Pulling The Flag

Is it time for indoor flagball?

Most sports have an offseason. But few take months away, playing few (or no) competitive games. The winter months are cold, dark and wet; this much we know. There is the occasional winter event (Flagging New Year, Leeds Winterbowl etc) but by and large, we have a very quiet offseason with little but the occasional miserably moist training session to give us our football fix.

If you’ve never played on a sprung wood or indoor 3G surface, you’re missing out. Now we’re not suggesting that you give up the regular outdoor spring/summer season, but rather that a competitive series of events – perhaps even a league – is needed for growing the level of the sport, without having to face the full force of the British winter (especially in the north!).

For those who are familiar with the Arena League and how it compares to the NFL, you will be aware that it is a very different game. Indeed, this is part of the point of it. It is not intended to replace the ‘real’ game, but rather to supplement the season and develop the skillset of our player base. Here’s an analogy:

Indoor ‘ultimate’ is incredibly popular and its popularity is growing. Image courtesy of GetHorizontal.com

Ultimate frisbee (yes, they know it has a rubbish name too) has a competitive indoor and outdoor season. Many players play both parts of the year, flitting from one to the other. However, it also has spawned teams who exclusively play indoors or outdoors respectively. The rules are slightly different (7-a-side outdoor VS 5-a-side indoor, and shorter game length, just for a start), and the smaller pitch size means strategies are different too. This has led to players developing their overall skills (throwing, catching, cutting, laying out etc) without adverse weather playing a role, and there are now a series of indoor national championships at various age categories.

How does this apply to flagball? Well, if people wanted an indoor season (or league), we could do the exact same thing as we do outdoors. However, this does provide issues regarding suitable hall sizes (large halls are hard to come by and often prohibitively expensive). Instead, it may be better to utilise a smaller pitch (3 or 4 badminton courts long x 1 badminton court wide, or roughly one basketball court-sized for example), and shorten game length in order to allow a faster-paced, high-scoring affair, perhaps with 4 downs to score in total, rather than to get a new first down. The skillset remains the same, but the strategy changes substantially and it becomes a game within its own right.

The downsides? It’s not easy to find big enough venues with good enough flooring. Many venues have hardcourt floors, which wouldn’t work for a sport that involves diving for catches! That limits it to sprung wood and 3G turf, and those venues are also expensive. This means that teams would be looking at a fee around £100-£150 per team, per event, split across the team. Could you fit two pitches in the one venue, or would you only be able to have one? That affects costings too. Travel is a perennial issue, so the events would need to have significance to justify the distances travelled – Would people bother for a casual or a ‘fun’ event? But you could argue that the skills developed, strategy change, increased competition, chance to improve grassroots involvement, and playing in pleasant conditions in the midst of winter, all make it worthwhile. Certainly there’s an argument to be made.

A sprung wood venue is commonly used for basketball. Image courtesy of Leeds Beckett University

Would you play indoor flagball? Perhaps a season comprising a northern and a southern regional, followed by a national championship? Would you prefer a monthly league over winter (acknowledging that this would involve more travel and expense)? Are you against it? Let us know what you think.


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