Pulling The Flag

Youth – National League – Time For Change

Time For Change

Youth flag football has had many ups and downs over the years. It’s come under many different guises, with many different volunteers involved in running a national championship for its audience.

But never before, at a time when buzz words such as growth, development, sustainment, engagement, fun and competition are seemingly banded around with such careless lip service, has the sport been in such danger of being neglected by its national organisation.

Clubs, coaches, players and parents are incandescent with the lack of quality on offer and are ultimately searching for answers and the frustration is boiling over.

So why is the future of the game at a national level so delicately close to being washed up against the rocks?

The Cause

The national league at youth level is never going to be an easily organised structure. However the biggest cause of disharmony is something that the organising body seems to find the hardest of all their core values to commit to… Communication.

With communication, comes transparency. With transparency, comes engagement. With engagement, comes trust. With trust, comes support. With support comes harmony. With harmony, comes success.

The governing body don’t seem to have a clear line of sight of how communication should be delivered, if at all.

Clubs were asked to register their intentions by December the 16th, by paying the £30 fee via the registration portal.

How was this communicated? Email and social media. That’s fine right? Sure, that’s enough, it covers most bases.

So why did some of the longer standing clubs in the league go unaware of this until mid February? Why did it take till the beginning of March to issue out a schedule? A schedule that had to be redacted due to some clubs not being added to the schedule and some added that had no intention of entering?

The registration portal was supposed to pick up these important elements to help streamline the process.

Incredibly the Manchester Titans received a schedule that they were omitted from because of not having made the £30 registration fee, but somehow received the schedule email courtesy of the CRS system having it on file. If if they weren’t “registered” how did this happen?

This then lead to a social media uproar and a months wall of silence from the organisational body. It also lead to the Manchester Titans withdrawing completely and thus impacting on children not getting to play ball.

With silence comes frustration and animosity. Clubs were unable to plan, parents unable to plan and a vicious circle ensued.

Emails to the relevant bodies were ignored, social media threads ignored or belittled. Communication was at its worst.

The cause of this was finally communicated a full month later. The answer was a number of clubs had not registered their players and were breaking procedure as they were holding practice without the appropriate insurance. This meant they were putting players in danger and coaches potentially could be liable if any injuries were to occur and they weren’t covered.

That’s fair enough. They’d had since October 1st to register their players. But did clubs know this? Maybe. Was it ignored? Possibly. Was it communicated well? Not really.

Clubs in general close down after the finals have taken place and start up again in January. Recruitment takes place, players move age groups and clubs are actively working out who is likely to play the upcoming season.

So you can understand why clubs won’t feel the need to register individuals until they know who’s playing and when and where they are scheduled to play.

A RAG (red, amber and green) system was issued along side the updated schedule, highlighting the clubs who were in a healthy and unhealthy state going into the season.

This would determine who was ready to play on the opening date and who were not.

Makes sense, so why wasn’t it followed up? No communication has seemingly been sent since and the season kicked off on April 22nd.

There still hasn’t been a communication as to if those games should have taken place or not.

The Cost

So at what cost has the lack of communication caused the clubs going into the season?

Well with only two weeks to prepare, both North and South fixtures took place on the opening game day eventually, but these were not without issues.

The Hertfordshire Cheetahs and South London Renegades were unable to field a team at tournament one.

Was it their fault or did they require a schedule some time in advance? The answer likely lies somewhere in between. But for the other participating teams who’ve paid for travel, booked time off work and were hoping to enjoy a full days action, that’s not really acceptable.

As recently as yesterday the Waveney Wolves of Lowestoft, East Anglia had to announce that they had had to cancel their up coming home tournament, due to three London teams choosing not to travel to the East Coast, sighting travel and cost as the reasons for not making the journey.

Obviously the Wolves are disappointed. Pitch hire, availability and proud parents will now all be impacted. It’s also two years running that this has happened to them. So you can understand their frustrations. It’s not their fault they are located where they are and have a thriving organisation.

But most importantly the kids are the ones who are impacted on for all teams concerned, as they miss out on playing the sport they enjoy playing.

Accountability must fall on those clubs failing to make the journey, but they have reasonable reason to a certain degree. But it does raise the question, why enter a national league, if you have no intention of traveling to away game days?

Other clubs throughout the country make the long journey despite of cost and distance, so surely they should do their best to do the same? Waveney themselves have never been able to host and have attended all fixtures issued.

It’s not all their fault though. Scheduling three London teams to travel to Suffolk to play the hosts doesn’t really make sense either. Logistically it’s a lot harder for three teams to leave the capital city, than one to enter it. So that wasn’t thought out with clarity either.

So why not liaise with team managers to work out a best case plan? Rather then scheduling game days without talking it through.

That’s right… Lack of communication.

Countermeasures

The senior and women’s flag leagues are not necessarily easier to schedule, but do seem to have clearer lines of structure to them.

It’s a lot easier for an adult to jump in a car and travel to a game day. The same can be said for women’s flag, however a lot of teams are university teams, so transport may need to be organised via coaches etc.

The Opal series has one key difference though. All teams play on the same game day and these game days are set at designated venues and on designated dates. One North and one South.

Could this possibly be the model that is used to better organise all teams attend or are able to communicate participation rather than various emails flying around between clubs to sort it out themselves?

It’s certainly one model that could be used, it’s tried and tested. It works!

If teams are unable to attend, it wouldn’t impact on the ones that are able so much, as there would be a larger number of teams in attendance at each game day.

Teams would still play a maximum of 3/4 games per game day and would accumulate points for position, but also the honour of winning the game day as an individual tournament.

It would also be more inclusive at finals. The format being that the top two from each conference would enter the final four, but the other teams who didn’t make the final four could play for placing, rather than the season being over and sat at home. Ultimately an extra game day. A festival of flag.

There’s roughly around the same amount of teams at youth that there is in the women’s game, albeit in two age groups. But if the Opal series can make it work, why couldn’t the youth structure?

Another countermeasure could be to follow the SEYAF organisation and run regional competitions.

The concept is great and is running with great success, but how would that help teams such as Waveney, Darlington Steam or the Solent Seahawks who are without competition in there catchment area?

Sure they could develop competition by development and spread from there. But that takes time. So it wouldn’t  help the kids who want to play now.

The National league is part of its appeal.

Co-ordination

The co-ordination of such an idea like the Opal series structure would ultimately come down to the organisational body to organise. This leads back to the original point, communication.

What youth flag really needs, is a team within the flag community not connected to contact football, to co-ordinate all aspect of the game.

One of flags biggest issues is, it’s too tied in with contact football. It doesn’t have a flag identity of its own away from is other code.

The team would organise the structure, schedules, development, social media presence, tie in with Rob Brooksby and the School game initiative and develop a international program, with the same age ranges as played by all overseas countries.

A team who knows its product, knows is audience and knows how to deliver it.

A team who ultimately gets the best out of the people who matter… The kids playing the game.

If the governing body don’t buck their ideas up, youth flag football will make it’s own way and do it’s own thing.

It’s time for change!

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