HENDERSON, Nev. — It was just four months ago that Kylie Annandale first threw a football in Australia — and it brought her all the way here, 7,400 miles away, to the NFL FLAG Championships.
“The plane ride is long, but this is so cool,” said the smiling 12-year-old from Gold Coast, Queensland, Australia, on Day 1 of the competition, which ran Feb. 3-4 as part of the Pro Bowl Games.
Annandale and her flag football team helped make history, representing one of a record eight countries to compete in the annual tournament. Australia, Canada, China, Germany, Ghana, Japan, Mexico and the United Kingdom combined to field 10 co-ed youth teams that faced off against each other in the International Division.
That level of participation illustrated the rising global profile of a sport that drew more than 585,000 youth athletes across the United States in 2022, according to NFL FLAG, which is the official flag football program of the NFL.
There are many drivers behind the growth of the game, including its safety and affordability in comparison to youth tackle football. And, as longtime Canadian coach Jamil Springer was quick to point out, flag football truly offers an opportunity for everyone to play.
“It’s growing tremendously for the reason that it’s a very inclusive sport, no matter the age, size, gender, weight; it’s very inclusive,” Singer said.
The journey taken by Annandale and the Australian squad shows just how quickly the sport can be implemented. It was only in October that Annandale’s Varsity College school was given an NFL FLAG tutorial. Varsity and nine other schools followed by integrating NFL FLAG into their physical education curriculum. When Varsity prevailed in a November tournament including the other nine schools, Annandale and Co. were bound for the states.
“I just love the sport and got really into it and I was super excited when I made the cut,” Annandale said in between posing for pictures with Rampage, the Los Angeles Rams’ mascot.
Like many girls, Annandale has found a new sport where she can compete alongside and against boys with rarely a second thought.
“I do a lot of sports; sports is just my thing,” she said. “I love it.”
For an example of where a passion for sports could lead, one needed to look only at Diana Flores, the quarterback who drove Team Mexico to an upset over the United States at The World Games 2022 on July 14, 2022. Flores was serving an assistant coach for the AFC in the flag football game that NFL players competed in at the Pro Bowl Games.
The dynamic QB is also a product of NFL FLAG Mexico.
“The girls see Diana Flores as a hero,” veteran Mexican coach Jesus Del Rio said. “They know this is one step to a Diana.”
Del Rio has been with the program for more than a decade and has seen it flourish in Mexico.
“Now, it’s growing a lot,” he said. “Mexico is becoming a player.”
Canada, also, is “catching on,” Springer said. “We’re not as big as the States yet, but I do foresee in the future we’ll get there.”
Image & Story Credit: nfl.com