Commentary: Flag Football First

October 29, 2014

By Chris Ervin
St. Johns Athletic Director

Throughout my career I have always argued that most schools/youth programs start tackle football too early. Most are putting young children in full pads and letting them have full contact as early as third or fourth grade. At this stage in life I don’t believe that children are physically prepared for that type of contact. At this age many of these kids are too big to touch the ball on offense. What fun is that?

But I understand why it is, what it is. Every football program feels the need to do the same, if not more, than our competition. Every program feels it must do what our neighbors are doing to remain competitive. In today’s society everyone believes that our programs must start early, practice often and hit hard, to win championships.

In today’s society we have more science than ever before. We know more about concussions, knee injuries, heat stress, etc. If the NFL, college football, and high school football are making changes as a result of these concerns, why should we not look at current practices of youth football?

I believe that if there was a study conducted with high school football coaches, most would prefer more flag than tackle football for younger children. I believe that most coaches would buy into starting tackle football later in life. But I also believe that coaches will not change unless change occurs across the board, in every community, in every program, to ensure an equal playing field.

Legendary Fowler Football Coach Steve Spicer won championships. He experienced great success even though Fowler started tackle football in the ninth grade for many years. Coach Spicer was able to coach athletes his way. He taught them proper tackling techniques and all of the necessary football skills in merely four years. And for that his teams won championships and were feared as one of the greatest small school football programs in Michigan.

So why flag football instead of tackle football? My take on this is that we start tackle football too early in life. Kids figure out quickly that hitting or getting hit hurts. They do this for six or seven years and then arrive in our high schools.  Many of these kids have had enough of getting hit at this point and then hang up their cleats for another activity, work, girlfriend, etc. Some stay with football and enjoy the next four years, but too many go in a different direction due to burn out.

I keep hearing a common theme in Michigan and I suspect this is the case throughout the entire country. Football participation numbers are plummeting!  Is this a result of kids having so many opportunities these days, starting school after Labor Day (football practice takes away their August vacation time), or the almost daily coverage by the media about the impact of concussions? All of these are factors.

So what is the solution to saving tackle football? I view this as an easy answer; Flag Football!  We need to rally the troops (ADs, Football Coaches Associations, youth football programs, legislatures, parents, children) to take a philosophical stance that supports flag football across the board until at least middle school, and then transition into tackle football for the following years. We all talk about this, but we need action!  Maybe a social media campaign is how we get the ball rolling. 

Flag football is fun for kids! Flag football provides an opportunity for kids to learn the necessary skills so that later in life they are physically able to handle tackle football. And maybe they will enjoy the football experience so much that they will stick around and be part of our high school program!

Ervin is in his 21st school year as an athletic director, with nine at St. Johns, eight at Carson City-Crystal and four at Webberville. He also coached boys basketball at Webberville for six seasons. 

This Week in High School Sports: 3/21/23

By Jon Ross
MHSAA Director of Broadcast Properties

March 21, 2023

This final edition for the 2022-23 school year reviews all four MHSAA Girls Basketball Finals and highlights some of the top performances from Boys Basketball Regional play. 

MI Student AidThe 5-minute program each week includes feature stories from or network affiliates, along with "Be the Referee," a 60-second look at the fine art of officiating.

"This Week in High School Sports" is powered by MI Student Aid, a part of the Office of Postsecondary Financial Planning located within the Michigan Department of Treasury.

Listen to this week's show by Clicking Here.

Past editions

March 15: Ice Hockey Finals review, Lower Peninsula Boys Swimming & Diving Finals highlights - Listen
March 8:
Individual Wrestling Finals review, Competitive Cheer Finals highlights - Listen
March 1:
Midland heroes, Team Wrestling Finals review - Listen
Feb. 22:
Basketball Districts begin, Finals cap Upper Peninsula swimming & diving season - Listen
Feb. 15:
Hockey tournament changes, MHSAA social media - Listen
Feb. 8:
Winter Postseason Starts, Scholar-Athlete Award - Listen
Feb. 1:
Kent City coach Jill Evers, "Officials Appreciation Week" - Listen
Jan. 25:
Historic hoops wins, Michigan's national ranking in sports participation - Listen
Jan. 18:
Brad Bush joins MHSAA, Al DeMott sets coaching record - Listen
Jan. 4:
Winter Championships, Officials Recruitment - Listen
Nov. 23:
8-Player Football Finals, Lower Peninsula Girls Swimming & Diving Finals, Volleyball Finals - Listen
Nov. 18:
Concussion Myths, Navea Gauthier's record-setting Shelby volleyball season - Listen
Nov. 11:
Lower Peninsula Cross Country, Boys Soccer Finals review - Listen
Nov. 2:
Football Playoffs Week 1 notables, Fall 2022 championships and broadcasts - Listen
Oct. 26:
Football Playoffs pairings selection, Upper Peninsula Cross Country Finals - Listen
Oct. 19:
Sunday Selection Show, Lower Peninsula Girls Golf & Boys Tennis Finals - Listen
Oct. 12:
25th Women In Sports Leadership Conference highlights - Listen
Oct. 5:
Upper Peninsula Girls Tennis Finals champions, Rockford's Anna Tracey - Listen
Sept. 28:
MHSAA Sportsmanship Summits return, Owosso's Macy Irelan - Listen
Sept. 21:
MHSAA/Farm Bureau Insurance Scholar-Athlete Awards, Marquette's Maddy Stern - Listen
Sept. 14:
MHSAA record books, Detroit Renaissance's Kaila Jackson - Listen
Sept. 7:
Sports Participation rebounding, Paw Paw's Paige Miller - Listen
Aug. 31:
Michigan Power Ratings and soccer seeding, Fenton's Gracie Olsen - Listen
Aug. 24:
Redesigned, key dates and how to watch football in 2022 - Listen