Flag Football: Rushing Forward | Sports Destination Management

Flag Football: Rushing Forward

Oct 24, 2022 | By: Garland Cooper

One of the fastest-rising sports  at not only the youth level but on the collegiate side, is flag football. This year, the National Federation of State High School Associations saw notable gains in girls taking up the sport. The National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics (NAIA), meanwhile, has identified it as an Emerging Sport for women (more about this in a minute) and has partnered with the NFL to offer start-up stipends to qualifying programs at the collegiate level. The National Junior College Athletic Association (NJCAA) has also noted that it is close to being able to host a championship in flag.

All photos courtesy of NFL FLAG

Helping to propel all this growth is NFL FLAG, the official flag football league of the NFL and the largest flag football organization in the U.S. With more than 1,600 teams serving over 500,000 youth athletes (ranging in age from 4 to 17) in all 50 states, the program is helping the sport continue its meteoric rise.

Numbers, however, can only tell so much. Behind those figures are strategic campaigns designed to promote opportunities and drive engagement in the sport. Here are some key insights into the organization, the sport and all the work behind the growth. Full information can be found at the website, nflflag.com.

A Breakdown of Important Numbers

There are almost 450 schools, and more than 10,000 girls, participating in flag football across the country at the high school level. That number is only expected to grow, and those athletes are likely to bring their game to college with them.

The College Scene

NAIA declared women’s flag as an emerging sport in 2020, and in the inaugural year (2020) NAIA had 13 schools, with plans to add an additional eight to 10 schools. NJCAA will declare women’s flag as an emerging sport in 2023 with the goal of 15 schools participating in year one, and the interest only continues to build.

There is a groundswell of programs at both the high school and college levels, but at the moment, there is more activity in the high school sector since those programs have been around longer. It is important for there to be a pipeline for that growth to continue.

Flag Football’s Potential to Become an NCAA Emerging Sport for Women

This is another goal of NFL FLAG. Already, we are seeing interest from a number of conferences in this. Should flag football become part of the NCAA’s emerging sport pipeline, it stands to grow even further. We expect there to be more news about this in the future.

Recreational and Municipal Growth Are Also Evident

Another area NFL FLAG is watching closely is the recreational/municipal level since recreational growth is important as well. Growing those numbers is an important goal for NFL FLAG in 2023. NFL FLAG is strongly focused on accessibility and inclusivity.

We would like to see the sport continue to grow and we want to continue to increase the number of kids participating, with an emphasis on females in flag and on the growth of programs in under-resourced communities as well.

While youth participation in sports has declined over the last decade, flag football has become one the fastest growing youth sports in the country. In fact, the number of six-to-12-year-olds playing has increased by 38 percent, to more than 1.5 million, since 2015.

International Growth of the Game

We saw flag football showcased at the World Games in Birmingham, Alabama. This was an excellent platform to promote the sport not just to the USA but to the world as a whole. The NFL and the IFAF (International Federation of American Football) are in a partnership to make a push to have flag football in the 2028 Olympics and will continue to work on growing the sport internationally.

While it’s easy to say the USA is the epicenter of flag football, other countries have strong programs as well, and this is a testament to the strength of the sport and its potential for worldwide growth. Mexico and Panama are countries that are hotbeds for flag football. The women’s teams for both Mexico and Panama medaled alongside the USA’s women’s team at The World Games.

Women’s Flag Football Championship

For the last two years, the Atlanta Falcons have hosted the NAIA women’s flag championship at Mercedes-Benz Stadium. Last year, NJCAA coaches and athletic directors came out to watch the event because of their involvement with women’s flag football as an emerging sport. The championship game went very well and, as in years past, provide an incredible experience for all those involved.

NFL FLAG’s 2022 Season

FLAG football
All photos courtesy of NFL FLAG

The 2022 season featured a total of 16 tournaments that fed into the NFL FLAG Championships at Pro Bowl Presented by Subway. NFL FLAG Tournaments were offered for athletes who participated in an NFL FLAG league; the season kicked off at the NFL Draft on April 30, 2022. Tournaments consisted of NFL FLAG Super Regionals and NFL FLAG Regionals. Super regionals had open borders for any official NFL FLAG league across the country to participate.

The first NFL FLAG Super Regional of 2022 was held at the NFL Draft (which took place in Las Vegas), followed by a Super Regional (in Atlanta) in July and a Super Regional (in New Orleans) in October. NFL FLAG Regionals took place across the country throughout the year. All NFL FLAG Regionals were for official NFL FLAG Leagues and adhered to the regional border restrictions.

Full information on NFL FLAG’s tournament structure is available on the website.

NFL FLAG Initiatives are Driven by Partnerships

NFL FLAG is committed to creating positive sports experiences for youth athletes, regardless of their financial situation, so that they can become confident, happy and healthy adults. That’s why the organization has forged strategic partnerships to bring flag football to the thousands of schools, communities and families around the country.

GENYOUth and NFL FLAG created FLAGS-In-Schools, a comprehensive flag football toolkit designed for elementary, middle and high school PE teachers to incorporate into their classes. Over 24,000 school communities are using NFL FLAG-In-School kits to build high-achieving futures for their students through physical education.

Every Kid Sports is a nonprofit organization with a goal of removing the financial barriers that typically prevent kids from signing up for youth sports. Starting in 2021, Every Kid Sports arranged to pay all NFL FLAG registration fees for qualifying athletes.  SDM

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