Tackling Technique: How to (Safely) Pummel Your Opponent

Today's special guest post comes one of our athletes, Dumont, who's played Rugby professionally and currently coaches for the Washington Rugby Club. Given his past history and present involvement in Rugby, and the fact that the dude is a monster, it stands to reason that he knows a thing or two about pummeling an opponent. He graciously offered his expertise on tackling to share with everyone here on SAPTstrength. Here he provides many practical tips on not only executing an EFFECTIVE tackle, but also how to do so in a safe and concerted manner. Hit it Dumont!

The NFL combine is just days away, and many aspiring athletes will be jumping, running, and lifting in an attempt to impress potential employers.  One skill that not showcased at the NFL Combine is tackling. Some could argue the tackle is a lost art in today’s NFL game.  Yes, we see plenty of big hits each week, and as a result of those big hits, the NFL is attempting to regulate the tackle zone in an effort to protect its players. However, with the increase in big hits, what we are actually seeing as is many defenders forgetting the fundamentals and failing to finish the tackle. The result is we see a lot of missed tackles on Sunday, and a lot of needless injuries. The art of the proper form tackle has been lost.

What is a proper form tackle? A form tackle requires the tackler to use their entire body.  Eyes, arms, shoulders, core, and legs are all engaged in an effort to bring a ball carrier to the ground in an efficient and safe (well as safe as a tackle can be) manner.   While it may not result in the big “jacked up” highlight hit we’ve become accustomed to seeing on television, a form tackle will bring a ball carrier to the ground, and stop them in their tracks every time.

Before we break down the parts to making a tackle let’s point out the first step, take away a ball carrier’s space.  The closer a tackler can get to the ball carrier the less opportunity they have to shake and get out of the way.  Close the space to within a yard, of the ball carrier and now the tackler is in the tackle zone.  Closing the space also allows the tackler to use their body like a coiled up spring that can explode into contact at the right moment.

Let’s break down the tackle into parts and make it easier to digest.  The first part is the eyes.   Before one can make a tackle, a player needs to spot their target, and know what they are aiming for.  The tackler must remember to keep your eyes open and spot their target.  This will also help to keep their head up.  Keeping their head up is key not just so they can see, but also for safety.  It keeps the back in a straight line and helps to protect the neck.

Two keys a tackler should remember when using their eyes:

  • Keep them open- sounds simple but you’d be surprised at how easily they close just before impact
  • Focus on the ball carrier’s core- they can move their legs, arms, and heads, but where their core goes, the entire body goes.   Focusing on the core will lead to the tackle point.

The second part of the tackle is the arms and shoulders.  Many people have different ideas of what to do with their arms when making a tackle.  Often times tacklers start with their arms out wide and it looks like they are trying to bear hug their opponents.  While this is effective in making a tackler look big and fierce, it’s actually inefficient when it comes to making the tackle and dangerous as it exposes the weaker muscles in the arm.  When a tackler’s arms are out wide it creates “weak arms,”   we teach ball carriers to run towards those open arms because it’s much easier for them to break through.  By keeping the arms in tight and the hands above your elbows the tackler engages the shoulders and the arms creating a strong base to enter the tackle zone.

Here are the keys for the arms when making a tackle.


  • Imagine creating a TV screen with your hands, and the ball carriers core is the show you want to watch.

The next part to the tackle equations is the legs. First we’ll focus on the feet.  The lead foot is most important.  Step towards the ball carrier using the lead foot.  This brings the tacklers body with them, and allows them to use their entire body and keeps the body compact and coiled like a spring.

Keys to good footwork

  • Step towards the ball carrier taking away their space
  • Do not cross your feet
  • Take short controlled steps not to overextend yourself.

Once the feet are in position, we need to focus on getting the rest of the legs into proper tackling position.  This is done by bending at the knees, and creating a powerful base. By bending at the knees a tackler engages their legs and they are coiled and ready to explode.  This will also keep the tackler low and allow them to attack the ball carriers core and legs.  We do not want to tackle ball carriers up around the chest and arms, it’s too easy for them to break through when we get that high.  Bending at the knees also gives the tackler the agility to move left, or right should the ball carrier change direction.   Remember to keep your head up and your eyes open during all this.

So far we’ve covered a lot of stuff, so let’s take a moment and give a quick rundown of everything to make sure every is on the same page.  

  • Eyes Open
  • Arms in tight, hands up
  • Lead foot forward
  • Bend at the knees
  • Heads up

This puts an athlete into the perfect tackling position.  To make contact the tackler wants to pick a side of the ball carrier’s body and attack that with their shoulder.  The head should be placed on the side of the ball carrier’s body, not across it.  This protects the tackler from being kneed or elbowed in the head, and reduces the possibility of injury.  Using your lead foot step in, make contact with the shoulder.

A good rule to remember is “cheek-to-cheek.”

The next part of the tackle is the arms.  We already have our arms in tight and our hands are up.  Once the tackler makes contact with the shoulder we want to punch with the arms. Bring the arms up keeping them close and wrapping them around the ball carriers body, pulling the ball carrier in tight.

The final part is engaging the legs and drive forward.  Once the tackler made contact with the shoulder and wrapped up the ball carrier with their arms, start pumping the legs. Drive forward and force the ball carrier to the ground.   Use the ball carriers body as a pillow to land on. This will bring the ball carrier to the ground.

Form tackles are effective.  The main key is putting the body into the correct position. Take away the ball carrier’s space, head up, eyes open, arms in, hands up, knees bent, then explode into the contact point, wrap the arms and drive the legs.

Thanks Dumont! Hopefully you all learned a li'l sumthin' sumthin' about tackling (safely and effectively... as opposed to just mindlessly throwing your body at your opponent). Proper technique will go a long way to both helping prevent injuries and winning games. And just for fun, here's a video of football vs. Rugby:

And if you want to smile: *Note* I love our soccer players! I just thought the video was funny.