The jump from flag football to tackle football can be a bit like the jump from tee ball to real baseball. The latter is faster, more intense and demands a greater execution of the fundamentals at high speeds.
But unlike baseball, tackle football sees players deliberately run into one another. Tossing a kid into full contact football and the high-speed collisions it involves without a sound base of fundamentals sets them up for poor performance and a higher risk of injury. While flag has become an increasingly popular entry-point to the sport in recent years, with high school tackle participation numbers decreasing around America largely due to concerns over player safety, athletes looking to make the jump to the real version of the sport need to be more skilled and more fundamentally sound than ever before.
Enter Flex Football. A new brand of the sport that looks to bridge the gap between flag and tackle, Flex Football is designed to make the transition smoother, safer and more welcoming for young players. While flag football can be a great way to learn certain skills and stay active, its total lack of contact leaves players ill-prepared for the daunting jump to tackle. By utilizing soft-shell equipment that's been standard in NFL practice plans for years, Flex Football allows young players to learn contact in a "feet focused, hands first, head out" approach. There's no tackling, as the league is two-hand touch, but there is blocking, blitzing, lineman play, and a vastly more realistic version of rushing and defending the run than you'll find in flag.
Founded by a group of former NFL players who cherish the lessons the sport taught them through their youth—and who feared current and future generations may miss out on that opportunity—Flex Football heavily prioritizes fundamentals and taking the head out of the game. Key rules and regulations make it a sport that much more accurately mimics tackle football than flag, but without the added risk of high-speed collisions.
The sport's 9v9 format, for example, closely mirrors 11v11 in terms of positional responsibilities and scheme. "We selected this layout because of the versatility it offers our play callers. 9v9 allows Flex's scheme to directly correlate to 11v11 tackle football, coaches can run their favorite offense or defense," the founders write. "Whether you want to run the spread option, line up in the pistol, pull an o-lineman for the Power O, or call a Tampa 2 or Cover 4 defense, Flex Football enables you to play real football."
The addition of soft-shell helmets and shoulder pads allow for an introduction to contact, and it also enables coaches to rep correct blocking, shedding and tackling techniques during practice. Rules dictate that head contact is taken completely out of the game. It all adds up to more skilled and more fundamentally sound players making the jump to tackle, giving them a better shot to thrive in the sport.
National Flex Football, the sport's governing body, now has leagues all over the nation. With leagues in the spring, summer and fall, anytime's the right time to play. Head to FlexFootball.com to learn more about the growing game and to find a league near you.
Photo Credit: Flex Football
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