As parents, we all want our kids to take part in sports. Sport gets them healthy and active, it builds their confidence and it teaches them important skills like teamwork, strategy and how to deal with both winning and losing with a level head. Many young kids look to the exciting action of the NFL for inspiration; yet this rough, high-impact game leaves an increasing number of parents concerned about the welfare of their kids. One American study found that as many as 78% of parents did not want their kids taking part in the tackle-based game before the age of 14, due to concerns about concussions, brain damage and other serious injuries. Fortunately for both the kids and their parents, there is an alternative.
Flag football is a non-contact, or low-contact, version of American Football that is growing in popularity with both adults and children. It is played across the world, including right here in Malaysia, and it is growing fast, with more and more people enjoying the fast pace of the game without the hard hits. In fact, more kids in America now play flag football than play the real thing.
The idea behind flag football is very simple; the game follows many of the standard rules of American Football, with downs, passing and running for touchdowns. But instead of tackling a player physically to the ground, you simply have to remove the ball carrier’s flag, or flag belt, to end the down. The principle is very similar to the non-contact game, touch rugby. Rules vary across the sport, with teams comprising anything from five players to a full 15-a-side match and pitches ranging from full-sized football fields to much smaller areas. Games can be played as either strictly no-contact or with limited contact in the form of blocking to the chest.
A worldwide game
While it is fun to watch the big game together on TV, to see who will win the NFC or the AFC, flag football is a great way of also getting your kids out of the house and involved in the game itself. In America there are over 1.5 million young flag football players, including both boys and girls. Female participation continues up to adult level, too, with the annual Kelly McGillis Classic attracting 90 all-female teams to compete in an 8-a-side tournament.
Flag football is the fastest-growing team game in the United States, and it is gaining in popularity around the world, too. There is a World Cup of Flag Football, organised by the International Flag Football Festival, as well as a bi-annual World Championship, organised by the International Federation of American Football. Even the mighty NFL has realised the importance of the sport, providing grants to over 400 clubs and showing almost a dozen flag football matches on their official NFL Network TV channel last season.
Flag Football in Malaysia
Flag football in Malaysia is organised by the Malaysian Flag Football Association (MFFA), which has over 200 members. They hold a series of regular events in Malaysia, including 5-a-side matches with four men and one woman per team, as well as 7-a-side or 8-a-side games and 15-a-side tournaments. Weekly games are held in Setiawangsa on Fridays, Kuala Lumpur on Saturdays and Subang on Sundays, plus there are occasional tournaments held in Singapore and in the Philippines.
The MFFA was started by ex-pat US graduates and local university students, but the popularity of the sport is spreading fast to include men and women, boys and girls from all walks of Malaysian life. The group is working with the Asian Flag Federation, who in turn are supported by the NFL, and their aim is to bring the game to as many people as possible. They welcome new players to their games and meetings, and you can find out more about when and where they play on their Facebook page.