1. Tracking

Definition. Tracking: the ability to get to the ball-carrier with speed and accuracy, closing down the ball-carrier’s space, thus enabling the tackler to choose the correct tackle for the situation.

To make a tackle, players must first get to the ball-carrier, this is known as Tracking. Tracking a ball-carrier, should be a simple skill, e.g. this is evident in basic tag and touch. There are, however, more things to consider; players must be aware of their roles and that of their team-mates and they must also be able to communicate effectively to enable them to complete the tackle.

The Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) below cover the key factors that will enable and develop tracking skills. Coaches should consider them when developing tracking skills within their coaching programme:

1. Vision, Decision, Action cycle (VDA)

Players must be able to scan the playing area in front of them. They should observe the situation, recognising the ball-carrier and potential additional threats and be able to react accordingly by making the correct decision (VDA).

Tracking is not a two-player game between the ball-carrier and defender. During the tracking phase, the defender also needs to scan the field for potential additional threats. The defender may need to change their decision depending on the actions of the attacker which will change their path and alter their angle of track. Defenders must also be scanning for teammates and ask themselves:

  • Where is the help?
  • Are other players in the correct positions?
  • What is our relation to the touchline as an extra defender?

Players must be continually taking in visual cues from their surroundings to process the correct tracking path.

2. Laser Focus (find, fixate and maintain focus on the ball-carrier).

Players must be able to identify the tackle target levels and be able to adjust their decision pre-contact depending on the movement of the ball-carrier. The tackling target levels are where the tackler should connect with the ball-carrier as follows:

  • Level 1 - Foot/ankle to knee
  • Level 2 – Knee to hip
  • Level 3 – Hip to sternum.

The tackler must be able to see in and around players in their line of sight, maintaining focus on the ball-carrier whilst being aware of the movement of other players, both in opposition and attack. They also must have the ability to find the target through opposition ploys such as dummies and switches.

Keeping eye discipline on the target through the tracking phase while approaching the contact zone with the ball-carrier has a major effect on the quality of tackle performed. The tackler should endeavour to track the ball-carrier’s core rather than their feet or their eyes as the ball-carrier’s body will always follow their core but not necessarily where they are looking or the direction that their feet may indicate.

3. Communication.

Accurate communication between defenders, whether part of a defensive system or not, is vital. This enables players to prepare for the tackle situation by being in the right position and having team-mates around them to support correctly.

4. Angle and approach (how the tackler approaches the ball-carrier).

Angle of entry to the tackle zone by the tackler will be determined by their position on the field, their speed, and by the ball-carrier. It is important to note that the “Approach” (how players enter the tackle zone) can sometimes be from a different angle from how they track to the tackle (e.g. if the ball-carrier steps back inside). The type of tackle being made, the goal of the tackle and the target level of the tackle can all contribute to determine the best approach. The tackler must also be aware of change of height/level change by the ball-carrier, its implications on effective outcome within the laws.

5. Change of direction.

High quality movement skills are critical for effective tracking. Tacklers will select the correct angle and approach and take an initial path to the ball-carrier but may lose effectiveness during the track because of their inability to react and reshape to the ball-carrier’s evasive movement or if their focus leaves the target. Coaches must decide if it was an error in angle (wrong choice), the inability to change direction and alter the angle of track, or a loss of focus on the ball-carrier.

6. Approach Height and Speed.

In addition to angle and approach, tacklers must consider the height and speed of their approach to the ball-carrier. E.g. The ball-carrier may be running high, down a touchline or may be running low within a pick and go situation. The tackler must choose the appropriate tracking target level, speed of approach and height to make the tackle. This will demand correct body position and footwork prior to contact. Defenders must be able to choose the correct movement types and actions for the situation.

7. Come to Balance.

After the distance has been covered between tackler and ball-carrier, the tackler may need to adjust their footwork (e.g., do not over-stride) and body position to enable them to achieve a balanced and powerful foundation prior to contact. Body positions for fast, sprint movement, may have narrow foot placement and higher hips than coaches, would desire in the power position of the tackle. Players must be able to change postures and movement patterns when contact is imminent.

8. Anticipation (individual opponent analysis).

Every player has individual traits. It may be useful for coaches and players when analysing the opposition to consider the following:

  • What do opposition ball-carriers like to do?
  • Do they have a preferential step off one foot?
  • Do they fend?
  • Do they have a particular running style?
  • Are they power runners over a short distance?
  • Do they have change of speed within their carry?

Knowing what the opposition ball-carriers are likely to do in given situations will give coaches additional information for their coaching programme.

9. Anticipation (opposition team analysis).

Game analysis, individual opposition player reports, understanding of opposition playing systems and knowledge of other team’s tendencies helps players to process the information they see on the field. Being aware of oppositions attack and defence systems, set piece, and default plays and other clues help players anticipate the tactics they are likely to see, allowing them to put themselves in the best position to make the tackle.