Parker Flag Football program teaching Middle School athletes to play the game correctly

By Matthew Piechalak | mpiechalak@francisparker.org 

Parker Varsity Football Head Coach Matt Morrison blows his whistle sharply, and the drill stops. He verbally redirects the middle school boys standing around on the sideline half-watching their peers compete. 

“When I’m coaching him, I’m coaching all of you–he’s not the only one making this mistake,” says Matt, who is also a flag football coach at Parker. 

It’s a warm and sunny October afternoon on Lauer Field, and the Grade 8 Boys Flag Football teams are practicing for their upcoming games. The sound of Matt’s whistle is common during the pass protection drill, as are verbal redirections, constructive criticism, and finally, encouragement. 

“Stop! Stop! Look over here.” 

“Take smaller steps.” 

“Get your hands up.”

“Rotate! Rotate. Smaller steps. “Good!” 

It’s all designed to teach the fundamentals of the game and to prepare the middle school boys for the discipline of playing high school football, should they choose to continue on into Upper School. 

“It’s a great introduction into the sport,” says John Morrison, who has been coaching flag football since 2015. John, who led the Parker varsity football program for 18 years, is also a current assistant coach on Matt’s staff. 

Parker features four Middle School teams–a Grade 7 gold and white team and a Grade 8 gold and white team. The gold teams feature more competition, while the white teams are intended for beginners to the sport. 

“They have to be able to protect themselves. We’re doing them a disservice if we just throw a football out and have them play. It’s incumbent that our kids can be safe while they are also being competitive.” 

Coach John Morrison

Varsity Football/Flag Football

“I enjoy coaching it,” John says. “The kids are eager to learn and do well. It’s a way to learn rules and fundamentals in a noncollision environment.”

Teaching fundamentals is vital, especially in a sport like football, that in recent years has seen a dropoff in the number of school-aged children signing up because of its association with the risk of concussions and other physical injuries. 

“They have to be able to protect themselves,” John explains. “We’re doing them a disservice if we just throw a football out and have them play. It’s incumbent that our kids can be safe while they are also being competitive.” 

Learning fundamentals is vital to playing the game safely, John explains, adding that he believes people are starting to realize that prep football is not the National Football League (NFL). 

“My hope is that the pendulum against tackle football has swung [out] and now is beginning to swing back,” he says. “We have become so much more conscious about safety. It’s such a great game and I hope the numbers continue to grow.” 

While the ultimate goal of the School’s flag football program is to introduce the game in a fun and safe way, John says it’s always positive when a player finds success and ultimately plays into high school. 

He recalls one Grade 8 student last year that is now a vital member of the football program. 

“He had an incredible experience [in flag football] and is now one of our best JV players and is getting some varsity minutes,” John says. “This is a kid who had never picked up a ball. To see this young man blossom and how it has improved his self-confidence–it’s a great story.”