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Saturday, April 4, 2009

"Hey Coach!"

I am told, “No good deed ever goes unpunished.” While this thought may seem true from time to time, I am very pleased to have volunteered to coach my daughters’ flag football team. I have had the pleasure of coaching my boys’ football and soccer teams, even being an adult leader in their scout troops. My wife had the pleasure of coaching our girls, but I have never had an opportunity to share the love of sport and competition with my girls.
The boys and I share many funny stories and a common experience from the intersection of our relationships as parent/ child and coach/ player. The girls and I are looking forward to deepening our relationships through playing flag football and I am especially happy both the girls will be on the same team.
The NFL has partnered with local school districts in Alaska, California, Florida, Indiana, Massachusetts, Nevada, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and Texas. The idea of this partnership is to provide another opportunity for girls to develop leadership skills, and to play a sport in which female participation has been limited until now.
The NFL grant of 2008/9 agrees to pilot flag football programs in any community desiring such a program. So, if you wish to bring flag football to your school you can go to the NFL youth football website and apply for the grant the NFL has set up to provide footballs, flags, rulebooks and other support to get leagues started. Florida already has a state championship, Texas is investigating one and talk has begun as to developing some kind of national tournament. The upside for the NFL is they are expanding the numbers of female fans, both now and in the future.
While these opportunities on the horizon excite the girls, the thought of playing a “boy’s sport”, and breaking those barriers and stereotypes, holds as much attraction for my girls and their teammates, but biggest attractor is the sport itself. Several of the girls on my team are cheerleaders for their school, cheering for the boy’s football and basketball teams. Interestingly, high schools that have had girl’s flag football for a few years report that boys come out to cheer on the girls; demonstrating, either boys are willing to be fair-minded about their sports, or boys will go where girls are even if the girls are cutting fish bait.
The girls play seven on seven, and as they do not wear tackle football pads, the rules are modified to ensure the girls’ safety. The pace of the game seems to be faster than tackle football and the ball is smaller to accommodate the girl’s smaller hands. I have however been pleasantly surprised by how quickly the girls have begun to master their new sport.
I am very interested to see the differences in levels of competitiveness, if there is any, both inside our team between individual girls, and between boys and girls in general. Far more important than satisfying my considerable intellectual curiosities however, is the opportunity to play a sport with my girls that all three of us love.

Mark Altman is a speaker and leadership consultant with the Altman Leadership Center. He has graduate work in Marriage and Family Counseling and is working on a PhD in Leadership studies at Gonzaga University. He can be reached at

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