A black-run Brixton-based charity that works with young people has seen a sharp surge in participation in its American football program since the lockdown ended in April.

BigKid’s NFL flag sessions are attended by around 100 young people each in six districts in south London – compared to around 25 young people in two pre-pandemic districts.

Flag Football is a non-physical version of NFL American football – similar to touch rugby, which is played in many sports lessons.

It is part of BigKid’s Breaking Barriers program for schools, which also provides mentoring and other support for young people at risk of being excluded from school.

BigKid recently took over Dexter’s long-disused adventure playground on Railton Road.

Girls sports team poses for photo

His outreach officer Jonathan Cobham said: “During the lockdown, young people like everyone else were stuck at home.

“They did not develop the skills that make up good mental health, and many felt fear.

“Many were anxious when they returned to school in March because they had lost many of the social skills that we take for granted through daily use.

“After coming to our football flag meetings, many of our young people felt more confident and confident about their mental health.

“Flag Football teaches young people teamwork, leadership, fitness and communication skills.

“It’s a great sport and it’s a shame that it’s a hidden gem in so many ways as a lot of young people don’t know about it.”

BigKid’s broader Breaker Barriers program is aimed at 9th grade students at risk of exclusion and seeks to improve their self-esteem and behavior.

However, flag football is open to children and teenagers of all ages if their school is registered.

The initiative is co-funded by the Office of the Mayor of London.

Schools in Lambeth, Lewisham, Croydon, Barnet, Ealing and Hounslow are currently participating in the Flag program.

Steve Verrall, Head Coach of the South London Renegades said, “The BigKid Flag Football program has been of great help in promoting American football in London.

“The sessions are fun and interesting for young people. They provide a gateway for young people to try a new sport with different skills than more traditional British sports.

Girl doing sports“Girls are equal to boys in games”

“It’s great to see that the girls play a big role right from the start and that they are equal to the boys in games.

“Several young people who started at BigKid Flag then made full contact with American football and brought some outstanding new athletes to the game.”

Recently published research commissioned by the NFL into the effects of BigKid’s flag football program confirmed the health benefits for participants.

A survey of 206 young people affiliated with the charity found that program participants were 40% more likely than non-participants to do at least one hour of extracurricular physical activity per day.

They typically spent 76% more time in physical activity than BigKid members who did not participate in the Flag Football program.

The research report states, “We confidently attribute to the NFL flag the significant and positive effect on those participants who achieved the British Heart Foundation’s recommendation of at least one hour of moderate or vigorous physical activity per day.”

Teenagers in sportswearDiscuss tactics

BIGKID founder and CEO Shaninga Marasha said: “It has become a truism that children and young people suffered the most in many ways during the pandemic – and especially during the lockdown.

“School closings, insecurity and isolation from friends, as well as social and sporting events have hit people in disadvantaged communities hardest, as they are most likely to live in overcrowded apartments and have little access to green spaces.

“Since we are ‘building better’ after the pandemic, we have to ensure that we give every child and young person the opportunity to fully participate in school life and in social and sporting events with their friends.”