Definition. The third stage of the tackle process is Connection, following Track and Prepare. Winning the collision at the point of contact, through accurate technique, proper mentality and self-control, the tackler can take the advantage away from the ball-carrier, leading to a safe and dominant tackle contest.
The Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) below cover the key factors that will enable and develop Connection skills. Coaches should consider them when developing connection skills within their coaching programme.
1. Initial shoulder contact accuracy left/right.
The tackler must have body awareness and control, specifically the ability to put the shoulder onto the specific target and level of the ball-carrier. (i.e. not just the thigh, but a specific point on the thigh. This links to Laser focus when Tracking.
Players must be equally accurate, capable and confident when executing the tackle using both right and left shoulders.
2. Shoulder Jab (“cut through” mentality).
The term “shoulder jab” describes the action of actively engaging the shoulder through contact and connection into the ball-carrier. The jab increases force and engagement to the target. Tacklers should aim to strike “through” the target not stopping “on” the target. This can be described as a “cut through” mentality, meaning they are passing through the target to applying force and acceleration.
3. Shoulder Connection point.
The aim is for the tackler is to connect with the ball-carrier using the top-frontal area of the shoulder.
- For Level 1 tackles, the connection point should be the top of the shoulder due to the angle of approach and mechanics of making the tackle.
- For Level 2 and 3 tackles, the connection point should be a mix of top and upper front of the shoulder depending on tackle technique used.
Tacklers should be in control of their body position throughout. Incorrect connection i.e., too high, or too low, may have a detrimental effect to the outcome of the tackle. The desirable point of contact is the “top frontal” area, the “corner” of where the front and top of the shoulder meet.
If the tackler connects with their chest – this may result in an upright body position, which has been shown to increase likelihood of injury.
4. Arm Wrap and Clamp
The tackler should use their arms to wrap and clamp the ball-carrier, allowing no room to escape. This takes strength in the back, chest, and arms to wrap and close the clamp quickly and dominate the ball-carrier. There may be two types of clamp:
- Arms clamp (when both arms work individually at differing heights to clamp round the ball-carrier)
- Lock clamp (when both arms clamp and connect to each other around the ball carrier).
The best tacklers take pride in their wrap and clamp and do not slip off the tackle after the initial connection.
5. Iron Grip (strong fingers).
Following the clamp, the tackler should endeavour to either tighten their grip on the ball-carrier with an iron grip or tighten their lock-clamp (Flat hands should never be seen) This is a key part of the connection in the tackle. In addition to the wrap and clamp, the hands and fingers must also work to gain control and dominate the opponent. An Iron Grip will assist the tackler to complete the tackle effectively.
6. Hip and core activation.
To help establish a dominant tackling position, the tackler must activate their hips and core to transfer their power onto and through the ball-carrier as efficiently as possible.
7. Arrowhead (ear to body).
The Arrowhead is used after the initial connection, wrap, clamp, and grip. The tackler should never make contact with the crown of their head. After a good connection, wrap, clamp and grip, the tackler should squeeze their nearside ear to the ball-carrier’s body, closing the wrap and clamp.
The tackler uses their arms and hands to further tighten the wrap, clamp and grip. They engage their neck muscles to complete the Arrowhead. This maintains force from the tackler through the complete tackling action and removes potential for the tackler’s head to be in a loose and vulnerable position. This will also aid in taking the ball-carrier to the ground.
8. React and reshape.
Even the best initial connections do not always result in control of the ball-carrier or execution of a dominant tackle. The ball-carrier will try to avoid the force, and may twist, spin and bend.
Sometimes, the tackler will not strike cleanly, resulting in glancing blows, slip-offs, and a compromise of posture due to the collision forces.
Tacklers must learn to reshape to a position of power within the tackle contest to re-establish control and finish the tackle. The goal of a good initial connection should be to reshape the ball-carrier, taking away their power before they can reshape back to their position of strength.
A great tackler has the ability to react to the outcome of the initial connection, stay connected and complete the tackle.