11/29/2011 - 11:31 am
Dressing young athletes to play flag football goes beyond just strapping on a belt and sending them out there.
Clothing choice goes a long way toward having fun and playing safe.
Shirts and shorts should be snug and free of belt loops or pockets, said Mark Thomas, a flag football referee from Spring Hill, Fla.
Kids may like to wear long, loose styles popularized by basketball and soccer, but those outfits can work against for the athletes, their teammates and opponents.
“Fingers can get caught in belt loops, pockets or even the loose clothing,” Thomas said. “Shirts should be tucked in and fitted to the player’s body. As opponents grab for the flag, you need to make sure there is nothing there for their fingers to get caught on. This can injure the defender but it also can cause the two players to get caught up, spin around and hurt them both.”
Thomas has served as a flag football official for more than 30 years, working tournaments in the United States, Canada, Costa Rica, Great Britain and the Dominican Republic. He was a head referee at the recent NFL FLAG powered by USA Football national championships in Lauderhill, Fla.
Thomas recommends football pants with a draw string or internal belt but mesh shorts that aren’t too baggy are good.
Sweatshirts should be form-fitting if the weather is cold. The focus should be on comfort and warmth, not style.
“If it gets cold, make sure the kids are comfortable and dressed properly,” he said. “Let them wear sweatpants or sweatshirts if that’s what’s called for. It’s more important to keep them warm than make them look good.”
Some leagues have adapted their rules, Thomas said, so that if a ball-carrier’s shirt is untucked and a defender makes an honest grab for the flag but only comes away with a handful of shirt, the runner is considered down.
“It’s not just the shirts. If the drawstring, the excess flag belt or anything hanging off the body gets pulled, the play is over,” he said. “Also, if a player wears a hat or a visor and that falls off, it’s a downed ball as well.”
For the belts themselves, make sure the clasp is in the front and flags are sticking out from the body. Most leagues outlaw wearing the same color pants as the flag belt.
Mouth guards are a must, and gloves are fine as long as they don’t interfere with the player’s abilities.
For children who wear glasses, be sure to use a safety strap.
“The bottom line is use common sense,” Thomas said. “If the kids are comfortable and enjoying themselves, they will have fun.”