Interview with Flag Football Director Guillaume Poznanski

In Ireland, Flag Football is a relatively new sport with a very small footprint in the world of Irish sport. Flag Football is to American Football what Tag Rugby is to Rugby Union, a contact free version of American Football with agility and speed at its core.

With Flag Football on the verge of becoming an Olympic Sport in the next 10 years, the Irish American Football Association (IAFA) is ramping up its Flag Football program to get as many people playing the sport as possible.

IAFA Director of Flag Football, Guillaume Poznanski, spoke to us about how he got involved with Flag Football, the progression of Flag Football in Ireland, IAFA’s plan for growth of Flag Football and more specifically the upcoming senior Flag Football season which kicks off in September.

So, tell us about how you got involved in Flag Football? He said, “I had been living in Ireland for 10 years and I played sports like soccer and tag rugby for fun. However, while I liked a good game of soccer now and then, I grew up playing Basketball and Olympic Handball and I was looking for a sport that would allow me to use the skills I had gained and also give me an opportunity to exercise.”

“I lived in Canada some 20 years ago and I had my opportunity to play American Football over there. So I thought I’d try and look around to see if there was any American Football group in Ireland. Unfortunately IAFA weren’t very good at advertising the sport at that time, or the information on what was there was quite sparse. I wasn’t interested in playing the contact version of American Football so I started looking for any information on Flag Football. I did come across the IAFA website and saw that they had a Flag Football section with some contact details.”

“I emailed them and was told that there was a team near me, the Dublin Titans, based in Tallaght. I got in touch with the guys there and that’s where it all started. I had been training and playing with them for about a year when IAFA decided to officially create a Flag Football league and they basically asked people to volunteer to be Divisional managers and look after, and run Flag Football within a specific region in Ireland. They were looking for four managers to manage four regions across Ireland. So I got involved in doing that, and became the Dublin Division Manager.”

“Then 6 months later, IAFA saw that the Dublin Division was working very well and wanted Flag Football to be run in a similar way across the country. They asked me if I’d like to take on a bigger role, to look after Flag for the whole country as IAFA Flag Football Director. I liked the sport, I liked the people I was working with and I believed Flag Football had a great future in Ireland so and I said sure, why not. That was four years ago, and that’s where I am now.”

Teams and locations for the 2018 Flag Football season

So, for those that don’t know anything about Flag Football, what is it? “Flag football is a version of American football where the basic rules of the game are similar to those of the mainstream game (often called kitted or contact football for contrast), but instead of tackling players to the ground, the defensive team must remove or pull a flag from the ball carriers belt (“deflagging”) to end a down, and contact is not permitted between players.”

Guillaume continued, “That’s the great thing about Flag Football, there’s no contact, so anyone wanting to take up the sport doesn’t have to worry about getting injured by contact. We do have players who get injured here and there, with twists and sprains like in all sports, but certainly not by contact. For parents who worry about their children playing American Football, Flag Football removes that fear. IAFA run a mixed senior Flag Football league for both males and female athletes from the age of 16 upwards.”

“This upcoming season established a record of 19 teams competing in the Emerald Bowl Conference (Flag Football National Championship), beating the previous best of 16. The interest in this year’s competition is very high, we have a few stand-alone Flag Football teams like the current champions Edenderry Eagles or new comers Dublin Bay Raptors and Cork City Cosmos, which is great. What we’ve seen this year is some IAFA Clubs starting to run their own Flag Football program and fielding a Flag Football team for the championship. Compared to the first Emerald Bowl conference held in 2014, when we had 8 teams competing with 5 being affiliated to an IAFA club, we have now 13 club-based teams and 6 standalone teams. We have four geographical divisions, North, East, West and South, with all divisions having 4 to 5 teams.

IAFA Director of Flag Football Guillaume Poznanski

Guillaume also explained a little bit about how the season would be set up; “Some clubs will host games in a blitz format. We could have between 3-6 teams in one venue at once with up to four venues hosting. Each team would play two games per game day and would stand as officials for one game. So if you have six teams meeting up, four teams would play each other simultaneously while the two non-playing teams would officiate the games and vice-versa. Teams will play two games per day on the day. So on the one day you could have up to 18 games on the same day. Obviously these things still have to be finalised when the schedule of games is made official.”

“The Flag Football (Emerald Bowl Championship) season is for male and female players 16 years old (from July 1st of this year) and upwards. The season will be a 10-game based schedule, most of the games will be in their own division so as to cut down on travel. The season runs from September through to the 1st of December. We want to work with kitted clubs to grow the sport as a whole so our schedule complements that of the kitted schedule and ensured limited, to no crossover between the two IAFA sections, allowing for players to play both if they wish and for clubs to invest resources accordingly” continued Guillaume.

Here’s a short video of kids enjoying playing Flag Football in Ohio State;

Why is Flag Football having such a boost in growth? “Flag football isn’t a fluke or just a recreational development tool that feeds into kitted football, it’s a full-fledged movement that has its own identity and purpose. IAFA American Football clubs are finally beginning to see the benefits of running a Flag Football program within their organisation and foreseeing the potential for growth within their club.”

“There are so many advantages to playing Flag Football but the top four reasons to consider are that it’s less physically demanding than kitted football. Less hits and collisions, which equals fewer injuries. Flag Football requires far fewer participants than kitted football. You can start to play it earlier than kitted football (16). The experience that they would gain playing Flag Football would really be an advantage to them when they reach the age of 18 if they wish to move on to play full kitted football over someone who just steps in to play kitted football.”

“It’s not just a mans sport. We have seen a progressive growth in female players getting involved over the years. Unknown to most, Sport Ireland provides us with funding to support the growth of Women In Sport programmes and we are using it to show that all can play the sport. To be fair, we have seen some female players have greater abilities than that of male players and we should foster a greater inclusion of women in our sport and IAFA.”

“It’s also relatively inexpensive to run a Flag Football team with the only costs involved being the purchase of a set of flags, which is basically just a belt with flags, and a jersey with a number on it. Apart from that it’s just a €50 fee for the team to enter, plus every player needs to register with IAFA and that fee is only €15. A team consisting of 20 players costs on average is less than €20 per player.”

When asked what the long-term goal was he said, “Long term, the hope is to grow the number of people playing Flag Football while partnering with the kitted section of IAFA to increase both the membership and the overall quality of the game for both IAFA clubs and as a nation.”

We asked Guillaume if he enjoys being the Director of Flag Football and what challenges he faced when he took up the role. He said, “Yes, I’ve enjoyed the job because it’s a new sport so it’s very new for a lot of people. I get to be at the fore-front of building up the sport more or less from the ground up. When people try Flag Football they really like it.”

“There’s been ups and downs obviously, because American Football is such a small sport here compared to the mainstream sports in Ireland. You tend to hit your head against the wall at times, to try to get things going and trying to get the word out there as well.”

He continued, “To be honest, even IAFA wasn’t very good at the time to even commercialise the idea of playing American Football let alone Flag Football, so people are quite surprised whenever anyone hears that the game is played in Ireland. We hit hurdles as we tried to progress. But the change of Board recently has really helped. I’ve worked with Orla (McAleese, IAFA President) previously with the National programme. We share the same vision in terms of how Flag Football can actually help American Football as a whole to grow.”

In the near future Guillaume hopes to bring Flag Football to schools across the country, as he says that IAFA are currently finalising a coaching course for Flag Football. That course will probably roll out sometime at the end of the year with the school programme to be introduced sometime in 2019. “We’ve tried it in some schools in the South Dublin County Council area and some teachers requested to be trained up to coach the sport in their own school, so that’s what we’re doing at the moment.” said Guillaume.

If you, or anyone you know is interested in playing Flag Football, you can contact any of the participating clubs or even contact IAFA through our Social Media channels.