Flag football is a fast-growing sport for female athletes at all levels.
As a member of the Pace Academy girls flag football team last season, I had the opportunity to experience this excitement for myself. Our team only lost one area game (which went into five overtimes), won the area championship, and made it to the quarterfinals in the state championships.
While we had success on the field, our real strength was our unity as a team, positive mindset, and support for one another.
This team ethic was fostered by our amazing coach, Ty Johnson, who is the assistant director for sports performance at Pace Academy as well as a running back and rusher on the Women’s Flag Football Network (WFFN) U.S. National Team.
“I truly believe that a team has to support and pick each other up like a family,” said Coach Johnson, who started playing flag football as an intramural sport in college, when asked about her coaching philosophy. “If you believe in each other, that is the first step. The next step is to be competitive and have fun. If you win as a unit and have fun while doing it, you’ve accomplished the right dynamic.”
Although flag football is rapidly increasing in popularity, it has not fully broken the surface. It is currently only an officially sanctioned high school sport in five states: Georgia, Florida, Nevada, Alaska, and Alabama. In February of 2021, Nike and the NFL granted $5 million to support girls flag football becoming a varsity sport at the high school level. It has become classified as an “emerging” National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics (NAIA) sport, meaning there is no official championship. It is not yet a National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) or division one sport either.
“I truly believe that within five years it will literally be everywhere. There are already scholarship opportunities for flag football. It can only go up from here,” said Coach Johnson. But she also cautioned, “I do believe more groundwork needs to be done. There are a lot of high school programs that are without funding for flag football and it is not fair.”
Flag football is exciting and fast-paced, fun to watch and play, and much safer than regular tackle football. According to the CDC, “Youth tackle football athletes had 15 times more head impacts than flag football athletes during a practice or a game.”
Unlike tackle football, you do not have to be a certain size to dominate the sport. Tall players are able to intercept throws, more physical players are able to block, smaller players are able to get through tight spaces, and basically, all different sizes yield their own advantages.
“Of course you are going to run into the men who believe you don’t know as much as them and tell you to put on some pads and play “real” football,” says Coach Johnson. “But most of them couldn’t play flag football if they tried.”
“Flag is an extremely technical sport because of the skill and technique needed to pull flags as well as the necessity of learning how to run routes,” says Katelyn Souza, who plays multiple positions on Pace Academy’s team, which earned her All-Region First Team honors from the Georgia High School Association (GHSA). “What makes a good flag player is someone who is agile and can adapt to their opponents’ plays and techniques, while at the same time playing their own game and practicing good sportsmanship.”
Something so unique about the sport is that players have their own styles, so the plays can always look different ways. Many routes are made and called strategically based on who is playing on the field at the time.
“It is literally impossible to become bored with the sport,” says Souza. “I love the flag football community because of how diverse, inclusive, and supportive it is.”
Football as a whole has been a male-dominated sport for many years and it’s empowering to see this area of the sport offered to women. It’s also encouraging to see men be supportive of the sport.
Russell Wilson, quarterback for the Seattle Seahawks, was recently named Chairman and CEO of NFL Flag, the largest youth flag football organization in the U.S. that is open to both boys and girls ages 4-14. He is already making an impact.
“Football is gonna be a worldwide sport and it should be a great sport for women, and for them to be leaders in the sport,” said Wilson, in an interview with CNN. “And I think what’s great about this, that we’re expanding not only the game, but also the access for all women in all sports. And I think this is really exciting. This is revolutionary.”
It is so important for someone like Wilson, who has also created an all-girls flag football league in Tacoma, Washington, who is so significant in football to promote flag football, because he has such a large fanbase and this will cause other people to begin having interest in the sport.
“Contrary to a lot of people’s beliefs there is a strong support system of men in the flag football world,” says Coach Johnson. “I think they now realize how equipped women are to compete in this sport and they want to help in any way possible.”
The Pace Academy Girls Flag Football Team ended the season as area champions and advanced into the third round of the state playoffs. Sadly, the Pace team lost to Calvary Day in the quarterfinals. Southeast Bulloch High School finished as the state champions of the 1A-4A bracket after they beat Portal High School in the championship game at the Center Parc Credit Union Stadium, the Georgia State football stadium.
I can’t wait to see what the next season holds with many high school teams entering in Georgia, as well as in other states and in the collegiate level. It’s an exciting time for girls flag football. The future of the sport is definitely female!