What’s The Most Important Thing You Teach? (Part 2)

11 Oct

Lead with the shoulder.

I recently read an article in which the author asked if form tackling is overrated.  His question piqued my interest because how many times do you really see a perfect form tackle performed in a youth football game?  Heck, how many times do you see it in any game, regardless of level?

Most tackles are made in the heat of the moment by grabbing any part of the ball carrier to bring him down.  It’s rare that you see a kid break down into a perfect stance before making a perfect form tackle.  Everything is moving too fast and furious while the basic geometry of the game creates too many angles for that to happen.

So why spend an inordinate amount of time at practice perfecting it if we don’t see it on game day?  We have four reasons why we choose to spend extra time each day at practice on the science of tackling even though it is hit-or-miss come Saturday.

The first reason, and uppermost in our mind, is safety.  I’m sure that’s true with you as well.  Keeping the head up and not leading with the helmet is the most important thing we teach.  Initial contact, we emphasize, should be made with the shoulder.

The problem we routinely encounter, though, is that when we say to get low and drive through the ball carrier, kids think to bend at the waist and lower their head, exposing their neck to injury.  This dangerous tendency must be overcome through perfect practice.  By perfect, I mean that kids must be taught to get low by sinking their hips; that is to say, by bending at the knees.  Not at the waist.  This will help to keep their heads up.

The second reason we spend so much time teaching form tackling is to overcome their fear of contact.  It’s in the contact drills that we see the most fear and hesitation in new players.  Knowing howing how to tackle and having faith in their equipment to protect them will, more often than not, result in a corresponding rise in their level of confidence in all areas of the game.  Some quicker than others but, eventually, with patience and perfect practice, all of the kids will become competent and confident tacklers.  Or hitters in general.

How we do that is by first separating the inexperienced kids from the experienced.  We start from scratch with the beginners by walking them thru the steps of a form tackle from straight up tackling to angle tackling.  Then we have them tackle standup dummies to perfect the critical phases of a form tackle.  Once they have learned not to lower their head, we pair them up by size and practice form tackling at half speed, then full speed.

Build confidence the same time you teach technique.

The focus, as with before, is on perfect practice.   We understand that speed and power will come once they have mastered the technique. The three things we emphasize are not to lower their head, to lead with their shoulder, and to run through the ball carrier.  That is to keep their feet moving and accelerate just before contact.

The third reason we spend so much time on form tackling is to intimidate our opponents.  Short of a long TD run from scrimmage, nothing fires up a team quicker than a good solid tackle.  And nothing deflates the spirit of an opponent more than good solid tackling.  Kids who are confident in their abilities, know what they’re doing, and have overcome their fear can compete with anyone, anywhere, anytime.  To this end, you should make tackling a point of pride for your players.  Make it that special something that distinguishes them from other teams.

The fourth reason we devote extra time to form tackling is that we’re always mindful of the fact that we’re preparing our kids for competition at the next level.  Though we don’t have the time to teach technique like they do in high school and beyond, we feel that if our kids are confident and competent tacklers then they will not be easily intimidated or feel apprehensive when they graduate to high school and step into drills there or on the field come game day.

The thing we forget at times and shouldn’t is to teach small players how to tackle larger players.  In youth football this is a common game-day confrontation. What we do is teach our smaller players to — again — lead with their shoulders but through the lower legs of a larger, more powerful ballcarrier.  Their head is up as well.  Once they see that they can bring a big back down, they lose their fear and hesitation and become more aggressive.

These are four good reasons to spend extra time teaching form tackling even though you won’t see it all that often in a game.  Teach it every day, which ever way you choose, but teach it perfectly.  Your kids will benefit from the extra instruction and so will your team.

The geometry of the game creates different angles.

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