It has been my pleasure to learn about flag football and meet young flag football dynamo, Scarlett, age 8, and her team, the Champlain Valley School District Buccaneers.
After watching her play, I spent some time with Scarlett and her mom. I spoke in depth with Scarlett about what football means to her and the role football has played in her life. We met days before Scarlett’s 9th birthday and she had a lot of mature insights about the game. I enjoyed her perspective enormously.
Scarlett is in her second year of playing weak-side linebacker for defense and running back for offense for the Buccaneers. She is a talented and versatile player who reliably scores touchdowns. Scarlett attributes her success to the guidance, training, and support she receives from her teammates and coaches. She will be able to play on this team for one more year before graduating to another youth league team, if she continues playing football. And I hope she does.
When I spoke with Scarlett, I was curious about her experience as the only girl on her team. I found out that in nearly two seasons of playing flag football, she hasn’t encountered even one other girl playing on any team.
As I reflect on Scarlett’s poise, confidence, and introspection, I genuinely hope that seeing her on the field and reading about her will give more young girls the courage to play football.
Flag football offers such a great environment for children who want to learn the fundamentals of football and have a great time on the field. Scarlett displays not just the direct benefits of being on a football team- being in great shape, being knowledgable about football, and working well with her teammates, but also the more intangible benefits like self-confidence, respect from peers, self-assurance, and discipline. The Buccaneers’ focus on positive sportsmanship, physical well-being, and emotional wellness sets players on a path that can help them indefinitely. Establishing these healthy habits young is so beneficial.
I asked Scarlett how the boys on her team reacted when she first started playing flag football with them. She said,
Well… you know, the boys on my team were just like, “Oh, dang. A girl on our team? No.” But then, they saw me play and scrimmage against them. And I got a bunch of points. They were just like, “Yeah, we have a girl on the team!” (Scarlett nods and smiles as she says this.)
I even went to school once and Everett (her brother) was just like, “Hey, my sister’s playing football.” And there were some kids from my team. And they were just like, “Yes!!! We got the girl!”
You can hear the quiet pride in her voice when she shares how her teammates went from being reluctant to play with her to bragging about having her on their team. It’s clear she loves hearing her brother speak about her playing flag football too.
I was excited to get to see Scarlett play and it became immediately obvious that she is a teammate worth bragging about, even if she is modest about her own accomplishments. I admit that I assumed a girl playing football would be more attention-seeking and boastful and Scarlett isn’t like that. She’s humble. She seems to recognize that she’s a good player, but she is much more focused on how she and her teammates and coaches work together to create a strong team. She is very aware of the work everyone puts in to make their team shine and isn’t interested in special allowances for being the only girl on the team or special accolades for being one of the top scorers.
According to her mom, Scarlett has always been an active kid. Her mom called her “fearless” and shared that Scarlett was determined to copy her older brother and his friends and nothing would stop her from following their lead. Following it right onto the flag football field!
I asked Scarlett what she gets out of playing flag football and if she thinks she is treated differently because she is a girl.
She was proud to say that she feels respected by her teammates and classmates for her gameplay and that she has more friends at school now that she plays football. She mentioned that sometimes when her friends at school who are girls want to play gymnastics or go on the swings, she chooses to play football with her teammates, who are all boys. Elementary and middle school tend to be very segregated by gender and it’s fantastic that playing flag football allows Scarlett the opportunity to make friends with and compete against boys.
Something I discovered while chatting with Scarlett is that she and all of her teammates are responsible for maintaining their equipment to be able to play. They take care of their own water bottle, mouth guard, helmet, shoulder pads, practice jersey, game jersey, cleats, and more. It’s a lot of stuff to keep track of and if you forget anything, the coaches make you apologize to the rest of the team. That’s one way to make these young players accountable to each other and to reinforce the responsibility that comes with being a part of a team.
I wanted to know what Scarlett would tell another girl who was considering playing football. Scarlett said,
I would tell her to never give up. Follow her dreams. And don’t listen to anyone if they ever say something that is football related. Like, “You’re better not playing football. Or, your teammates don’t really like you.” Something like that.
It seems to me that Scarlett is good at not just giving advice, but also listening to her own wise words.
I asked Scarlett if she wanted to give a shout-out to anybody from her team. Scarlett immediately lit up. She said,
I want to give a little thank you to my coach, Coach Barron, who’s a very pushing, very respectful coach… he encourages me.
Off camera, Scarlett was overwhelmingly positive about the guidance she has received from all of her Buccaneers coaches, past and present. She said that Coach Barron, who heads the entire Buccaneers football program, is an amazing coach and that he encourages her to be her best self. We should all have a team of coaches who push us to be our best selves. She mentioned Coaches Mike and Aaron, who work with her current team, and Coaches Buck and Brittany who she worked with last year. It’s encouraging to see all these devoted coaches who are so committed to the success of their players. These coaches are all parents of players too, and not only that, but they’re also volunteers.
Vermont Mom has been delighted to partner with Future for Football for this article. Future for Football is the National Football Foundation’s cross-platform, multimedia campaign to celebrate the positive impact football has made on millions of players, coaches, administrators, volunteers, and fans nationwide since its debut in early 2018. Future for Football celebrates the individuals, organizations, and communities nationwide who positively impact or are impacted by the sport of football. The campaign’s website is www.futureforfootball.com and people can follow it on Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter.
Please visit FutureForFootball.com to find a league near you and for other helpful resources.
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