8 Differences Between Flag Football and Tackle Football – What to Expect

It happened again last week. I was on the field for Skills Camp helping run some drills when all of a sudden, this lady walks up to me and asks if her kid could step out to get water.

OK – Now I know I’m new at this whole coaching thing, but I’ve been around sports long enough to know that Mom’s don’t just walk out on the field to interrupt practice, right? She was quiet and soft-spoken that I almost could not hear what she was saying, and I just wasn’t sure what to do. My coaching instincts have not yet been developed so my Dad instincts were the first to show up. In my heart, I wanted Mom to feel better because she was obviously very concerned about the sweat dripping from her sons forehead. Then my brain kicked in and told me I better send her to Coach. And that I did.

Luckily, I chose correctly.

The Head Coach and two other Assistant’s spent a few minutes explaining to her the rules of tackle football. I didn’t get to hear them as they were explained to Mom, but I caught the recap after she left the field.

A word of advice to all you parents out there that feel you need to pull your kid from practice…

Don’t do it!

Unless your child has a physical limitation (like asthma) or a handicap preventing him or her from actually performing with their teammates (which should be listed on their registration forms), there is absolutely no reason for you to be on the field during practice.

This is referred to as Mommy Ball or Daddy Ball, and this action could be one of the most traumatic for your child when their teammates discover it. You must trust the coaches – they know what they are doing.

In line with this little piece of advice, here are 8 differences between flag football and tackle football to help you gain an understanding of what to expect. If you’re entering the tackle football arena and expecting it to be like flag, you could be in for a big surprise.

1. Tackle Football Coaches are Mean!¬†Well, not really. They just seem that way. Almost all the coaches I’ve ever worked with as either an assistant coach or a parent across all sports get heated and bark commands to get their points across. In full-contact football, there is a higher probability that your child could be injured. The coaches need to make certain that their commands are taken seriously and the best way to do that is by breaking these kids down and building them back up. Yelling and screaming at them is the time-honored tradition effectively used on the field.

What it comes down to is this: In flag football you’ll find coaches are a lot easier on the kids than they are in tackle. I think it’s a combination of the competitive nature of the game and the need to keep the kids from getting injured that really drive the actions on the field. If a kid doesn’t drill and work out the proper way, they can get hurt. Coaches seem like they are mean but get them off the field and they’re like anyone else. Well… almost anyone.

2. In Tackle Football, Kids Will be Pushed to Their Breaking Point. In Flag, there is a whole lot of lovey-dovey going on. Kids are pushed to do well of course, but they are in no way pushed to the point where they could physically or emotionally break down. In tackle, I’ve seen kids start crying from the moment they started their first ten push-ups and straight through the four hours of practice. Yep – I said 4 hours! Lucky for most parents though, when a kid is going to quit full contact football, it typically happens in the first few weeks when refunds are still offered. Basically, some kids just are not cut out for it.

3. Practice 5 Days a Week or 1 Day a Week? Generally, flag football practices at most once or twice per week, and practice may last an entire hour. In tackle – in the early parts of the season there is an entire month of conditioning camp, long before the kids even touch pads or a football. This camp is usually 5 days per week, two hours a night, and lasts 4 weeks. Even after pads have been issued and the season is in full swing, coaches usually schedule practices at least 3 days per week for a minimum of 2 hours. It could be longer if you practice at a field that has lights. Saturdays are usually reserved for the games.

4. No Place For Bad Attitude. Has your kid got attitude problems? Is he or she a problem child? I suggest keeping them away from flag. Most coaches are ill-equipped to handle the psychological baggage that can come from a child with bullying issues or the know-it-all. If you’re lucky enough to find a flag team with a coach willing to deal with these issues, by all means take advantage. However, most coaches don’t want to deal with it and few will have the time with only one or two meetings each week. They’ll probably “sit” it out of him.

Tackle teams are different. I’ve seen a number of kids with problems; bad home lives, abusive parents, parents with drug problems. The list goes on. However unfortunate the life they have, in tackle, everyone is the same. If a kid can make it through the first month of practices, they stand a very good chance of being a part of something special that could carry on for years. The dedication and family environment that comes from some youth leagues can go a long way to becoming a form of counseling for kids in need. The bad attitude doesn’t become the primary focus of the team which leaves room to focus on play.

5. The Uniform. For flag football, the uniform usually consists of a jersey. Sometimes you may even get lucky and have a two-sided shirt that can double as either a home or away jersey. The shorts should not have pockets and along with the cleats and mouth guard, will have to be supplied by the parents.

Depending on the league, and in some cases even the team in full contact football, almost everything is supplied by the team and covered under your registration fees. Generally, the shoulder pads and helmets will have to be turned back in at the end of the season. Some leagues, like I experienced in Pop Warner, require you to turn in both the home and away jerseys and the pants with pads at the end of the season as well.

Other parts of the uniform like the undershirt, girdle, and rib-pads are not usually supplied by the team but promoted for use. Some leagues offer kits that consist of everything your child will need for the entire season and can usually get some kind of group discount or sponsorship.

6. Filth, Dirt , and Muck! Gotta love it. You know your kid is having fun when he comes home covered head to toe in mud, right? In flag, you might get some muddied-up cleats or a few grass stains. In tackle, every night after practice means the kid has to strip down before even being allowed back in the house by Mom. The uniform, cleats, pads, and helmet all get hosed down, and your kid is going to need shower a lot more than ever before. Unlike baseball where a few drops of rain shut down the field and send everyone home, football plays through everything but lightning. When it comes to weather, the general rule in football is – no matter what it’s doing at your house, show up anyways.

7. Spending Money. In flag, you can expect to pay a small fee for registration and the jersey. If you need new shorts and cleats, you’ll spend a few bucks on those too. Other than that, you’ll spend a couple dollars on a mouth guard and maybe have to buy snacks for the kids one day if the responsibility is spread around.

In tackle, be prepared to spend some cash. I don’t want to scare anyone away, especially since there are numerous programs out there to help get talented kids involved, but unless you qualify for assistance, you can spend hundreds of dollars through the season. To help you understand where your money can go, consider this:

  • Registration is usually $200 – $300 per child
  • Extra cost for the “kits” which consist of all those extras can run $60 – $100
  • Other items for the players like bags and water bottles: $10 – $40
  • Gas to and from practice and games: $20 – $40 each week
  • Some leagues charge you an entrance fee for the games: $5 – $10 per week
  • Snacks, food, and drinks at the games can run $10 – $20 per week

As you can see, depending on how involved you get, you can easily spend a lot of money. We used to get together for pizza and drinks on Friday evenings with a few other parents/kids at a local pizza joint which added another $50 or so each week.

I would be remiss however, if I didn’t say that every single dollar we spent was worth it in every way.

8. Fan Base: Bottom line here is – flag lasts a few weeks and teams change every couple of months. In tackle, the teams are more long term with a lot more invested. As such, they are often tied to local high-school programs and develop their own fan bases within the communities where they exist similar to pro teams. Often, and as is with our own Volusia Titans, the coaching staff may consist of high-school coaches too.

This was just a short list of differences between flag football and tackle football based on my experiences with both over the past few years. If you are a new member of or thinking about becoming a member of a full-contact program, I encourage you to give it a shot. Remember these things I pointed out here and hopefully it will make your transition a little easier.

All of the parents I know that allowed their child to play in full contact have no regrets from their decision. It is usually a little tough in the beginning because we are not used to the methods, but once you accept the fact that the coaches only want what’s best for the kids, you realize the kids can handle it. The kids are never really a problem.


All Best!



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