Definition. The second stage of the tackle process is the ability to transition from Tracking to Preparation for the tackle. This includes the correct body positions, proper foot placement for contact and selection of the tackle type and level. If performed correctly, the tackler can dictate the terms of engagement with the ball-carrier.
The amount of time it takes the tackler to arrive at the point of contact varies greatly, however, the tackler needs to be able to adopt the correct body position to initiate the tackle immediately on arrival. The tackler must process a variety of visual cues from the ball-carrier to determine what type and level of tackle they will make based on the situation.
The Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) below cover the key factors that will enable and develop Preparation skills. Coaches should consider them when developing tracking skills within their coaching programme.
1. Ability to Get Square (square is strong).
All tacklers should attempt to get square on the ball carrier, even when approaching from an angle. The aim should be for the tackler to always try to tackle the frontside of the ball-carrier.
When tracking from angles, a core skill of great tacklers is to get to the ball-carrier’s front side with their shoulder and hips parallel to the touchline. This allows the tackler to generate maximum force backward, limiting the ball-carrier’s forward momentum and creating a dominant tackle.
2. Drop Height (stay big and dip time).
The tackler’s dip and drive to initiate the tackle must be timed well for maximum power and accuracy. Too many players drop their height too early preparing for the tackle, meaning ball-carriers can either accelerate away or read the tackler’s body language and intentions early and therefor evade. The tackler’s ability to stay big when closing in on the ball-carrier and dipping with proper timing lead to far more effective tackles.
3. Dominant Contact Angle (hips, spine, head, eyes).
For players to be at their most effective and confident through contact, and not passive, body positions need to be strong. To ensure they do not lose power on connection with the ball-carrier, tacklers should, if possible, adopt a straight back (see diagram) and a rigid core. Players should have straight-line posture through their hips, spine, head (head up, chin off chest) and eyes on target throughout. If their backs are rounded, or they over-extend or twist/turn pre-contact, they are more likely to be compromised by the ball-carrier, which will result in a lack of power transmission which will impact on the quality of the tackle.
4. Balance and Foot Placement.
Like Come to Balance (Tracking KPI), this is the precise footwork tacklers need to create balance and orientate the body prior to contact. It is vital for the tackler to keep moving and not to plant their feet too early or over-stride, as this would give the ball-carrier time to take evasive action.
There are four core movement patterns used:
a. Power step (Same foot, same shoulder)
When the tackler comes to balance in a larger space where angles approach is key, they will aim to plant their lead foot and follow through with the same shoulder. This is a lead foot technique, where the player reduces stride length but also places the lead foot “in the hoop”. This enables the tackler to react to any ball-carrier change of direction. This technique has a one-foot take-off into the tackle and is immediately followed up by a secondary power step by the other foot.
b. Paddle to Power Step (Same foot, same shoulder)
When the tackler comes to balance in a larger space where angles approach is key, a further option they may have is to “Paddle” (The paddle technique involves use of small fast steps, low to the ground, keeping the feet even and square to limit the ball-carrier’s change of direction options) to come to balance before they Power Step which again will aim to place their lead foot and follow through with the same shoulder and secondary power step by the other foot. This is a lead-foot technique, where the player reduces stride length by paddling but also places the lead foot “in the hoop”. This enables the tacker to react to any ball-carrier change of direction. This technique has a one-foot take-off into the tackle and is immediately followed up by a secondary power step by the other foot.
c. Power Step to run through (same foot, same shoulder)
In some situations, the tackler may not need to come to balance as the ball-carrier may not be able to make an evasive manoeuvre. In these situations, there is no need for the tackler to decelerate and prepare for a possible change of direction, as their angle has eliminated any change of direction option for the ball-carrier (E.g. ball-carrier running along touchline). In this situation the tackler may choose to connect with the ball carrier and run through to completion. The tackler should still lower their body height and make an effective power step. This is the final step before impact that ensures they connect with the ball-carrier.
d. Paddle to single-foot /double-foot launch
In closer confines, players may be required to change their balance and foot placement. This may result in either a single power step, or a double-foot launch in preparation for connection. Where players are attempting a single power step or double foot launch, they may come to balance using the “paddle” technique. Tacklers must still choose the correct angle and approach height and speed to ensure effective contact.
5. Shoulders in front of Hips (load the toes, never sit).
In order to achieve a powerful tackling posture, tacklers should keep their weight forward in a loaded position, with shoulders over hips, hips over knees, and knees over toes. Think “load the toes”. Too often when coming to balance, tacklers tend to sit their hips and weight back or get caught on their heels during the deceleration phase. When coming to balance, the tackler’s weight should be distributed forward. The tackler should however ensure that they do not over-balance as this will cause them to lunge forward and lose their balance. A key coaching point is “stay loaded”.
6. Claws up, elbows in (wrist above elbow).
This stage of the process is just before the tackler engages with the ball-carrier classed as the power stance. When the tackler is about to engage with the ball-carrier they should prepare as follows:
- Elbows in close to the sides, or in front of the body
- Wrists above elbows
- Hands up “boxer stance” but with open “claw” hands ready to grip
Tacklers should stay as tight and powerful as possible, hence “claws up, elbows in”, as this allows them to “jab” the shoulder and arms forward quickly and strongly on connection to the body of the ball-carrier.
7. Foot in the Hoop.
This is the final step before connection with the ball-carrier. The tackler should make their foot placement close enough to the ball-carrier so that power can be generated without over-elongating the body. Should the tackler place their power foot too far away from the ball-carrier, this will result in loss of traction between studs and pitch and failure to generate power through leg drive. The term “hoop” signifies an imaginary “hula hoop” around the ball-carrier’s feet which acts as a target for the tackler’s first power step which is immediately followed up by a secondary power step by the other foot, maintaining momentum.
The tackler’s preparation phase should happen in the correct proximity to ball-carrier.