Evolution of the Game: First, Teach Tackling without Helmet and Pads

It sounds counterintuitive to teach your players to tackle without pads. Helmets and pads are there to protect, right? So why would you learn to tackle without them?

Helmets and pads give a false sense of security.

The minute young players put on helmets and pads they lose the willingness to learn proper head placement in a tackle. Players think the helmets and pads will protect them and, to them, proper head placement is no longer relevant.

Proper form is the best prevention for head injuries.

History has shown helmets and pads do not protect a player’s head from bad form. What we now know: proper tackling form - not helmets and pads - is the first step in making a tackle safer. Proper form is best first learned without helmets and pads.

Without helmets and pads, players are forced to learn proper head placement at the point of contact. They are forced to learn to use their shoulders, and not their head, to stop the ball carrier. They are forced to learn to place their head off to the side and out of the path of contact. They are forced to learn to use their feet to provide leverage and drive to counter the ball carrier’s forward progress. They are forced to learn to use their arms and hands to wrap and roll the ball carrier to the ground.

After establishing proper shoulder tackling form, players can then progress to helmets and pads. However, coaches should focus on reinforcing the need for proper head placement in the tackle engagement even after a player learns the form necessary to tackle without pads.

Nothing protects a player from bad form.

Below is an example of Luke Kuechly using bad form on the field. On this play Luke suffered a concussion. Luke is one of the best, if not the best, linebacker in the NFL. But all his athletic skill could not save him from bad form.

Luke’s head placement, between the numbers, was incorrect. Luke needed to move the point of contact to the shoulder. Luke needed to adjust his feet so his lead foot was placed between the legs of the ball carrier with his knee in the ball carrier’s crotch. Luke’s shoulder should have been the primary point of contact on the ball carrier’s hip with his head safe to the side. Here is the tackle adjusted for proper head placement.

First, teach tackling without helmet and pads. Focus on proper form. Introduce a helmet and pads only after players exhibit the ability to tackle with their shoulders.

Interested in teaching proper tackling form to your players? Our patented, full body tackling dummies are engineered to incorporate the rugby style tackling technique. Our dummies feature space for placement of the lead foot and target pads for teaching use of the near shoulder on the hip for maximum leverage. 

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