5 exercises to improve tackling fundamentals

Each year, football players at all levels get bigger, faster and stronger. As a result, players are harder and harder to tackle. The easiest way to bring down a bigger ball-carrier is to execute a textbook tackle.

Not only are such tackles more effective, they’re also safer. That’s why it’s important to teach youth football players how to tackle properly. By teaching young players proper technique, you hope to establish correct tackling habits and create a better, safer game.

USA Football has outlined five fundamentals in its Heads Up Football program. The goal of this article is to compliment those core ideas with exercises and drills to enhance the movements that foster ideal technique. The fundamental part of the tackle is listed first, with the drill detailed below:

1.) Breakdown

This is the starting and fundamental position for tackling. This includes having your feet shoulder-width apart, shoulder blades squeezed and down, knees and hips bent with a slight 45-degree forward lean of the back and hands in front of the body.

The one-arm row helps strengthen the muscles needed for the proper breakdown position. Simply extend your elbow, then pull your shoulder blade back and down as you bend your elbow.

One-arm rows

Photo via IgnoreLimits.com

Select a weight that allows you to keep the proper position and that’ll fatigue you at three sets of 10 repetitions.

2.) Buzz

This drill focuses on controlling momentum and the ability to change direction while pursuing an offensive player. The buzz and react drill starts by running toward an agility ladder. Once the player gets to the ladder, they move their feet in and out while still moving forward. At the end of the ladder, the player is directed by a coach to react either left or right, then deliver a proper tackle on a tackling dummy.

Agility ladder drill

Photo via ProjectSportsMastery.com

Remember, it’s important for the player to keep their eyes and chin up, and keep the 45-degree spine lean during the entire drill.

3.) Hit Position

This fundamental refers to the body being in the proper position just before impact. Proper execution requires excellent leg and hip strength. A great way strengthen these muscle is the walking forward lunge. Once again, it’s important to have the player keep their chin and eyes up, with a 45-degree forward lean while lunging forward. This exercise can be done with dumbbells to the side, a weight plate in front or a weighted vest.

Photo via Stack.com

Have the player pick a weight or use their bodyweight for three sets of 10 reps.

4.) Shoot

This fundamental refers to the explosion or use of the hips when tackling. An effective exercise for this 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.

Kettlebell swing

Photo via TrainEatGain.com

The movement of the kettlebell comes from the power of the hips, not the arms.

5.) Rip

This fundamental focuses on the throwing of two uppercuts with your arms to secure your opponent in the tackle – not 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 position.

Dumbell uppercuts

Photo via Louis Guarino

When first starting, pick a weight that will challenge you for three sets of 10.

Proper tackling is safer and will 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.

Read the original article in USA Football by Brett Fischer.

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 Tour, Senior PGA Tour and the Chicago Cubs. He’s currently on staff with the Arizona Cardinals.

This is an updated version of a blog that originally published March 15, 2016.