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A six-station tackling circuit.

Teaching your kids to tackle at high speed without getting hurt

At one time or another, every football coach has come out of a film session grumbling, "My grandmother can tackle better than us."

Actually, we have never known a grandmother who could tackle. But the truth is that tackling is often undercoached. Not because coaches under-rate it, but because it presents major problems. How do you practice an explosive, full-speed collision skill without causing tackling injuries.

We began looking for an answer about 12 years ago. We sought out several outstanding defensive coaches and asked them how they taught tackling. We studied all the answers and began experimenting. The ultimate result may be found in the accompanying six-station tackling circuit - a drill program on the six basic forms of tackling.

We have been using it for the past dozen years and it has turned us into a hard-hitting, versatile football team. We work on the drills every day at the start of the season, cut back to three times a week at mid-season, and then to two days a week toward the end of the season.

The circuit normally takes between 12 to 15 minutes to complete and can be easily fitted into any practice structure. It is important to note that with the exception of our first drill (on form tackling), all the drills are done at full-speed. Not "full-speed contact" or "live contact," but simply at full speed.

We also reduce the risk of injury by:

1. Compressing the size of the skill area - the longest full-speed approach to a tackle is three yards.

2. Not taking the athletes to the ground.

3. Incorporating hand shields and crash pads to absorb contact.

4. Utilizing a quick whistle.

5. Close supervision and detailed instruction by the coaching staff.

The tackling circuit thus presents a very positive and safe learning environment in which to introduce hitting to neophyte players. Note: We have never had a player shy away from contact nor have had our built-in safety guides discourage our aggressiveness.

In fact, our defensive people have become even more aggressive and even more willing to attack the ball-carriers.

We begin selling the fundamental on the first day of practice. After quick calls, we go right into the tackling circuit. That lets the kids know that tackling is high up on our daily list of things to accomplish.

STATION 1. FORM TACKLING [ILLUSTRATION FOR DIAGRAM 1 OMITTED]

Objective: To physically place the athlete into the proper step-by-step hitting position, controlled approach, contact position, execution of tackle, and follow through.

Skill Area: Utilize four cones to block off an area five yards deep by 15 yards long. The field yard-lines can be used to designate five-yard dimensions.

Organization: The coach indicates the start with the verbal command, "Break down!" The athlete being tackled (0) braces himself and tucks in his chin, placing his face mask on his breast plate to protect his chin.

The tackler (T) assumes his power base hitting position. On the coach's next command, "Approach!", the T takes a step-by-step robotic approach into this partner until he reaches the point of contact.

The coach's next command is "Tackle!" - at which the T punches his arms and fists through the ball-carrier's arms, attacking an imaginary football. He grabs cloth, rolls his hips, and secures a controlled grasp.

We like to pop the ball-carrier slightly off the ground to ensure the proper contact, roll of the hips, and hitting on the rise.

A quick whistle ends the rep, and corrections are then made by the coach. The skill is repeated three times and the roles are then reversed and three more reps are performed. The drill continues until the air horn sounds.

STATION 2, ANGLE TACKLING [ILLUSTRATION FOR DIAGRAM 2 OMITTED]

Objective: To teach the tackler to (1) drive his head across the ball-carrier's torso, (2) wrap the ball-carrier in a controlled grasp (as in Station 1), then work the hips upfield.

Skill Area: Utilize four cones to create a box five yards wide by five yards long.

Organization: Players to be tackled (O's) line up behind the top left cone in the box, holding either a hand shield or a football (on days we want to emphasize stripping) later in the season.

Coaching Points: On "Break down!", the tackler assumes the proper base hitting position and the runner (O) reaches a hand shield and focuses on running a path to the lower right cone.

On "Set!", both athletes perform a foot-fire technique (rapid running in place). On "Go!", the runner begins his path to the designated cone, and the T contacts him at the mid-point of the box and performs the proper angle tackle.

At this station, we want the tackle to emphasize keeping his head up, focusing his eyes on the hand shield or ball, attacking under control, and working his hips back up the field.

We again utilize a quick whistle, but require the T to re-direct his hips upfield before ending the drill. After several reps from the left side of the box, both lines will move to the right side and angle-block in that direction.

STATION 3, TACKLE BACK SLED

Objective: To teach the athlete to (1) attack the sled at full speed, emphasizing vicious contact, (2) maintain proper hitting base while driving feet, (3) use proper roll of hips and strike pad at an upward angle, and (4) use proper head and neck squeeze to control pad and drive sled.

Skill Area: Requires a larger area than any of the other drills - about 20 yards by 50 yards. We utilize a specific tackle back sled because of its pop-back-up feature - which saves a great deal of time and allows for more reps. However, any one-man tackling size can be utilized.

Organization: Because the tackle-back is driven in a variety of directions and distances, we simply tell our athletes to keep the line moving in conjunction with the direction of the sled.

Coaching Points: On "Break down!", the tackler assumes the proper hitting position three yards from the sled with his shoulders square to the tackling pad.

On "Set!", he begins a quick foot-fire technique, and on "Go!", he fires into the pad and performs the tackle. Once the sled is taken down and returns to the upright position, the next T positions himself in readiness for the next "Break down!" command.

We emphasize explosiveness and vicious contact at this station, with the contact again performed in an upward direction ("Hit on the rise!"). This is where we want our kids to really let it all hang out.

STATION 4, OPEN-FIELD TACKLING [ILLUSTRATION FOR DIAGRAM 3 OMITTED]

Objective: To teach the tackler to: (1) stay square with the ball-carrier, (2) maintain good power base with quick foot movement, (3) focus on the ball-carrier's belt buckle, (4) avoid lunging and becoming overextended, and (5) let ball-carrier commit before attacking.

Skill Area: Utilize four cones to establish a 10-yard by 10-yard box.

Organization: The ball-carrier (0). lines up between the top two cones, and the tacklers (T) between the two bottom cones. The coach sets up behind the T, holding on to the player's belt (to make sure the T doesn't leave too Soon).

Coaching Points: On "Break down!", the T assumes the proper hitting position while the ball-carrier properly positions the football in his arm and decides what kind of move to make on the T.

We allow the ball-carrier one move before he commits to any direction. On "Set!", both athletes begin their foot-fire technique, and on "Go!", the ball-carrier runs forward and attempts to feint the T.

The T, once released stays square, keeps his feet moving, and attacks the 0, who has committed to his path.

We sometimes place a fifth cone in the exact middle of the box to indicate the point at which we want our running back to make his cut.

STATION 5, SIDELINE TACKLING WITH CRASH PAD [ILLUSTRATION FOR DIAGRAM 4 OMITTED]

Objective: To tech the athlete to: (1) drive his helmet across the ball-carrier's torso; (2) maintain control of the runner with a backside arm wrap, (3) utilize sideline as an additional defender, (4) utilize momentum to drive the ball-carrier into the crash pad, and (5) keep the head up while avoiding any lunge or over-extension.

Skill Area: Utilize two cones and painted sideline to create a three-yard deep by 10-yard long running lane. Then place a crash pad (from the track or gym) at the mid-point of the running chute, two feet outside of the sideline.

Organization: Ball-carriers line up at one end of the running chute, ready to sprint toward the opposite end parallel to the sideline and crash pad. The T's set up three-quarters of the way down the chute, about three yards from the sideline facing the crash pad. The coach sets up behind the T, making sure the T doesn't leave prematurely.

Coaching Points: On "Break down!", the T assumes the proper hitting position while the ball-carrier readies the ball in his outside arm.

On "Set!" both players perform foot-fire technique, and on "Go!", the runner begins dashing down the chute while the T moves in and executes the proper sideline tackling technique, driving the runner into the crash pad.

Although we have eliminated knock-downs, the tackling impact is usually very explosive. Our players also have a lot of fun tacking each other into the pad. It becomes a lot like kid brothers rough-housing on a king-sized bed. The crash pad provides both safety and motivation.

Note: Having a coach control the tackler's release guarantees tackling at the mid-point of the pad.

STATION 6, EYE-OPENER STATION [ILLUSTRATION FOR DIAGRAM 5 OMITTED]

Objective: To teach the athlete the proper technique of: (1) keeping the shoulders square to the LOS, (2) maintaining consistent hitting technique position while Shuffling to the proper attack point, (3) keeping the proper leverage on the ball-carrier to avoid Over-running the ball, and (4) making the quick reaction necessary to tackle the ball-carrier once he has chosen his hole.

Skill Area: Utilize two cones to mark the starting spots for the ball-carrier and tackler. Place three or four flat-bottom dummies one yard apart to create the desired number of running lanes. We recommend that only two running lanes (three flat-bottom dummies) be used during the early part of the season.

Organization: The ball-carrier and tackler should face each other about three yards apart just inside the cones. The coach must set himself at the opposite end of the dummies to ensure the best location for observation and instruction.

Coaching Point: On "Break down!", the T assumes the proper hitting position and the ball-carrier readies his hand shield in front of his upper torso and determines which hole to attack.

On "Set!", both players perform their foot-fire technique, and on "Go!", the runner runs to the chosen hole and the T scallops parallel to the dummies, maintaining a slight backside leverage position on the football.

Once the ball-carrier commits to his running path, the T must execute his tackle vs the hand shield. The two players then switch lines. The coach again utilizes a quick whistle to protect the players and ensure a maximum number of reps.

CONCLUSION

The tackling circuit is an excellent tool for teaching the skills and techniques of tackling. It incorporates the full speed contact, player aggressiveness, skill variety, repetition, and competition necessary to bring about improvement.

Additional factors such as safety precautions, consistent vocabulary, precision, familiarity and a willingness to emphasize the importance of this drill period are essential in improving our defense.

The tackling circuit also provides a teaching environment that stimulates creativity. On many of the drills, footballs can replace shields or "air" on days we want to stress stripping or recovery techniques.

We also have some additional tackling drills in reserve that we can incorporate into our circuit for a change of pace or to emphasize a specific technique.

THE "SCREEN DOOR" TACKLING STATION [ILLUSTRATION FOR DIAGRAM 6 OMITTED]

How we utilize a four-foot by eight-foot blind to disguise the running back's intent until the last second. This requires our tackler to maintain focus, concentration, and proper peripheral vision.
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Copyright 1999, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

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Title Annotation:Football
Author:Machado, George A.
Publication:Coach and Athletic Director
Date:Mar 1, 1999
Words:2035
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