How Do Coaches Teach Tackling?

It has been a very interesting start to my time with Lions, taking my RFU coaching course and being able to discuss with a lot of coaches how they teach tackling to their players. One thing that has come very apparent is there seem to be two common approaches, and both seem to reflect on the coaches experiences of being players from when they were young. 

The first approach: How to tackle now go do it. 

This first coaching method is very simple and straight to the point. It starts by telling the players how to tackle and then having the players go perform a tackle on tackle bags or teammates holding tackle shields. Once the coaches are happy with the technique, they then start a small-sided game and let the players tackle each other. 

The second approach: Skill zone - game zone.

This approach similar to the first asks the players to practice tackling in a ‘skill zone’. This means they perform some tackling drills to learn how to perform the technique. Then they imbed this skill into a ‘game zone’. Now, this slightly differs from the first approach where the players are expected to be able to perform a tackle in a live game but usually, this means coaches run a touch game whereby when the touch tackle has been made the ‘skill zone’ then is played out safely before the game continues.

Both of the above methods have their benefits and drawbacks but with coaching science progressing at an astonishing rate so should the way we are planning our sessions. At Lions, we have developed a programme that specifically is aimed not only to improve how our young players tackle but also, develop their knowledge and physical qualities to minimise the injury risk to our players. How do we do this?

The Lions approach: Prepare to tackle.

The Lions programme is informed by research that has shown over 50% of injuries in junior rugby occur in the tackle and 31% happen to the player performing the tackle. So our programme first aims to improve the physical strength of our players to improve their robustness, before then using games and drills that develop all aspects of the tackle (the approach, contact, follow-through and recovery), then contextualising these skills within a variety of games to allow for safe and effective practice of rugby tackling. 

The Lions programme is set to bridge the gap not only in how the skill of rugby tackling is coaches but to improve the learning experience of young players and thus build their confidence to build lifelong participation within rugby.

Rob Owen, PhD Student


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