Pete Carroll’s “Heads Out” Tackling – A Must See For Coaches

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Pete Carroll was asked a question about “Hawk Tackling” at media day.  Here is info on his tackling system.

Having spent the last five years as a an offensive coordinator, my view on tackling was “avoid tackles.”  Now that I am involved with coaching my 11 year old son, my concern with proper tacking form is much more focused.  I had learned about Heads Up tackling over a year ago, and the system teaches some sound principles.  However, Pete Carroll recently released a video on tackling that takes the head completely out of the tackle.  As he explains in his video, it is based on the techniques used in rugby tackling in which the head is completely removed from the tackle to avoid injury.  As I did my own research into rugby tackling technique, I found that this tackling is built around safety, and especially putting less stress on the head, neck and spine.

Comparing the  coaching points found in rugby tackling videos with Carroll’s, the terms and techniques used are very similar.  One of the best videos that show the comparison is a video featuring rugby coach Pete Lam.  The techniques and explanations he uses in his video provide great rationale behind why this type of tackling is sound.

Both the Carroll and Lam spend time talking about tracking.  Carroll uses a visual which he refers to as the strike zone.

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In other words, the strike zone is the area between the shoulders and thighs.  Lam tells his players to focus on the core.  He begins with a simple demonstration on why a tackler must focus on the core of the ballcarrier.  Focusing on the core allows the tackler to get in close enough to make a safe tackle.

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Lam then makes a point similar to a coaching point made in the Heads Up program about the position of the arms.  Again, his simple demonstration makes it clear to his players that this is a strong position which prevents injury.

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Face up is another coaching point.  In the next set of photos, the difference of face up and face down can be seen, not only that it causes a problem with tracking, but that it puts the spine in a dangerous position.

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Lam continues the explanation of his tackling technique in the video.  It is a great introduction into the tackling that Carroll shows in his video.

One key point that is worth emphasizing is that Carroll never talks about “head across the front” as a coaching point. This is a coaching point that has been around a long time and can still be heard on practice fields everywhere.  In theory, the idea is that getting the head across the front provides a better leverage position to stop the momentum of the ball carrier as it gets more of the players body in front of the ball carrier.  The pictures below show that this coaching point can put the head and neck in a very vulnerable position.

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In studying rugby tackling, this technique is not taught.  The technique involves getting the right shoulder to the ball carrier’s right shoulder, or the left shoulder to the ball carrier’s left shoulder.

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The Seahawks teach the same technique as you can see in screenshots of their drill and screen shots of the examples they use in the video.  More often than not, you will not see the head in front, but rather the tackle made with what Carroll refers to as “shoulder leverage tackling.”

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Rugby coach Wayne Smith explains this type of shoulder technique and its safety as well as other techniques that Carroll is using in the video below:

Pete Carroll states in the beginning of his video, “[We want to] maintain the physical integrity of the game while developing safer tackling techniques. We desire to play the game as tough as it is meant to be played while also making the game safer.”  The techniques shown do not make for a softer type of play.  You can see from the examples that there are some physical hits being made.  What’s great about these techniques is that they can be done in shorts and t-shirts.  This means that working on tackling technique can be done year-round making the game both better and safer.

Our great game of football is under attack. It is our duty as coaches to become better teachers of the game, and strive to coach the best and safest techniques. Carroll’s tackling video is a great starting point.


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