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Posted on Jul 14, 2017

Local families finding benefits in flag football: Column

By Sandy Zavala

Summer is in the air. The sun is shining. Ice cream trucks are meandering up and down Quincy streets, playing that tune from yesteryear while delivering the sweet taste of sunshine. For many families, the end of the school year was about baseball, the languid national pastime of the boys and girls of summer. Our family would have been among the bustling caravans of parents shuttling their children to and from baseball games were it not for our newest sports obsession: flag football.
You’ve heard the adage “What’s old will be new”? The formerly underrated flag football is rapidly becoming America’s preferred sport among the concussion-wary parental set that loves tackle footfall but can’t quite wrap their heads around allowing their young children to tackle until they have achieved greater levels of physical coordination. A recent study by University of Iowa Healthcare demonstrated that youth concussion rates in both tackle and flag football were surprisingly low, with tackle football being higher. Soccer, popular in Quincy and many towns across America, may cause fewer concussions than football, but the severity of many of these incidents is far worse, because safety measures are not as widely institutionalized in soccer as they are in football.
According to a study published by USA Football, flag football participation in youth, ages 6 to 14, increased by 8.7 percent in 2015, while growth seen by traditional tackle football was 1.9 percent. Baseball enjoyed a slightly larger bump than tackle football, at 3.3 percent growth the same year.
Once the NFL conceded that head trauma incurred in tackle football could exacerbate the development of degenerative brain disease, it was only a matter of time before parents began to question whether placing the fragile growing brains of their children in traditional football was too much of a risk to take.
Another noteworthy trend is the uptick in states adopting varsity flag football programs for girls. Seminole Ridge coach Austin Rowe, whose team won the Florida state championship in 2012, highlights, “Football is kind of the last frontier for girls in sports. It’s not tackle, but it requires a lot of skills and knowledge of the game.”
From an early age, girls aren’t always encouraged to engage in physically demanding athletics, even though flag football has about the same collision risks as soccer. Flag football, like tackle, offers tremendous benefits for its participants. Confidence attained through equal participation with male teammates, opportunities to lead and elevate team success before personal glory, increased hand-eye coordination and agility are all transformative skills that can be applied outside of flag football. Two second-year players on local teams who really embraced football fundamentals this year were a third-grade girl and her kindergarten-age sister.
Perhaps the best thing about football, either flag or tackle, is that it teaches resilience. It creates unbreakable bonds and mutual respect between players, coaches and parents. Most importantly, it teaches humility to a generation that often is too entitled for its own good. John Madden sagely stated “Self-praise is for losers. Be a winner. Stand for something. Always have class and be humble.” Vince Lombardi echoed this statement, “Football is like life. It requires perseverance, self-denial, hard work, sacrifice, dedication and respect for authority.” Bill Belichick agreed: “On a team, it’s not the strength of individual players, but it is the strength of the unit, and how they all function together.”
For all you football fans out there that aren’t quite ready to place your precious little girls and boys in tackle football yet, consider a couple of years of flag participation to develop increased motor skill maturity. Our local flag league, under Ephrata’s Grid Kids Tackle League, as well as Central Cascade Pop Warner Tackle League, both provide sound football instruction. Quincy flag coach Mike Thorsen warmly and adeptly guides his K-2nd grade players through drills and exercises that increase agility, stamina and knowledge of the game. Fall flag football camp and sign-ups start in August. Be part of the safer football revolution!

Sandy Zavala is a former health care researcher, counselor and social worker. She currently lives in Quincy with her family.

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