Empowering Coaches Step-By-Step

Tired of Missed Tackles- Simple Fix- The Tennis Ball Solution

“Grab, grab, grab, everyone is grabbing out there, no one is tackling” if you’ve ever watched any of that old NFL films footage you will remember that scene with NFL legend Vince Lombardi. Coach Lombardi was obviously upset at the lack of good tackling technique from his Packer defensive players, the expression on his face and the tone of his voice were priceless.

This is also a problem in youth football. Kids may have a little success grabbing someone by the jersey and they start looking to make a tackle using that approach rather than the tackling techniques they have been taught in practice. The problem with tackling by the jersey is it rarely works against average or above players and it certainly will not work once that jersey tackler moves up to the higher levels. Tackling this way is also a very good way to dislocate or break fingers.

A very simple way to break a player of this habit is to have him and for that matter all of your players do a tackling circuit with the tacklers holding tennis balls in their hands. With tennis balls in their hands, they won’t be able to grab the runners jersey. This approach will force them to use their feet to make the tackle and be in a position to roll their hips. Getting into proper position is the first step in becoming a good tackler, toes on the toes of the ballcarrier.

I’m not going to detail how we teach tackling, we use a set of progressions and drills that start at the atomic level to build the “perfect tackle.” There are a variety of ways to teach tackling and ours is in our “Developing a Smothering Defense” DVD and accompanied e-book. But no matter how you are teaching tackling, if you are a chest plate, shoulder, spider or stilts tackling team- you can add in the tennis ball trick to help your players to stop relying on jersey pulls to make tackles.

This is NOT a drill or approach I came up with, it is a tried and true approach that has worked for High School and Youth Football teams for years. Copyright 2011 Cisar Management, all rights reserved. This article may be republished but only if this paragraph and link are included. //winningyouthfootball.com

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  1. Coach Dean

    This is great. I read this right before the season started and went out and bought some tennis balls. To up the ante I even got the pink breast cancer ones. Needless to say, the kids HATE being the tennis ball guy. They hate the pink balls and keep saying that it keeps them from doing their job. Translation: it won’t let them grab the runner’s shirt. What it has done is force them to use proper form to avoid having to be the pink tennis ball guy. GREAT!!

  2. Scott Welch

    Hey Dave,
    I have been coaching your system for 5 years now and have seen the success that everyone else seems to have when they apply your system. As far as tackling, I have always used the progression in the book. Now, our league has pretty much mandated the USA Football Heads Up tackling. Do you have any experience seeing teams using this program? Is it effective? Is it safer?

    1. davecisar


      I have not, so I would prefer not to comment. I can say with great confidencce, that I’ve coached youth football for 25 years from age 6-14 and not a single one of my players has ever been diagnosed with a concussion.

  3. Coach Brite

    Brilliant, I already used tennis balls to teach my O&D linemen to fire off on the snap. Adding a tennis ball won’t even change my drill progressions.


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