Shoulder Tackling vs Chest Plate Tackling

The good thing about blogs is that you just get to put your opinion out there and people can deal with as they may.

When I got into coaching football back in the eighties, we taught a type of shoulder tackling. When I played high school football, I tackled with my shoulders. It just felt natural. I started researching more about all aspects of coaching about 1998. No matter where I saw it taught whether at a clinic or in an article, chest plate tackling was what was being taught. So I got on board with all of the experts and started teaching it in about 2001. Questions always arose about how a small safety was going to tackle a large fullback with this technique among other questions. I argued that at least while he was being trampled, he had his head up. What I noticed about this technique was that no matter how hard you drilled it in practice almost no one ever executed it properly in a game. I noticed that while watching college and pro games that I almost never saw it executed properly. When I did see it executed properly it stood out in stark contrast to the other tackles being made. I also noticed what developed was that my players and others we played against started trusting their helmets too much and used their facemask as a weapon to tackle and block. Now mind you that they never heard that command from a coach even one time yet they did it consistently.

During this time I watched a high school player that I had taught to tackle when he was 8 yrs old and I had coached him for many years doing this as a Senior. He got a few bad concussions and it cut his senior season short. I started re-evaluating what I was teaching at this point.

My theory is that the players are lazy about the technique so they stay high as they are coming in to tackle instead of dropping their tail so they could explode up through the ballcarrier and so they hit him with their facemask instead of their chest. Add to this the ballcarrier has followed the same process and so he stays high as well and leads with his facemask. Now we have two ball players making head to head contact when neither coach ever intended that to be the case.

I think what the real problem with chest plate tackling is that it is completely unnatural. If I told someone who has never tackled anyone to go tackle that guy over there, he is going to tackle him with his shoulder. He is not going to rip up though the pits and tackle him with his chest.

While I was pondering this question in the off-season, I was emailing some good coaches that I know around the country about what they were doing. A few of them had gone to a version of shoulder tackling because they found chest plate tackling to be ineffective. You didn’t dare bring this subject up on a message board because anything but chest plate tackling was considered to be unsafe and you would be yelled down as being a heretic and a bad coach. I just wanted to teach my kids the safest and surest method there was. Also during this time I saw the movie “Invictus” which is a movie about the South African Rugby team. It hit me like a ton of bricks “if the safest way for them to tackle in rugby is with their shoulder and they don’t have helmets then it’s surely the safest way for us to tackle with helmets”. This was surely a big aha moment for me. I was back on track to where I wanted to be. I researched rugby tackling and starting teaching a version of it to my players. I still didn’t discuss it on message boards but I did in emails with others.

I really loved it when Pete Carroll put out the Hawk tackling video in 2014. I don’t know how many years it had been since I went back to shoulder tackling before this video came out but I could now come out of the closet and be a shoulder tackling enthusiast in public without repercussion because an expert had put his stamp of approval on it. I recommend watching that video and one called “Tackling Dummies Smarter” by Bobby Vernon if you’re interested in teaching the rugby style shoulder tackle. I won’t teach it to you here as they do a much better job than I could. They’re both on Youtube.

I have since purchased a few of the tackle rings and use them in practice as part of the whole program of teaching shoulder tackling. I really encourage you to do your own research on this subject. I just wanted to share my journey through it.

2 thoughts on “Shoulder Tackling vs Chest Plate Tackling”

  1. Nice article coach. The fact you have dedicated years to this research with safety in heart, should pave the way to confidence in your teachings.

    I like your ah ha moment. How true of a realization about rugby to American football.

    Look forward to future posts. Thanks for sharing.

  2. Everything in this article is exactly what I was seeing and thinking when I started coaching youth football 3 years ago. In games, I rarely saw kids tackling naturally in the chest. Yet that was what was being taught in youth football. When I brought up shoulder tackling I was ignored. My son was playing and he ended up tackling in games with his shoulder. He was one of the best tacklers. For appearances in practice he was told not to tackle that way, but in games they let him. They knew. I only in the last few months saw Pete Carrol’s video through Coach Somebody. “Yes, exactly,” I said to myself. I sent it to our organization’s board and then never responded. No acknowledgement at all. I believe this was because it was not in sync with USA Football.

    They knew I would be teaching that this year, and I was not contacted about coaching this year. These are good guys too. Nothing. When I reached out to them they said they might have a need at the 80 pound JV level if they had enough kids. For the last 2 years I had been the head coach of the 120 jv.

    I am okay with that though. God is in control. I had to have left shoulder surgery anyway which would have prevented me from coaching this year.

    I am using this year off to study and design my own play book, practice plans, and most importantly religious themes based on the bible, to be used during water brakes like you do. I am using you article for preparing for a season as a guide.

    When I coach again, good Lord willing, I will be teaching the shoulder tackling. I grew up being taught this way and was never hurt using it. My son was never hurt either, who will be playing for his middle school this year.

    God bless you coach. Thanks for all you do.

    John F. Collins

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