Meram, Executive Director of National Flag Football, says exercise, character building and teamwork are also integral factors for children who join his league.
“Winning isn’t the most important thing … we drive that home with our coaches,” Meram says.
Co-ed flag football leagues are growing across the country. This spring, the nation’s largest youth flag football league brings eight locations around Denver and Boulder. The league accepts girls and boys, ages 4-14, of all skill levels.
Active children tend to be more productive in other parts of their lives, Meram says. His league is working with the Denver Public School system, for example, to “monitor the progress” of young athletes and match up grades and attendance levels with those who participate.
This doesn’t mean flag football players lack that competitive drive.
“We keep score,” Meram insists, but the league rises above the macho posturing often associated with football. “We want to break down that barrier … we wanna make sure everyone has equal playing time.”
Flag Football Is Once a Week, Like the NFL
The league consists of one day a week activity. The children practice first and then the game begins.
“You have have more and more dual working parents in the household, so [getting your children in] multiple sports is getting tough,” he says. “A large number of participants play another sport as well.”
The NFL has grappled with concussion concerns in recent years, but head injuries aren’t an issue in this tackle-free league. Yet flag football participation actually boosts interest in tackle football where the former is played, Meram says.
Enthusiastic parents make youth sports better, but that energy can turn sour at times. League parents are given a pledge to sign promising good sportsmanship while they watch their children play.
“You shouldn’t have to say it but sometimes you need to,” he says. “Some parents get out of hand.”
The league’s full-time staff monitors potential issues and tries to resolve them before they get worse. Meram can recall only a handful of situations over the league’s eight-year run where an issue escalated beyond the pledge’s boundaries.
Benefits Beyond Learning to Score TDs
Meram, who also works as a coach, says even children who don’t appear to be ready for flag football can benefit from the league. He remembers a child on his team with a severe case of Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD). The boy had trouble with attention early in the year, and he only wanted to play defense. League participants typically play multiple roles on a team.
“A few games in he played offense and he scored a touchdown. A light turned on,” Meram recalls. The child went on to play two years of flag football before moving on to a tackle league.
“Over the course of two years I saw a huge improvement in him. Now, he’s a great tackle football player,” he says.
The National Flag Football League begins the first week of April and ends the first week of June. Registration is open for the spring league through February 28, 2014 at www.coloradoflagfootball.com. Athletes receive a reversible NFL Flag Football jersey and flags that are theirs to keep at season’s end.
Games are played in a five on five format on a 60-yard long field and are officiated by certified and trained officials.