Open field tackling can be one of the most difficult skills to teach when you are coaching youth football. Players without good body control or who don’t understand proper pursuit angles and tackling techniques are usually going to fare poorly when they have to make an open field tackle. While we can do a lot of technique and fit work when developing the skills for the open field tackle, in the end we have to get some full speed reps in to bring it all together and help the player feel confident in the way they approach, leverage and make the open field tackle.
To cover all of that, we would need at minimum a twenty page post, so let’s limit this one to reps. Open field tackling shouldn’t involve kids attacking each other head on from ten yards apart at full speed, but even when done properly the space will create some big hits. Even if you have eased your kids into contact, not every player is going to be looking forward to the big contact open field tackling is almost always going to produce.
To help kids get over that fear, whatever open field tackling drills you do, make sure to develop the underlying skills in the time leading up to that first open field tackling drill. When you feel some of your players are ready for it, make sure to do the open field tackling drill first as a fit, where the tackler doesn’t take the ball carrier to the ground. The ball carrier freezes on contact as does the tackler.
After the kids have gotten comfortable with the drill on a fit basis, now comes the full contact part. Many players are going to “pace” themselves just to try and survive the drill. If the players think the drill is going to last for 15 minutes, they may not go all out for all of the reps. You often times see players play hard the first rep or two and them slack off until the very final rep. Some kids will limp off after the first rep or two and then come back into the drill at the end. Who’s to say if they are injured or not?
What I like to do is tell each player they will do five reps, they have to complete five strong reps in order to participate in team defense that day. When kids understand they only have to do X number of reps and can see the light at the end of the tunnel, you seem to get much better effort from everyone, especially those that aren’t very physical football players.
This very simple approach worked extremely well for the Reno team I coached this year in the “Worst to First” television show. Prior to implementing this technique we would lose two to three kids for most of practice when we did open field tackling drills. Try this simple trick out and see if it doesn’t improve your open field tackling reps.