At-Risk Tackling Techniques in American Football

David W. Stockwell, Richard Blalock, Kenneth Podell, Rex A.W. Marco

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

7 Scopus citations


Background: In American football, fewer fatalities and severe injuries have been seen annually since 1976, after data from 1971 through 1975 were retrospectively reviewed to better understand the mechanisms involved in catastrophic cervical spine injury and rules were enacted to prohibit certain types of aggressive tackling. The National Football Head and Neck Injury Registry was established in 1975. Purpose: To assess (1) tackling techniques that coaches were teaching at 3 levels—youth level (YL; 4th to 5th grades), middle school (MS; 6th to 8th grades), and high school (HS; 9th to 12th grades); (2) tackling techniques used during games; and (3) the successful tackle rates of these techniques. Study Design: Descriptive epidemiology study. Methods: Surveys were distributed via email to 500 coaches of YL, MS, and HS football teams in Texas. Coaches provided video recordings of football games, and all tackle attempts were graded by a single reviewer who watched game videos; 1000 consecutive tackles were observed for each group. Survey data included how coaches instructed their players to tackle, the types of tackles, the number of tackles versus missed tackles, the head position, and the initial contact. Data were analyzed with the chi-square test. A subset of 100 consecutive tackles at each level of play was reviewed by 2 blinded reviewers to assess intra- and interrater reliabilities. Results: In all groups, coaches responded that they preferred to teach the at-risk “head across the bow” tackling technique (83% YL, 81% MS, 75% HS). Coaches stated that they instructed players to “keep your head up,” as currently recommended, 89% in YL, 100% in MS, and 81% in HS. During games, players used head-up, inside-shoulder tackles more successfully across all groups (97.5% YL, 99.5% MS, 98.8% HS). While intra- and interrater reliabilities were in the good range, these scores were lower in the youth group. Conclusion: Our study supports the effectiveness of tackling with the head up and making the initial contact with the inside shoulder. Lower reliability ratings for the youth group were likely due to lower video quality and the lack of players’ tackling experience.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)2325967120902714
JournalOrthopaedic Journal of Sports Medicine
Issue number2
StatePublished - Feb 1 2020


  • head-up tackle technique
  • pathomechanics of cervical spine injury
  • tackling techniques
  • “head across the bow” technique

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Orthopedics and Sports Medicine


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