Tackling Drills

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…