A tackling seminar at Lamar School Wednesday aimed to show local coaches safer and more effective ways of bringing down ball carriers on the football field.
Approximately 20 coaches from Lamar and the Meridian Public School District gathered in the school’s Raider Room to listen to a presentation by two representatives from Atavus Rugby & Football, a Seattle-based company that travels around the United States and provides instruction on proper tackling that is both potent and preventative of head injuries.
“It’s the marriage of safety and performance,” said Sean Hopper, one of the reps present. “A lot of coaches say, ‘If we’re going to be safer, it’s not football anymore because we’re not hitting hard.’ That’s not true. We’re hitting just as hard and even better.”
Hopper and his colleague, Scott Lawyer, used film from the NFL and college football to show the correct and incorrect ways players have tried to make tackles before heading outside to show drills coaches can use in practice. They emphasized that the coaches should not only teach their players to lead with their shoulder and not their head, but to also dominate contact by leading with the correct shoulder and keeping the hips low to bring down the ball carrier as soon as possible. This helps minimize “preventable yards,” or yards the ball carrier picks up after first contact.
They also taught to make tackles with a strong body position. Players should hit ball carriers on the uprise and keep their eyes focused on the chest-to-hip area to avoid over-pursuing and getting juked, they said. A jab punch that wraps around the ball carrier along with proper footwork, which the representatives called the most under-coached aspect of tackling, can prove powerful.
“We want to keep the integrity of the game as being physical,” Lawyer said. “But we also want to bring that safety component, too, to be more responsible and more instinctual.”
Atavus was founded in 2011 with a focus on rugby. After working with the Seattle Seahawks in 2014, it was rebranded to target both sports and has since partnered with the University of Washington and Ohio State, as well as high schools around the country.
The visit was organized by Lamar head coach Mac Barnes, entering his 19th year at the helm for the Raiders. After seeing an online advertisement four months ago, Barnes formed a relationship with Hopper and the company, and tried to set up a seminar in May.
Now in July, weeks before fall camp begins, Barnes is relieved to have finally gotten Atavus to Meridian.
“I wanted to bring them in because I think it’s such a critical issue with concussions and tackling in football,” Barnes said. “I think we’ve got to make some changes in football, and I think tackling is the No. 1 thing.”
A coach for more than four decades, Barnes admitted his tackling instruction over the years proved inefficient and unsafe. He said Atavus’ shoulder-tackling method is the way to go.
“There are things that have been ingrained in my mind in tackling that are really just not the right thing,” he said.
The honesty and openness of Barnes and other coaches during the seminar is something Hopper said he doesn’t generally get, but loves.
“The great thing about these coaches is that they admitted it in the presentation. That’s actually pretty rare,” he said. “Usually you’ll get coaches whose arms are crossed, then as the presentation comes through you’ll see them opening up.”
Meridian High School head coach John Douglass said he was drawn to the seminar because he wants parents to feel OK about their kids playing football. He hopes that players of all ages will benefit.
“This is something that, once we get certified and comfortable with this, we want to take, even down to the youth leagues,” Douglass said. “This is something that we want to implement as much as we can.”
Coaches will be able to take a test through Atavus to become tackling certified. They can also send in game film and videos of their instruction for evaluation.
“When you can teach kids an effective way to tackle that doesn’t involve the head, and the helmet truly becomes what is was intended to be, which is protective, then you’re making the kid safer and available on Fridays,” Douglass said.