Rugby-style tackling in American Football


There’s less than a week left until the kick-off of the 2016/2017 NFL season. The question is, will we see more coaches implementing rugby tackle training into their practice sessions?

The current Seattle Seahawks coach, Pete Carroll, has overseen the introduction of rugby tackle technique training in his team’s practice sessions since he took over in 2010. The emphasis of this is to use the shoulder as the primary point of contact during tackling and to avoid direct contact with the head. Here is the franchise’s tackling instructional video for those of you who have not yet seen it. The Seahawks boast quite an impressive recent performance record as they have qualified for the play-offs in five of the past six seasons, were winners of Super Bowl XLVIII in the 2013/2014 season, and were runners-up in Super Bowl XLIX in the 2014/2015 season. Their success is often attributed to their highly efficient and stingy defensive unit. Could this be in part due to the introduction of this rugby tackling protocol?

Research has shown that certain tackling technical criteria are associated with successful tackle outcomes in professional rugby union(Hendricks et al., 2014). Some of these correct tackling cues have also recently been shown to reduce the probability of an injury outcome in general injuries (Burger et al., 2016) and for concussions (Hendricks et al., 2015) in high-level under-18 South African rugby union players. There is limited research exploring the detailed characteristics of tackle technique and associated performance and injury outcomes in American Football (AF). It is worth noting that ‘spear tackling’ in AF i.e. using the helmet as a weapon during head-first tackles, has been outlawed due to the potential risk of catastrophic head and neck injuries (Heck et al., 2004; Boden et al., 2007). It may be valuable to assess the discrete differences between traditional rugby and AF tackling techniques to determine if there are indeed differences in safety and performance outcomes.


Nicholas Burger @it_is_burger

(PhD Candidate)

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