Brett Fischer, NFL Up! Ambassador
Each year, football players at all levels are becoming bigger, faster and stronger. As a result, players are becoming harder and harder to tackle. Have you seen Adrian Peterson run lately? The easiest way to bring down an athlete like Peterson is to execute a textbook tackle.
Not only are textbook tackles more effective, but they're also safer. This is why the NFL has teamed up with USA Football in order to teach youth how to tackle properly and safely. By training and teaching young players on proper technique, the hope is to establish proper tackling habits and make the game even safer.
USA Football has outlined five fundamentals in its USA Football Heads Up Tackling program. My goal with this article is to complement these five fundamentals with exercises/drills to enhance those movements and allow athletes to perfect the proper tackle. The fundamental part of the tackle is listed below, with the drill detailed in the subsequent paragraph.
Fundamental #1 -- "The Breakdown"
This is the starting and fundamental position for tackling. This includes having your feet be shoulder width apart, squeezing your shoulder blades and keeping them down, having your knees and hips bent with a slight 45 degree forward lean of the back and lastly, keeping your hands in front of the body. The "One-Arm Row" will help strengthen the muscles needed to get into the proper "breakdown" position. Simply extend your elbow and then pull your shoulder blade back and down as you bend your elbow. Select a weight that allows you to keep the proper position and that will fatigue you at three sets of 10 repetitions.
Fundamental #2 -- "The Buzz"
This drill focuses on controlling your momentum and your ability to change direction while pursuing a potential offensive player. The "Buzz and React" drill starts by running toward the agility ladder. Once you get to the ladder, move your feet in and out while still moving forward. At the end of the ladder, you should be directed by a coach to react either left or right and then deliver the proper tackle on the dummy. Remember it is important for you to keep your eyes and chin up while maintaining the 45 degrees spine lean during the entire drill.
Fundamental #3 -- "The Hit"
This fundamental refers to the body being in the proper position just before impact. Proper execution of this fundamental requires excellent leg and hip strength. A great way strengthen these muscles is the "Walking Forward Lunge." Once again, it is important to keep your chin and eyes up with a 45 degree forward lean while lunging forward. This exercise can be challenged by carrying a weight in front of you or by wearing a weight vest. Pick a weight or bodyweight for three sets of 10 repetitions.
Fundamental #4 -- "The Shoot"
This fundamental refers to the explosion or use of the hips when tackling. An effective exercise for this fundamental is the "Two-Handed Kettlebell Swing." To perform this exercise, let the kettlebell swing down between your legs as you bend your knees and hips then quickly and forcefully extend your hips to propel the kettlebell forward and upward. The movement of the kettlebell comes from the power of the hips and not the arms.
Fundamental #5 -- "The Rip"
This fundamental focuses on the throwing of two uppercuts with your arms to secure your opponent in the tackle. Not a grabbing or swinging around of the arms. The "Rip Exercise" starts by getting into the proper breakdown position with the elbows slightly bent and in front of the body. Then move the weights forward and upward in an uppercut motion to your forehead level and then slowly return to the starting postion. When first starting, pick a weight that will challenge you for three sets of 10.
Proper tackling will not only be safer but will also make the player perform better. Have your players try these exercises while practicing the drills from USA Football and watch the results on the field!
-- Brett Fischer is a licensed physical therapist, certified athletic trainer, certified strength and conditioning specialist and a certified dry needling provider. He has worked with the University of Florida, New York Jets, PGA, PGA Champions Tour and the Chicago Cubs.