Let’s Start with My Football Background

I played football back in the day, Maine South class of ’89, baby.  Go Hawks!  This was the Phil Hopkins era, before Coach Inserra taught the town how to win state championships with the spread offense.  We ran smashmouth football, Hopkins calling traps and dives up the middle almost every play.  When questioned why he ran the ball so often, he’d drawl “If you can’t get 3 yards, you don’t deserve to win.”  Phil Hopkins was a great coach, and we won far more than we lost.

I was an offensive guard/ defensive tackle, and I loved the line.  I loved the idea that linemen don’t get the glory but are the true backbone of the team.  Every play needs good blocking.  I loved the physicality of it, the toughness.  Line up and move a guy through strength and skill and effort.  Absolutely nothing beats leveling a guy with a good trap block.

Learning the Difference Between Tackle to Flag Football

When my twins were in first grade, we signed them up for tackle.  Most years I offered to help coach, which always meant “give me the linemen”.  I would show the bigger kids how to block and rush and stay low.  When the boys got older, I got to show them how to run a trap.  That was fun.

There are seven years between my older boys and my youngest.  During those years, everyone decided that the really little guys probably shouldn’t play tackle ball.  Flag football was taking off.  More teams meant a need for more coaches, so I was asked to head coach a flag team.  What did I know about flag?  They never let me touch the ball when I played, and for good reason.  I hated the phrase “skill position”.  How could I coach a team with no linemen, with nothing but “skill positions”?  What would I teach?  It is against flag rules to block, at all, ever.

Out of the love of my little guy and a love of the sport, I learned.  I Googled flag football strategy (psst, it’s all misdirection).  I borrowed a flag playbook from a friend and added a few trick plays.  I ran drills showing the 6-year-olds how to throw, how to hand off, and how to pull a flag.  As I learned, so did they.

Flag Football- Why It is a Great Sport

Come opening day, I had my first series of plays all mapped out.  The boys knew them.  Run two simple plays to the right, then run the wideout reverse to the left.   I will never forget how happy I was when that tiny wideout got the handoff and sprinted down the open left sideline for a touchdown.  The fans roared.  The boys jumped and hugged and danced.  I was Lou Holtz.  I was George Halas.  I was Bill Belichick.

That is how I fell in love with coaching flag football.  Flag is about learning, about inclusiveness, about teamwork, about effort, about development, and about fun.  Now I help run what has become the largest community-based flag football program in the Midwest.  We have 700 youth athletes getting better every week, which is good, because Coach Inserra will need great wideouts, running backs and quarterbacks to win a few more Hawk championships.   And nothing makes me happier than watching my little flag guys grow into those “skill” players.  It might even be better than running a well-executed trap block.

Mel Thillens