Play is Essential to Our Kid's and Our Nation's Futures

Physical activity and overall good health is a birthright for America's kids. NFL FLAG Essentials is ensuring we don't deny them that.

By Alexis Glick and Roman Oben

Alexis Glick:

I spent my childhood outdoors. When I grew up it was the norm to be outside and active. I played basketball and the love of sports and activity stayed with me as an adult. Now an avid daily runner, physical activity remains top-of-mind for me, and my family. But as a mother of four, I recognize how much harder it is for kids today to find the time to get outside and play with busy school schedules, hectic social activities and many, many things competing for their attention.

All kids deserve opportunities for and access to physical activity. It's critical for their development, yet more and more kids miss out on daily activity for reasons that include a lack of funding for PE programs in schools, or the rising costs of intramural sports. This leaves many kids without options to participate, putting them at a big disadvantage in school and life. This is why we need partners who can support schools and kids in need of resources and chances to engage in physical activity.

Roman Oben:

I was born in Cameroon, West Africa, and came to the U.S. when I was four. I grew up in Washington, D.C. and played college football at the University of Louisville. I was fortunate to have a pro career, which began with the New York Giants, followed by the Cleveland Browns and then the Tampa Bay Buccaneers when we captured our first championship in Super Bowl XXXVII. I ended my career with the San Diego Chargers in 2008.

As a 12-year veteran of the NFL, I recognize the importance and impact of physical activity. But the vital significance of physical movement is a message that sometimes seems to have been lost on a whole generation of sedentary kids who don't understand the long-term consequences of inactivity. It concerns me, which is why I'm a passionate advocate for the work that the NFL is doing, and the work we're doing with our partners.

The Need for Play

Less than half our nation's youth meet the Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans. The majority of kids today spend most of their day sitting in classrooms focusing on test scores and achievement, and a big part of their free time engaged in sedentary activities. We know from research conducted by the Centers for Disease Control that an astonishing 48 percent of American students do not attend P.E. class in an average week when they are in school, and school-age girls are active even less than school-age boys making the crisis in physical inactivity in our nation pervasive and ongoing. (Ref. 1)

In the wake of budgetary cuts impacting sports, physical activity and physical education in the school day, we are also facing a growing movement among kids to specialize in one sport. This increased emphasis on over-specialization in one sport among elementary and middle schoolers leads to burnout, and higher rates of injury. (Ref. 2), when participating in several activities, kids have higher motivation, experience fewer injuries, and -- perhaps most important -- have more fun.

Bringing Play to Life

Understanding the growing landscape of physical inactivity, and the need to find turnkey solutions to help kids of all backgrounds get active, the NFL along with its partners launched the Fuel Up to Play 60 NFL FLAG Essentials program two years ago. Since then over 4,500 schools are utilizing the free NFL Flag Essential Kits -- which include footballs, flag belts, posters and a complete custom-designed curriculum for P.E. teachers -- reaching 2.5 million students.

Educators are in desperate need of solutions, which help them get their students up and moving more. The Fuel Up to Play 60 NFL FLAG program is having a significant impact because it's helping millions of kids active, and it supports every kid.

The program is available for ALL students, it doesn't matter if you're a boy or a girl; it doesn't matter if you play soccer, softball, football, or swim -- it's a sport that any student can play, regardless of a student's athleticism.

Why all the hype?

Because research unequivocally shows that active kids do better, both physically and academically. Period.

NFL FLAG Essentials is helping overcome the barriers to physical activity in schools including a lack of equipment and training -- the result of ever more tightened school budgets. Adding safe, fun flag football to the mix of activities available to kids in P.E. class and intramural activities contributes to a lifelong love of ALL kinds of physical activity. NFL FLAG Essentials is a win on many levels which is why today we are reaffirming our commitment to bringing physical activity to schools nationwide by providing an additional 4,000 Fuel Up to Play 60 FLAG Essentials Kit -- enabling 8,500 schools nationwide to get active via flag football.

As parents and athletes, we do everything in our power to get kids active and moving. Not simply because of the "the learning connection" -- the positive impact of good nutrition and physical activity on academic accomplishment, but because of what sports has done in our lives. It's taught us about leadership, and about how to develop and flourish in the face of obstacles. And it's revealed to us the responsibilities and privileges of being a role model for a next generation that deserves all the advantages it can get on the road to a life of health, success, and fulfillment.

Together we encourage your interest in, and your much-appreciated support of, this important work. For more information, visit:


Alexis Glick is the CEO of GENYOUth. Roman Oben joined the NFL in 2015 as the league's Director of Youth and High School football.

Ref. 1: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The association between school based physical activity, including physical education, and academic performance. Atlanta, GA: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services; 2010.

Ref. 2: American Medical Society for Sport Medicine. Overuse Injuries and Burnout in Youth Sport. 2014.