So, I have coached an entire season of youth football, watched well over a hundred hours of youth and high school football film, watched countless other hours of live football, and watched hundreds of hours of televised football, AND have yet to see an example of the NFL’s Heads Up Tackling Technique anyplace.
I have not seen one tackle, performed by any player at any level, that can be considered representative of this “safe” way to tackle. I have not seen one gameplay example of this Unicorn-like tackling technique on SportsCenter, the NFL Network, Fox Sports Network, CBS Sports Network, or NBC Sports Network.
I haven’t seen Mike Mayock, Jon Gruden, Phil Simms, Chris Collinsworth, or any other Mavens of the Telestrator breakdown this perfect, Heads Up Tackle in any telecast so far this season.
I haven’t seen a football player buzz their feet, spread their wings, come to balance or execute any of these other staples of the Heads Up Tackling technique. Not once.
What I have seen is players launching themselves headfirst into piles of players without regard for which colored jersey they pile-drove themselves into. I have seen kids and adults leading with their heads, lowering their heads, head butting, and hitting with and getting hit on their heads with equal abandon. At the higher levels, penalty flags are thrown. Not so much in the land where Heads Up Tackling is supposedly taught and enforced with the best interests of our kids at hand.
This is a long-winded way of re-saying that the NFL’s Heads Up Tackling Program will not work because humans do not learn to perform “large” – or complex – and spontaneous skills by having them broken down into small, individual sections. There is science that proves this.
You can’t teach complex skills in these small pieces and expect a person to then put them all together in the heat of competition. We aren’t wired that way. When we think, we stink.
Have you heard of, “The Yips,” where a golfer misses a short – Gimmie – putt? Or heard stories of where a catcher can’t throw the ball back to the pitcher? This is when the thought process infringes on the body’s ability to perform.
However, as a graduate of the Heads Up program, I can give you a more common-sense reason why the Heads Up program won’t work. In the entirety of the NFL’s Heads Up teaching materials, there is not one real world, gameplay example of the tackling technique that the NFL is teaching. Not one “game film” example from any level, from youth on up through the NFL, of this Unicorn-like tackling technique.
Let’s be real; there is no safe way to tackle. Better or worse, yes. Safer, nyet.
I have a buddy of mine who I’ve coached with for 15 years who is also a cop. And he always tells the kids, “There’s no nice way to put handcuffs on someone, and there’s no nice way to tackle.”
And herein lies the NFL’s problem. Football is not a nice sport, but the NFL wants every kid to play. Another problem is football is an exclusive sport, not an inclusive sport. Football is for a select few. Like the Navy Seals and Marines, Ivy League schools, concert pianists, and neurosurgeons. Every kid can’t go to Harvard, every kid can’t play football.
I coach every day. From youth level up through Division 1. Boys, girls, men, women. There is a huge difference between the athletes who play football and the athletes who don’t. All things being equal, the kid who plays football and basketball has an edge over the kid who plays just basketball.
The truth about football – the emmis – is that a lot of it sucks. Practice can be tedious and painful and all kinds of uncomfortable. The glory of playing the game win or lose is unparalleled in sport. But not every kid has what it takes to be a part of it. That’s not a popular message in our society in 2013.
The NFL has made some mistakes and miscalculations, but their biggest mistake is selling this idea that the game is for everyone. Flag football might be, tackle football isn’t. Flag is Checkers, Tackle is Chess.


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