Making a proper flag pull in football comes down to the basics: quick footwork and hand-eye coordination.
Rafael Enriquez coaches the Southgate Raiders flag football team in Sacramento, Calif., and has coached players from ages 5 to 14.
First, he tells his players to have their hands in front of them as they come to a breakdown position. The breakdown position controls the players’ balance as they prepare to pull the flags. For this, Enriquez instructs his players to take short, choppy steps while dropping their hips and keeping a flat back.
“If you take a lunging step, and (the ball-carrier) makes a move on you, you’re going to be totally off-balance,” Enriquez said.
He runs a drill where two players – the ball-carrier and a defender – are matched up in a narrow area on the field. The players run toward each other and break down. To improve footwork, players run change of direction drills, backpedaling, shuffling and sprinting.
TeamX Sports North Penn commissioner Matt Reimel has coached ages 4 to 17 in flag football.
He teaches his players to square up with the ball-carrier while keeping the players’ thumbs inside and pointed toward their bodies. He tells his players to use both hands to try to grab one flag in each hand while maintaining eye contact and foot movement.
“I try to follow the same techniques at every level,” Reimel said. “You just have to adjust to their ability level and the age level, adjust to how you teach technique with more details and emphasis.”
In flag football, the ball-carrier initiating contact with the defender draws an offensive penalty. However, some young defenders are still fearful of setting up in front of a ball-carrier who is running full speed.
“I always emphasis the ball carrier has to get out of your way. You have the right to the flag. They have to avoid you,” Reimel said. “You always want to attack the ball carrier. You want to move forward and attack, always be moving north and south and being active. We never want them running east and west.”
Enriquez said playing flag football prepares players for tackle football by developing proper balance, keeping a wide base, a lower center of gravity and using small steps to not cross their feet over.
“All the drills they do, starting with the breakdown, that’s perfect for tackle,” Enriquez said. “But instead of just breaking down, they wrap up and run through the tackle.”
When preparing to grab a flag, coaches instruct their players to use the sideline as an extra defender. Specifically for flag football, Enriquez runs a drill in which two players begin 15 yards away from each other and the defender must pull the flag with his inside hand. This teaches the players to prevent the ball-carrier from getting outside.
“Always force the defender inside, because that’s where the action is,” Reimel said. “If you take away the sideline, the ball-carrier will have to go toward the field where the other four players are (to pull the flag).”
The team also learns to use the sideline as an extra defender and force the player out of bounds.
“Speedy receivers and ball-carriers will always try to get to that edge,” Reimel said. “If you square up properly, that takes the sideline away. If they try to go around you, they’re going to step out, and if you go to pull their flag, they’ll lose their stride and step out of bounds.”
Some of Reimel’s more experienced players stay one or two feet away from the sideline, hoping to bait the ball-carrier into thinking they can sneak by.
"For flag pulling drills, you try to set it up as realistic situations in the game,” Enriquez said. “It’s in progression. I have to make sure they have the technique. After they master that, you go into more details.
“Repetition is the key – and that they’re doing it correctly. If they’re doing it wrong, that will only create permanent bad habits.”