Tackling is the fundamental part and most important aspect of football. It’s also the most dangerous and both youth and pro football players risk serious injuries, like concussions, if they don’t perform a proper tackle. That’s why it’s vital that tackles are mastered at an early age, so it becomes a routine reaction in game situations. And to teach them, here are some tips and drills to help you.
Three-Step Tackling Drill
Players must learn to perform the fundamental movement of a proper tackle without thinking about it. The best way of teaching the safest technique is to break it down into a three-count tackle and teach it step-by-step:
- Step 1 – Break the midline of the opponent with the stronger foot, bring the arms back at the same time;
- Step 2 – Swing the arms behind the opponent and grab the back of the jersey. Players need to square the neck and ‘bite the ball’ by pulling the neck back and making contact with the face mask (NEVER tackle with the crown of the helmet!);
- Step 3 – Bring the hips forward and drive the opponent back or to the ground to complete the tackle.
Breaking down the mechanics of a proper tackle like this walks the players through the process. After enough drilling and practice, their bodies learn these motor actions and create muscle memory. In doing so, players gradually increase the speed of their movement ensuring they always make proper tackles unconsciously. Even during hectic game conditions.
Dummy Tackling Drills
Tackling a dummy is a simple way to teach players how to tackle correctly in youth football. It lets players master the three-step tackle before they start practicing with teammates.
Start the drill by positioning the players one yard in front of the dummy. After they take their defensive stance, on the whistle-blowing, each player should rush forward and tackle the dummy. Make sure the players tackle the dummy by wrapping their arms around it and hitting it with their chest plate.
As soon as they make contact, release the dummy, and allow the player to drive it forward or to the ground. Once one player successfully tackles the dummy move onto the next one until the entire squad has completed the drill.
Not grabbing the back of the offensive player is one of the main reasons players at all levels make incorrect tackles that lead to injury. A hug-and-hold drill helps create muscle memory among kids always to grab the ball player with both arms.
To start the drill, have two players take a defensive stance opposite of one another. On your mark, they should grab each other behind the back and start pushing each other. On the second mark, they should release the player and move on to the second part of the drill.
In the second part of the hug-and-hold, an offensive player carrying the ball should position himself in front of the defender. On your mark, the player with the ball should move forward and jump, while the defender should try and grab him by the back with both hands. Again, the emphasis is on using your hands, instead of the helmet during tackles.
Promote Safe Tackling
Even though kids might find these simple drills boring, it’s up to you to explain their significance. Coach players to have fun by creating a competition out of it who can do the best tackle to promote safe tackling. After all, it’s up to you to teach them how to stay safe on the field.