It always has been the most essential fundamental in all of football. Today, those who would like to take the toughness out of football would like to convince coaches not to tackle live in practice. That school of thought says players need to tackle dummies or sleds or rings that roll instead of other players. But the best thing a coach can do to protect his players from injury in a game is to teach tackling properly in practice. Allow your player to learn where to put his helmet and where to put his shoulder pads. Make sure that your player keeps his his face up and can see what he is tackling. The best coaches never want to put a player in a game where he will encounter something he had not been prepared for in practice. Why would you put your team in a game to tackle without doing live tackling through drills and scrimmage in practice? With less and less days of full pads in preseason before the first game, teams are doing less and less live tackling. We have many more days in shorts than ever before. Coaches must be able to shift some of that practice to teaching tackling in shorts, but cannot discount the importance of live tackling.
One of the best things a head coach can to address tackling is to meet with his defensive staff and create a tackling philosophy and regimen that includes spring practice, summer, preseason and in season tackling. The talks should center around the following items and should lead to a team tackling strategy:
Safety- Discuss the very basics of tackling to be taught on day #1. Address the common problems of tackling, particularly the ones that might lead to injury. It is very important, especially in the early stages, to match up tackling partners by age and size. Nothing can discourage a younger player than getting matched up with an older, bigger guy who destroys him in front of his teammates.
Tackling in Different Gear- What drills to do in shorts, shells and full pads.
Tackling at Different Times of the Year- Spring practice, summer, preseason and in season tackling. What drills to do, how many days each week and how much time each day should be allotted to teaching tackling.
Points of Emphasis when teaching. “Buzz words” should be shared by all coaches to maintain consistency within your team.
Tackling by Position. The tackling requirements of a defensive back and a defensive linemen can by very different. Coaches should try and drill the kind of tackles that each position will actually have to make during a game.
Tackling Circuits. Circuits are great. They should include the fundamentals that are common to all positions and should move fast and enthusiastically. great way to start your defensive practice.
Other skills to add to form combination tackling drills- Shed blockers, turnovers, pursuit, etc. Shedding blockers and tackling is more important than ever. Great defensive players all use their hands well.
Do we do live alley drills in front of the entire team in spring and preseason tackling?
How do we tackle in team defensive periods? Is this drill live tackling, or maybe live blocking but no tackling? How do we want to handle team defense in shells, team defense in shorts, etc? You need terminology that defines for the players what you expect from them during this team drill. Is this thud or press the hip or shoot your arms and let the runner run, or what? What about 7 on 7 periods while in full gear? Do we pop receivers and tackle live?
What is our philosophy about defensive scout team tackling during team offensive periods? Do we tackle our best runners and our quarterback?
There are other things to consider. What kind of stats do you keep on tackling? Do you keep up with missed tackles? Coaches might want to make a video of great tackles and teach from that video. Send it (maybe by position) to your players and let them watch it with you commenting on the fundamentals. You could also make a video of missed tackles from the past and why those tackles were not made.
If you have an experienced coach on your staff who doesn’t coach a defensive position, you could assign him as the tackling coach. Train him and let him be the guy that evaluates tackling drills, tackling in all parts of practice, and game tackling. He can become your tackling expert. Let him coach tackling during the game.
Put your philosophy on paper and make sure that all coaches on the staff understand it and abide by these beliefs. As new coaches come to your staff, it will ease the transition.
Some of the videos below include takeaway drills, pursuit and shed drills that can be mixed in to your tackling regimen. The first video from Northwestern includes positioning drills without any pads that can be done in the summer. Some of the drills on these videos are very similar, but you can see how each defense organizes the drill. Make sure you include some buzz words (like shimmy down) that all of your coaches can use. Buzz words are important to use so that you can communicate quickly with your players in practice and games to remind them of some of the different aspects of tackling. This allows you to “coach on the go” without slowing up your drill. It is also important to name your tackling drills so that players will understand what to do and how it is set up. This point of organization will help speed up your practice.
The time spent on tackling with your staff before the season will lead to a better overall emphasis of this essential fundamental with your team this season. It should also make you a better defensive team.