Steve Young coaches during California’s flag football craze

December 18, 2023 / CoachingFootball
Following the California Interscholastic Federation’s (CIF) announcement that it would sanction girls flag football for the 2023- 24 school year, they received some large star power to help coach.

Hall of Fame, Super Bowl-winning quarterback Steve Young volunteered to be an assistant coach for a team at Menlo School, where he coached his daughters, Summer, a senior, and Laila, a freshman, under head coach and former 49ers teammate, John Paye.

Tflag footballhe National Federation of State High School Associations (NFHS) sat down with the former 49ers quarterback to discuss his first year coaching flag football.

Below is an excerpt from the NFHS conversation.

Question: Have you heard much about the NFL’s efforts to grow high school girls’ flag football before finding out that Menlo School was going to have a CIF-sanctioned team?

Young: “In the background, I’d heard that there was an effort to try to get girls playing flag football, but I didn’t ever connect (it) with my two girls, who were playing all kinds of sports, that it would be in the high schools. I guess I thought it would always be on the periphery. It was in the spring when California said, ‘We’re going to make it a varsity sport’ – that’s where it exploded in my house. Both of my girls were like, ‘We can’t wait to play!’”

Question: Between you and your daughters, who was interested first?

Young: “My two boys didn’t really play sports, so football was not in our house. It was a previous life (for me), but it just wasn’t around much. If I was watching a game on a Sunday afternoon, it was probably me on my phone, cooking lunch. It just wasn’t the main event. And so, I got used to that. I had other outlets for talking about football – it wasn’t a big deal. So, I hadn’t thought much about (flag football). And then it was in the summertime, after (Laila and Summer) both decided to play that the (head) coach, my old friend, John Paye, called me and said, ‘Hey, do you want to come over and help a little bit?’ And the girls were like, ‘Yeah, come on, dad!’”

Question: What were those first few practices like for you?

Young: “Immediately, I was shocked – maybe I shouldn’t have been, but I was – I was shocked by the emotion I felt from the girls at the idea that they now can play. They can play a sport they’ve been watching their brothers play, (a sport) the whole world watches. And now they’re playing it, and you could feel that ‘WOW’ from them. The other thing I thought was, ‘Man, they really don’t know the game.’ So, what was fun for me was I had four girls who were willing; they had no idea how to throw a football, but they were willing to jump in the middle and be the focal point of the sport. They asked me, ‘How do we hold the ball?’ And I thought, ‘Huh, I haven’t thought about that since I was growing up, looking up at the poster on my wall of Roger Staubach on the Dallas Cowboys.’ And then it was, ‘Well, how do I throw it?’ And I had to go back and think about how you throw a football, and I hadn’t thought about that in forever. So, that first day I went home, and I was like, ‘Man, I just walked into something very engaging.’ And so, from then on it was, every day, ‘what can I teach?’ ‘How can I help?’ And the thing about our girls is, they paid attention. You tell them, and you describe a step in the choreography of the offense, and they are on it. And they got better almost daily.”

Question: How did your first season coaching flag football compare with your past experiences playing tackle football?

Young: “In my heart, I’m coaching the 1994 49ers offense. We’re running the (same) plays, we’re signaling the same way. It’s seven-on-seven, but the dynamics of trying to complete (passes) and score touchdowns are very, very similar in my heart. We’re playing football, so anyone who says, ‘well, it’s not real football,’ I get that, that’s fine. There’s truth to that, but there’s also a lot that’s not true. When I’m coaching with these girls, I feel like I’m coaching football, absolutely. It’s resonant to how I played it. Maybe as a defensive lineman you can say this isn’t football, that’s fine. But as a quarterback, this is football.”

Question: Flag is now sanctioned by high school activities associations in eight states, with many more conducting pilot programs. It will officially become an Olympic sport at the 2028 Summer Games in Los Angeles. What do you think the ultimate impact of flag football can be as it continues to grow nationwide?

Young: “Well, (men) are going to have flag in the Olympics, so I think that’ll be explosive as well, because the dream of being in the Olympics is going to draw a lot of people to it. Even my daughters are thinking, ‘oh my gosh, the ’28 Olympics, is this possible (for us to play?) So, I think what’s going to happen with the Olympics is there’s going to be a whole theme with the unique parts of flag football that are really fun, much like the game that we see as tackle football. Other than the center, everyone else is a receiver. There’s no blocking, and there’s just somebody rushing from seven yards deep. And so, you have so much vulnerability on offense and defense and it just creates all kinds of fun, interesting plays and dynamics and it’s awesome. And for anyone who’s going to start playing – and there’s a whole nation that’s going to start playing this – I hope that you have as much joy as I did with this team because it was super special.”

To read the full Q&A with Young from the NFHS about flag football, click here.