with the project, have prompted him to adopt the NFL Flag program. “The NFL involvement in this project will act as a magnet to draw in tons of new kids,” said Pichly. He plans to throw an opening-day ceremony to kick-off the new league and also would like to schedule preseason training courses to orient coaches and volunteers with new rules and concepts.

Scott Archer, recreation coordinator of the North Clackamas (OR) Parks and Recreation District, expressed similar reasons for implementing the NFL program this fall. Archer likes the recognition of the NFL name and the fact that materials and rules of the game are readily available and easily accessible. He feels that the name recognition, support of the NFL, promotional materials, and training manuals for coaches and players will add validity to his district’s inaugural stab at flag football, although he is not sure what kind of response to expect. “100-200 kids would be a good start, but it’s hard to say,” said Archer. His league will have the opportunity of playing its games on the artificial turf of a brand new indoor soccer facility.

Susan O’Connor, recreation director for the South Bend (IN) Parks and Recreation Department, planned to bring the NFL program to more than 400 youth for the first time this year. To cover the cost incurred by the parks and recreation department, the fee for each child would be $27. O’Connor was concerned that the cost would not allow children from economically disadvantaged families to participate. The department designed a number of ways to combat this problem. The staff at each of the local recreation centers has been asked to identify youth who wish to participate in the league; those young people are then asked to come up with ideas for fund-raisers to help pay for entry into the league. Also, a portion of the funds from the recreation department’s softball scholarship tournament — an annual, two-day event scheduled at the city’s brand new softball complex — will go to the flag-football program. Potential corporate sponsors from the community are being pursued, as well.

Youth Football Safety Issues

Some parents, stressing a fear of injury, are hesitant to let their children participate in youth football programs. However, youth tackle-football programs are statistically safer than youth soccer. A 1996 study by the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission revealed that among 5 to 15 year olds, organized football had 12 percent fewer injuries than organized soccer programs. In fact, youth football also had 50 percent fewer injuries than bike riding and 74 percent fewer than skateboarding.

NRPA Supports NFL Flog

The National Recreation and Park Association is one of the primary grassroots partners of NFL Flag. The NRPA has endorsed the NFL and NFL Flag on a national level. In return, the NFL recognizes the NRPA on all NFL Flag collateral materials. Collateral materials are provided for participating park and recreation offices to distribute to the public at no cost.

Almost any park or recreation center can incorporate NFL Flag into its youth program schedule. Because the leagues are designed to capitalize on existing facilities, all you need is a field. The NFL provides all necessary equipment, such as NFL/NIKE team-identified jerseys, flag belts and footballs, to park and recreation centers for a marginal cost. Local park and recreation departments set their own registration fees. However, typical NFL Flag league registration fees range from $25-$50, based on local league operational costs (referees, field space). The NFL also provides rulebooks for players, parents and coaches that will help them prepare for league play. Children simply need to bring sneakers and a lot of enthusiasm.

Play Football!

NFL Flag is offered nationwide and is part of the NFL’s “Play Football” initiative to provide exciting new ways for children to play, watch and experience the game. Last year, more than 1.6 million children throughout the country participated in NFL youth programs. Other “Play Football” programs include NFL C.I.T.Y. (Challenge and Inspire Today’s Youth) Football; NFL Gatorade Punt, Pass & Kick; Kmart Family/Stadium Days; and NFL/Starter Youth Training Camps. Fans can learn more about each “Play Football” program by calling 1-800-NFL-SNAP.

RELATED ARTICLE: RULES OF THE GAME

NFL ULTIMATE FOOTBALL

* Offensive players can pass the ball to teammates in any direction as they attempt to reach the opposing team’s end zone.

* Players with the ball can only take two steps before they must pass the ball to a teammate.

* Players have five seconds to throw the ball to a teammate.

* Possession of the ball changes teams after the offensive team scores a touchdown or if an offensive player drops the ball, throws an interception, or fails to throw the ball within five seconds.

NFL FLAG FOOTBALL

* The offensive team takes the ball at its own 5-yard line and has three plays to advance the ball past midfield. Once the team crosses midfield, it has another three plays to score a touchdown.

* The defensive team tries to intercept the ball or snatch the flag from around the waist of the player with the ball.

* If the offense fails to cross midfield or score, the opposing team takes the ball over at its own 5-yard line.

* If the defense intercepts the ball, the team takes possession at the point of the interception. Interceptions cannot be returned.

* Quarterbacks cannot run the ball, but are able to hand off to teammate behind the line of scrimmage.

* All touchdowns must be scored by passing the ball or running a completed pass into the end zone.

COPYRIGHT 1997 National Recreation and Park Association

COPYRIGHT 2004 Gale Group