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- 07 December 2015 00:00
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Answer: American Football! ‘Really? No!’ In your mind you may be seeing huge men with cages on their helmets and exaggerated shoulders. You may hear in your mind something about ‘an aggressive and brutal sport that leaves people in wheel-chairs’. You’re probably thinking about the NFL, so step back from those thoughts and take another look at the sport of American Football.
In schools up and down the UK there is a rapidly growing number of boys and girls discovering the fast and exciting game of non-contact 5v5 American flag football. A mixture of netball, one-pass tag-rugby and chess. Explosive in action yet thoughtful in planning the next play. Children love that moment of utter stillness before a play begins, the tension and excitement building within them just before the bark of the quarterback sends them sprinting off the line to catch the ball! They also love having control about what they do next, in the ‘huddle’, before the next play begins, whispered instructions and ideas are shared but secretly from the other team. Children like that aspect too, their secret and conspiratorial planning to create the next great run or great play or their taking delight in coming-up with a wicked trick-play to fool their hapless opponents! In short, it’s all the things children like to do and consequently, they love it!
From an adult’s or teacher’s point of view, one of the best bits about American Football (and this is true in the States from what they call ‘pee-wee’ football in primary school all the long way up to the extreme NFL version of the game) is its equality and inclusion: there is no gender or disability bar in American Football. Furthermore, because the game requires a ‘thinking’ element, academic achievement is highly valued. College students aiming for the NFL have to make the grade – literally! And then there is the game as an extreme model of ‘correct behaviour’ – from the pristine clothes players must wear to their behaviour on and off the field, everything must be circumspect. In the NFL a player can be fined ten thousand dollars for simply wearing the wrong tee-shirt to practice! Admittedly not a great amount to a six- or seven-figure earning player – but a huge amount for the charities that receive that fine money.
So you have a game that intrinsically values academic achievement, equality, inclusion, community service and high personal standards of behaviour and morality, things that are not artificially ‘added-on’ to make it look good – they really are what American Football stands for, as a sport. This is why American Football belongs in a school (primary or secondary) – are these not the very ideals that our education system strives to instil in our youngsters? Add team-work, leadership, discipline and you have potentially the perfect school sport to deliver.
But here is the most intriguing thing of all. Boys have no ‘upper-hand’ in their understanding, knowledge or skill of American Football over girls. Both will know as little as each other on their first session. Train them together, play them together and they meet on the field of play as true sporting equals. Unlike most other sports, there is no sense of a ‘boys’ version or a ‘girls’ version (think rugby – there is men’s rugby and women’s rugby and that gender divide is reflected throughout the sport). There is only ‘American Football’ and whilst the women’s 5v5 full-contact game has developed as an ‘off-shoot’ of the Youth Football format (mainly due to it being more accessible and cheaper than 11v11 team set-ups), mixed-gender teams are common-place in the University BUCS League as well as in the Community Clubs’ National Leagues. Isn’t that dimension worth its weight in gold in a school? A gender-equal and gender-fair sport?
With the creation of a new, full-time Manager for Schools, the British American Football Association is rolling out its official Schools’ Programme called ‘Touchdown Football’. Embedded in this Programme are all the values and aspirations described above and embodied in the ‘Touchdown Challenge’ of ‘Student, Person, Player’. Registration is free to join the Programme and includes exclusive access to the first National School Flag Football Competition planned for autumn 2016, a special Induction Day and resource dvd to skill-up teachers and school staff with little or no previous knowledge or experience. For more information email: firstname.lastname@example.org or go to the official website; http://www.britishamericanfootball.org/ and look under: ‘Coach and Teach’ / ‘Teaching Football’.