Category Archives: Common Sense

Creating a safer way to practice high school football

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“Imagine if someone told you the best way to prepare for a car crash was to be in a series of car crashes each week. This is basically the logic that has permeated football practice for years.

The accepted way to prepare players for the high-speed impacts of a game was to subject them to those same impacts in practice, toughen ’em up by tenderizing them like beef. But the growing awareness and acknowledgment of the dangers of concussions and subconcussive hits has forced a sea change in football culture at the NFL level.

The days of turning players into human battering rams day after day in practice are as outmoded as the rotary telephone…” (keep reading)

Heads Up Tackling

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A.J. Sliman, right, of the Katy (Texas) Youth Football league, practices Heads Up Tackling
technique last fall. Sliman suffered a concussion in a game the year prior. (ESPN Photo)

The “solution” (or at least one of the solutions) put forth for the concussion problem is to change how the game of football is played, namely adjusting tackling form in a “safer” direction.

Here’s an interesting story that made the front page of just recently.

Questions about Heads Up Tackling By Steve Fainaru and Mark Fainaru-Wada

The bulk of the discussion on concussion issues centers on changes to equipment (ie. helmets and mouth guards etc) and the rules (tackling form, penalties for head to head contact, possible elimination of kickoffs etc) but interestingly, almost nothing is being said in the media in regards to changing the players themselves, which is essentially the thrust of our efforts.

It IS certainly possible to considerably strengthen the musculature involved which, in turn, helps dissipate the forces involved.

While we agree that the “heads up” movement is a step in the right direction, one of the flaws is that it ONLY deals with tackling while head to head contact is going on at many positions every single play.

As a former nose guard, I knew this full well – so any attempts to change the rules will only go so far in this regard (at least in my humble opinion.)

The article asks many of the right questions, hopefully the right folks are paying attention.

Train hard,
John Wood

Tackling Drills

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I’ll just come right out and say it: I hate tackling drills.

I don’t use the word “hate” lightly which should indicate how serious I am about this… and the reason I say this is because I suffered two major injuries that caused me to miss game and/or practice time thanks to throw-away tackling drills that served no real purpose.

The first occurred at the end of practice where my coach needed some “busy work” for us to do during the last 10 minutes.

In said drill, 6’7″ 320 pound Sheddrick Mitchell fell on my left shoulder, popping it out of the joint — the first major injury I ever had that was serious enough to keep me playing. I missed the six weeks and while I came back well enough to play, it was something that I felt for the rest of my career.

The second tackling drill was during spring ball, a series of cones are set up and the ball carrier, (which happened to be me) jogs, and turns up into the whole where a tackler awaits.

As the “tacklee” I did what the coach told me to do: that is, “go half speed and give a good look.”

The “tackler” evidently was not given the same instructions because when I turned up in the hole, he laid into me at all-out, full speed, driving
me backwards to the turf.

One of the last things I remember through the subsequent haze was the coach telling the tackler “good job.”

I smacked the back of my head on the ground pretty hard and sat out the next two weeks with what they said was a concussion.

It should be noted that whenever I was the ball carrier in this type of drill going forward, I put my head down and hit the hole at full sprint —
I always got yelled at but I also never got hurt again either.

Two other players got hurt in that very drill a few days later, one with a broken arm, the other with an acl injury.

Stupid. All. Around.

But why? …why were we even doing this drill anyway? It didn’t actually help us become better tacklers, I’ll tell you that.

Two things to consider here:

1.) My contention is that the opportunity for a
proverbial “form tackle” rarely exists in the
actual playing of the game. Such drills accomplish
little while also increasing the likelihood of injury.

They also take up time — practice time that could
be spent doing something much more meaningful, and
on that note:

2.) How does a team tackle “better?” Look at it
this way, if more players in a given play are able
to get off their blocks, then more players will be
in a *position* to either make the tackle, or hold
up the ball carrier long enough for others to join

Even the best back is going to have a tough time running through 3, 4, or 5 defenders.

Of course, this is assuming that these players are coached to have the correct technique for getting off their blocks — a big assumption, and something I don’t see often — That’s a good topic for another time.

Otherwise, the take home here for my coaches is to re-evaluate how much practice time in taken up with “tackling drills” – I’d say that there are better options.

Train hard,
John Wood

P.S. Ellington Darden touched on similar topics almost forty years ago in his “Conditioning for
Football” book, check the chapter entitled “Drills, Drills, Drills” You can get a copy for Kindle
right here:

P.P.S. The MSU Spartan Strength clinic is coming up in a few weeks, details can be found here if
you would like to attend.

Train like a Spartan!

If you want to talk more about techniques to help your players get off blocks and go make plays, I’ll be available there. This info just might help you win a few more games…