Progression for Teaching Tackling

This past season I was introduced to a new way of teaching tackling. The most significant difference is that we really never taught the finish until the end of the progression. The rip, wrap, drive part of the tackle came last because the fact is, if your approach is right, most players can get the ball carrier down. The emphasis is still, of course, always on proper form and safety.

Shimmy Down

Start off by partnering your players up and having them stand side by side on a line. One partner will step off 3 steps from the other, turn and face. Now we get good body position.

    1. Butt down, good hitting position. Head is up, neck bowed. Show the numbers to the ball carrier. Keep hands in the ‘holsters’ by your hips.
    2. Lead with one foot first, then the other. If we’re starting with the right foot up, it will always stay up within this 3 step area.
    3. This is called the shimmy down – when we’re within this range of the ball carrier, we’ll take short choppy steps with the lead foot always staying in front until your lead foot splits the crotch of the ball carrier.

  • At the end of the shimmy down, the tackler has his facemask in the chest of the ball carrier. Teach him to have his ‘eyes on the throat,’ which puts his head up in a safe position. Note that the body has not changed from the original good hitting position. Hips are at the same level.
  • Be sure the players take note of where they start this portion of the progression – this is the shimmy point and is where they should always start. The rest of the approach is all about getting to this shimmy point, the rest of the finish is basically the same.



Now we just need to be able to get to that shimmy point.

  1. Again, the drill starts with one partner stepping off 3 steps. Make sure they are stepping this off each time, especially early. Remember that everyone’s three steps is different so it will not be a uniform line across.
  2. Players need to note where their shimmy point is. Then take 5 more steps back.
  3. On the start of the drill (coach command), players sprint to the shimmy point, then shimmy down and finish again with eyes in the throat, hands still in the holsters.
  4. After you are comfortable that your players have mastered this step (it won’t take nearly as long as teaching the shimmy down), increase the distance. Have the tackler take his 3 steps, then 5 more. Have the ball carrier step off 5 steps in the opposite direction.

Approach Angle

  1. Add in teaching angles now. Again, this won’t take nearly as long as the shimmy itself. Step off 3 steps, then 5 more. Then step off 3 steps to the left or 3 steps to the right.
  2. Sprint to the shimmy point.
  3. Shimmy down, finish with eyes in the throat, butt down, hands in holsters.
  4. Increase the distance and the angle.


  1. If you never teach the finish, your kids will still be okay. If they can get to a point with facemask on the chest, eyes in the throat, up foot splitting the crotch, they’ll make most of their tackles.
  2. From this point, the hands shoot through the arm pits. Emphasize shooting the hands, you can cause a lot of fumbles this way. We used a key word of ‘knifing’ the ball.
  3. Explode the hips. No one’s excited about this during a mesh shorts practice, but they want to get pecker to pecker with the guy.
  4. Climb the body with the hands and grab high cloth. They need to pinch the guy off. It should look like they have double underhooks in wrestling (that worked when I coached in Iowa, it may not if you coach in Florida).
  5. Run the knees high and wide. They should be actually getting outside of the body and preventing the ball carrier from rolling away from the tackle. Run the ball carrier to the whistle, 5 steps or so.

Don’t Rush Tackling

Take your time. Be organized in your teaching progression and don’t schedule a 5 minute tackling session on the first day. Take your time. You are not only helping the defense, but could be saving a young man’s life. Schedule 30 minutes, better yet schedule two 30 minute sections of practice. Teach proper tackling technique every day. Forever!

There’s lots of ways to teach tackling, so this is by no means the only way. Just be sure we’re emphasizing safety! Here’s video of another tackling drill from

How do you teach tackling? What are some good tips and key words you use to help your players? Leave a comment and let us know!