This International Women's Day, the New York Jets and Chicago Bears, launched the inaugural Jets and Bears NFL Girls Flag league, the first UK all girls' competition of its kind, to overcome barriers in activity and to increase access to sport for young girls.
Starting from the 20th of April, the inaugural league will see girls aged 12-14 compete in two conferences of six teams each (twelve teams total) across five weeks. The Jets and Bears will each run a conference in Ealing, with the winners going head-to-head in a Championship Event on May 22nd.
NFL Flag is one of the fastest growing sports globally, it is the non-contact version of American Football, it is a fun, fast, and action-packed sport that promotes accessibility for all, teamwork, and character development in youth.
At a Jets and Bears launch event, Sky Sports Presenter and panel host, Hannah Wilkes, engaged with prominent advocates in women's sport, who spoke to the 100 girls competing in the league. This included Phoebe Schecter (Team GB NFL Flag player and NFL Global Flag Ambassador), Celia Quansah (England Rugby Sevens player), Afia Law (Head of Community & Grassroots Development at NFL UK), Chase Claypool (Chicago Bears wide receiver and NFL Global Flag Ambassador), C.J. Uzomah (New York Jets tight end) and Ugo Monye (Former England Rugby Union player & Women's Sports Trust board member).
The panel discussed the barriers for girls to continue participating in sports throughout secondary school, whilst sharing their own personal experiences and highlighted how NFL Flag can help engage young girls in the future. Following the discussion, the girls received their official Nike and team branded kit and had a taster session of what's to come with NFL UK coaches.
In a Sport England survey of 4,000 children between 11-18 years old, 50% of girls reported they don't have the self confidence to play competitive sport.1 Significantly, 45% stated they do not have the right body shape, with the same percentage avoiding exercise completely due to feeling self-conscious and 61% highlighting they feel judged.
However, the same study found 76% of girls want to be more active, 64% of girls enjoy competitive sport and 66% of girls believe they are good at team sports. NFL Flag is a viable option to combat this as 47% of uninspired girls reported that they would be more inclined to be active if there was something more fun and adventurous to participate in.
Dr. Victor Thompson, Sports and Clinical Psychologist, has welcomed the introduction of the league after helping athletes of all ages and levels in sport for over 10 years. He understands the wider benefits of sport and how this new initiative can break down social and emotional barriers to girls' participation.
He said: "NFL Flag is a fun and inclusive sport for all whilst providing pro-social settings. As a growing sport in the UK, and a new experience for most participants, girls can access Flag football without limiting expectations."
"The launch of this new league will help girls foster a can-do mindset within a supportive team environment and community. The game brings a great social atmosphere, where everyone works together to plan and execute winning plays, building outputs that include life-long psychological skills in strategy, communication, resilience, and can promote healthy mental wellbeing for the future."
Both the Jets and the Bears have been instrumental in the growth of female flag football in the US. The Jets have grown from eight teams to over 110 in New York and New Jersey in just three years, while the Bears saw a 300% increase in just one year, with over 1,200 girls now participating in flag football leagues.
See the best photos from the Jets and Bears launch of the inaugural girls flag football league in the United Kingdom.
Afia Law (Head of Community & Grassroots Development at NFL UK), commented: "NFL UK is seeing great momentum in Flag Football participation across the country and initiatives like this are a fantastic way to engage young people to get active and involved. As a former player, I'm delighted to see an increase in opportunities for girls to play Flag, helping them to feel like they belong in a sport, and I am excited to see the growth of Flag Football nationwide in the coming years."
New York Jets, stated: "The creation of our new league furthers our commitment to providing female athletes an equitable opportunity to play what we consider to be the greatest sport in the world. The collaboration between the Jets and Bears ensures the athletes will have a first class, professional experience. We are thrilled to continue cultivating meaningful relationships and expanding our fanbase throughout the United Kingdom."
Chicago Bears, stated: "As part of our core mission, the Chicago Bears look to inspire young people to participate in sports and increase access to organised sports. With our fanbase in the UK growing, we wanted to showcase that there were opportunities for everyone in this sport. Our hope with this partnership is to create greater access for younger girls in sports and to give them a space to participate and stand out in flag football. "
Ugo Monye (Former England Rugby Union player), said: "As an NFL fan and a parent to two young girls, I am excited to be a part of the Jets and Bears making history with the first ever UK NFL Flag League for girls. I'm looking forward to seeing some great games and hopefully some future players in the sport."
The ambition of this tournament is to expand to other UK cities and age groups in future years to provide more opportunities for young girls. Competitors will be able to benefit with transferable skills that will stay with them from life with both teams providing bespoke coaching sessions throughout from a qualified NFL Flag coach.
To find out more about the inaugural NFL Girls Flag League, please visit, www.chicagobears.com and nyjetsinuk.com/girls-flag. To find out more about NFL Flag in the UK, please visit, https://www.nfl.com/uk/nfl-flag.