Ten Ways to Dominate in Flag Football

20 12 2008

By Max Moyer, special to Sports Illustrated On Campus

Reprinted with permission from the author

Fall is here, and with it the long awaited return of football. But before you stumble blindly into another mediocre flag football experience, check out ten ways to dominate the league this year:

1. The Pitch

If your league calls the ball dead when it hits the ground (and most do), you absolutely must take advantage of the lateral — it can turn a loss of yards into a touchdown. Every play, your players should be thinking pitch.

2. A Powerful Rush

Don’t make the mistake of using “leftover” players as rushers. Instead, use your best athletes to rush — it will pay off. A nasty rush can completely neutralize a quarterback and demoralize the opposing offense.

3. Adjustments

A flexible team is a winning team. Spend time planning so you’re not trying to invent your strategy on the field. Here are some things to develop:

• A plan for an overwhelming rush (releasing blockers, quick passes, pitches).

• A plan for a team that doesn’t rush (QB sneaks, two-move routes).

• A dominant defense (zone or man, blitzes, audibles).

• A plan to handle a fast, shifty QB (extra rushers, etc.).

4. A Good Playbook

Nine times out of ten a good scheme will beat raw athleticism. You need organization and plays. If you’re not inclined (or simply don’t have time) to create an entire playbook, try a site like Flag Football Ninja that sells them cheap.

5. Simple Rotations

If you have a big team, game-time rotation can become utter chaos. Figure out an efficient, organized way to substitute players through. Avoid team politics by spreading the talent around the rotation instead of having your “starters” out first. A backup squad with no playmakers is useless to put out on the field at almost any point in the game.

6. Defense

Defense wins championships. Generally, teams of five or fewer should be playing a man-to-man defense unless the field is small. A zone can work with a bigger team. Every defense will have its weak spots, but giving the quarterback too much time is unacceptable. So send your rushers as often as you can, and use the blitz aggressively to keep the QB on the run. Also, a zone will completely fall apart if your defenders don’t stick to their spots.

7. Timing

This, unfortunately, requires practice. But if your QB can master a handful of routes (or even a couple), throwing just as the receiver cuts, you can build a championship offense. A QB who can pair accuracy and timing can’t be stopped.

8. Rhythm

Everyone wants to huck it deep. While there is much to be said for having some long plays in your arsenal, by and large, you will fare much better with shorter, consistent plays. A relentless short game will wear down the defense much more effectively than a few long plays, and successive completions batter the opponents psyche as well.

9. Experiment Early

Regardless of how good your scheme is entering the season, you will be better if you adjust after each game. Each team has its own chemistry. Building on the concept of flexibility, try as many plays and schemes as you can early in the season, but by playoff time you should have distilled down what works best for your team. After a few weeks of regular season play, you should know what works and what looked better on paper than on the field.

10. Flag Pulling

Nothing is more important in flag football than being able to pull the flag. Again, nothing is more important in flag football than being able to pull the flag. This sounds dumb, but time and time again, short dump passes turn into touchdowns because of missed pulls.

Try the following:

• Don’t wait flat-footed: If you wait for the ball carrier to pass at full speed while you flail and swipe at the flags, you are setting yourself up for disaster. Instead, meet the ball carrier as early as possible, and move with the ball carrier while you pull the flags.

• Get in the way: Most flag leagues do not allow (much) contact. That is why it can be especially helpful to stand in the way of the ball carrier while trying to pull the flag. They can’t bull you over; they have to go around. This slows them down and gives you more time to pull the flag.

• Pursuit: If everyone on your team pursues the play, you will win more games. You’ll have fewer breakaways because if one guy misses the flag, another is right there.

Follow these tips, and you’ll be on your way to your own championships.

Flagging a Title – Seven pitfalls to avoid on the way to a flag football championship

20 12 2008

By Max Moyer, special to Sports Illustrated On Campus

Reprinted with permission for The Ninja

Some people play flag football for the fun of it. Others play for exercise. Still others play simply because they like being outside with friends. But not you. You step on the field for one reason: to win. Desire and results are two different things, however, and seven pitfalls in particular prevent most teams from tasting victory. Avoid these mistakes and the trophy will be yours.

1. The QB
It’s obvious. Good quarterbacks win games. So avoid the temptation of offering your pal the starting spot just because he’s a decent athlete. Hold out for better. Try shopping around a little. In most flag football leagues (with a live rush or without), talented quarterbacks are a premium. If you can, find someone who has played the position in a competitive setting before. The importance of poise and confidence in the pocket cannot be overstated. Smart decisions and good instincts will win games when combined with a strong arm.

2. The Short Game
The long ball tempts too many flag football teams. For some weekend warrior quarterbacks, the visions of glory are overpowering. The long ball has its place, but in most cases, launching the ball too often will lead to turnovers, and in a 40-60 minute game, turnovers are devastating. Quick completions do three things. First, short plays pick up yardage and allow you to march down the field in rapid fashion. Secondly, short plays open up the field for the long ball, so if you complete a couple short passes you can then look over the top with the stop-and-go. Finally, a series of short, chain-moving completions will demoralize your opponent.

3. Blockers and Rushers
One of the biggest mistakes a team can make (in a league with live blocking) is putting the wrong guys on the line. The line is no place for the “leftovers.” It’s not even the place for your 300-pound elephantine friend who hasn’t moved faster than a walk since third grade. Offensive and defensive linemen are skill positions. If you’re fortunate enough to have huge, muscle-bound, athletic friends who run 4.7 40’s and have arms the size of your thighs, by all means put them on the line. But don’t overlook the quick, feisty guy who won’t stop talking or the lanky guy who simply can’t be contained. On offense, if you can give your QB time, it will absolutely transform your game. The opposite is true on defense — With enough pressure on the opposing quarterback, you can lay waste to his passing game. Build your team around the line.

4. Playbook System
Don’t be fooled into thinking you can be competitive by scraping together a couple of good athletes and then going out to play sand-lot football. That might work in the Recreational C League, but not against last year’s champs. Just because it doesn’t have to be organized football doesn’t mean it can’t be. A championship team has strategy. Spend some serious time crafting a system that plays to your strengths. If you’re short on time or if you simply can’t cut it as an offensive coordinator, find a playbook that works. FlagFootballNinja.com is a sharp-looking site that sells a bunch of playbook packages. Remember, if you’re trophy-bound, saying “just get open” or drawing routes on your chest in the huddle won’t cut it.

5. Goal Line Productivity
Don’t ignore the short-yardage plays. We see it at all levels of football. A team marches down the field to the three-yard line and then after four tries just can’t put the ball in the end zone. Or, after a great touchdown, the offense can’t seal the deal with an extra point. In flag football, it’s the little things that make the difference. Most games only last a few possessions per half, so missing an extra point, or worse, a red zone opportunity, will kill your productivity. Practice the short game. Find something that works. It’s not as sexy as throwing the deep routes, but spend time honing the short game and it will make a huge difference when you’re on the goaline and need to put the ball in the end zone.

6. Preparation
Most flag football teams show up for the game, play and then go home. Two practices a week beginning a month before the season starts is ideal, but unrealistic for most teams. At the very least, you need to show up between 30-60 minutes before game time. Let your QB warm up the arm and get the team to loosen up and stretch. This will help prevent injury and significantly improve your play. It’s important to use pre-game time to go over your offense and defense, too. If you have a lineup, now’s the time to get people thinking about their positions. Passing lines and repetition will tighten your routes and lead to higher completion percentages. You will be hard-pressed to find a defense that can stop a perfectly timed out-route or 5-yard hitch. Practice and preparedness are the only way to develop this kind of timing, but once you’ve got it, look out.

7. Defense
It doesn’t get more basic than this. Yet somehow, when it comes to flag football, way too many teams leave their defense to sort itself out. Spend time on your defensive scheme. Your team should spend almost as much time in warm-ups walking through defense as it does offense. Team size will often dictate whether you play man or zone (in four-on-four it’s very difficult to play an effective zone defense, but consider a hybrid. Do you have a stand-out corner you can lock down on the weak side? If you have the athletes for it, a true man defense can be tough to beat. Either way, check out the Ninja for some ideas and schemes.

Avoid these pitfalls and you will be well on your way to a championship. But remember, tips and advice mean little without heart and desire.