Altering The Sport: Diana Flores and Flag Soccer

On the age of 8, standing on a subject in Mexico Metropolis, taking part in flag soccer with a bunch of 16-year-old women, Diana Flores might by no means have identified she’d fall in love. That quick, agile little lady who grew up watching her father play sort out soccer—a sport allotted to males, who additionally received paid to play—would by no means have imagined herself as a star. Not even when she was 13, taking part in on an all-boys flag soccer group, and outrunning all of them, within the NFL FLAG Football League in Mexico Metropolis.

Even when she earned a spot on the Mexico Girls’s Flag Soccer group at simply 16, darting and bobbing throughout the sphere with the drive of a twister, she nonetheless didn’t see the sport as a viable profession path. How might she? She didn’t see girls flag soccer stars within the NFL or in commercials representing the game. She didn’t see stadiums filled with followers cheering for ladies, all of whom might give any male participant a run for his or her cash.

Diana Flores is altering the sport

But right here she is—a role model for what’s attainable. Not only for girls in flag soccer, however for ladies in all sports activities. A mannequin for what’s attainable for women who don’t need to should reply questions on their worth, their skills or their proper to be on the sphere.

If you happen to ask Flores what she most desires to be identified for, although, it’s one factor: promise.

The promise that the long run she didn’t see as a lady is not going to be the truth for women right now. The promise that flag soccer pays a residing wage, permitting girls to stop their day jobs and provides every little thing to the game as a substitute of struggling to pay the payments whereas additionally taking part in the game they love. The promise that Latinas and girls will see themselves represented in sports activities arenas in every single place, for any sport, however particularly for flag soccer.

“It’s a really inclusive sport,” Flores says, including that “one of many issues I like probably the most about flag is that it has no stereotypes relating to athletes. So irrespective of who you might be, irrespective of the place you’re from, irrespective of your strengths, you’ll be able to at all times discover a place on the sphere.”

Pyramid of Success offer

Although Flores says the non-contact sport—which will be performed co-ed by folks of any age—was round even earlier than she started taking part in 19 years in the past, its meteoric rise lately is spectacular. The NFL calls it one of many fastest-growing sports activities, with greater than 20 million gamers in over 100 international locations.

Among the finest predictions for the game come from these linked to sort out soccer, like Troy Vincent Sr., government vice chairman of NFL Soccer Operations, who says, “Once I’m requested what the following 100 years seems like once you have a look at soccer—not skilled soccer—it’s flag. It’s the inclusion and the true motto of ‘soccer for all.’”

These phrases, and the statistics that validate them, imply every little thing to Flores, who says these milestones assist convey curiosity and consciousness of the sport. In flip, this implies there shall be extra individuals who spend money on the game and make large selections that may enable girls to sooner or later “make a residing from taking part in the game we love.”

Diana Flores Tremendous Bowl industrial

Along with the success Flores and her group skilled on the 2022 World Games, there’s one different competitors she has discovered herself part of which will assist expedite that dream: the Tremendous Bowl.

She was the star of the Emmy Award-winning Tremendous Bowl LVII industrial, Run With It, which centered on her circumnavigating obstacles put in her path whereas folks tried to seize her flags. Tennis legend Billie Jean King helped her by slamming a door on those that received in her approach (a hanging metaphor for real-life challenges confronted by feminine athletes), and Flores was leaping over roofs like a real motion hero whereas many well-known NFL gamers watched her triumph.

“It was an incredible expertise for me to have the ability to work with unbelievable folks—the NFL gamers, Billie Jean King and all of the folks behind the scenes,” Flores says, including that the most effective half was the acknowledgment that “all of us knew that what we have been doing had a giant objective, that the message was empowerment. The message on the finish was a message of unity.”

The unity goes past sports activities for Flores. “One other factor I actually really feel happy with is giving a voice to my Latina neighborhood,” she says. “That was a really highly effective second within the Tremendous Bowl when [for many in my community, it was the first time] we heard our native language being spoken at a giant platform just like the Tremendous Bowl.”

Representation matters, and Flores is obsessed with being a pacesetter not only for her sport but in addition for her nation and tradition. She remembers a very poignant change she had with a Latino household who despatched her a message after seeing her industrial.

“[They told me], ‘We’ve been combating our daughter to talk Spanish as a result of [she] feels ashamed,’” Flores remembers. She provides, “That’s a factor that also occurs. [Kids] really feel ashamed to talk Spanish at their colleges as a result of they really feel that they’re the one ones.” The mother and father instructed her, “‘We haven’t been capable of make her really feel proud till she watched that Tremendous Bowl industrial. And one of many first issues she noticed was the Mexico flag on you. And when she heard you talking Spanish, she felt tremendous proud. And the day after, she went again to high school and simply began telling everyone that she was from Mexico, too, and all the children began asking her, how do you say whats up in Spanish? How do you say this in Spanish?’”

“And all of the mentality modified,” Flores continues. “To listen to these sorts of tales was like, wow. I didn’t even think about {that a} factor like that might have that influence. And doubtless that modified her life or many different younger children’ lives [in] the way in which they see themselves.”

Finally, Flores seen that individuals who didn’t find out about flag soccer have been beginning to acknowledge her.

“Probably the most superb factor about that for me is that they found a brand new sport,” she says. “They found that girls belong in soccer.”

Flores can also be an envoy for Under Armour, making her the primary flag soccer athlete to signal a sponsorship cope with any main athletic firm. She’s additionally the primary flag soccer participant to have a jersey within the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

Being a task mannequin

She joined the Mexico Girls’s Flag Soccer Group at age 16 with the objective of changing into quarterback however didn’t obtain that milestone for 9 years. She says she wasn’t instantly capable of play the place she cherished as a result of she was nonetheless a rookie on the group.

“[There was] this stigma of ‘How are you going to be chief in the event you’re the youngest participant of the group? How are you going to handle the strain?’… I bear in mind listening to a number of instances, ‘Oh, however you’re too small; you’re too quick,’” Flores remembers.

Moreover difficult the stereotypes others could have had, Flores says one of the vital issues she discovered was that she couldn’t management every little thing. What she might management was her perspective. For her, that meant altering her leadership, how current she was and the way linked she was to her teammates.

Finally, her willingness to work laborious and by no means quit allowed her to create the sort of future that her 8-year-old self, standing in a subject in Mexico Metropolis, might by no means have imagined.

“This was by no means my dream as a result of it was not a risk, interval,” she says. “So proper now, to have the ability to remind the ladies or present the ladies that that is now a risk for them, that now they’ll dream this large, as a result of now it’s a actuality—it’s the greatest blessing. I take that as a giant accountability, as a result of I’ve realized that what we do as athletes has an even bigger influence than on the sphere. It’s greater than the sport.”

“Being a task mannequin means greater than being participant… it means building a legacy for the following generations. It means opening doorways and honoring what different girls have achieved earlier than us, for us to have the ability to be the place we’re,” Flores provides. “I really feel very proud and excited to be a part of this motion of change that we’re residing proper now relating to girls in sports activities. We’re lastly constructing the platform that now we have deserved.” 

This text initially appeared within the May issue of SUCCESS+ digital journal. Picture by ©Trevor M Smith.

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