By John Cartwright
All competitive team sports’ have two fundamental parts; ball retention (attacking) and ball regaining (defending). A great deal of interest regarding attacking aspects of the game can be found in coaching books, magazines, DVD’s as well as on TV and radio etc. that covers both individual and team situations; less interest seems to be given to defending and to the skill of Tackling in particular. This disregard of a vital part of defensive play has meant generations of young players developing without having acquired the skills of such an important aspect of the game.
Inadequate coverage of Tackling is probably due to a fear of injury in practice. This has curtailed sufficient thought being given to the creation of Tackling practises that are suitable through the various stages of development. It is extremely important when working on Tackling to consider the type of surface on which practises are made. Although playing and training surfaces have generally got better, this does not seem to have increased the work associated with tackling and there has been little noticeable improvement; — when tackling, too many players fail to stay on their feet — today’s lush surfaces provides a ‘cushion’ allowing tacklers to ‘dive’ feet-first in a dangerous and unnecessary manner and finishing on their backsides. In any practice session the chance of injury is always possible but with Tackling this is more likely to happen if the work provided to players at all stages of their development is not clearly and intelligently introduced and progressed.
With both skill acquisition and safety in mind Tackling practises must be structured to promote the skills required for defenders to regain the ball, whilst at the same time, provide attacking players with the ability to evade defensive challenge.
Once again I must emphasize the importance of the use of the hands in the early stages of skill development. In Tackling, the actual ‘challenge’ at the ball with the feet should only be made following important decisions by the defender. To promote these decisions the Handball game can be used to prepare players on how to; close down on attackers — guide attackers — watch the ball and not be deceived with false moves by an attacker — time ‘challenges’ for the ball — make the selection of which hand to use to touch the ball (challenge) — or to anticipate and intercept passes (throws)….. a touch on the ball immediately reverses ball possession.
Practises with slight variations that achieve more playing realism can be attempted still using the hands as in Handball, with attacking players bouncing the ball when running with it. Defending players must incorporate the decision-making ability acquired in earlier practice but must now either ‘tackle’ using either a hand if the attacker is holding the ball or with the feet if the attacking player is bouncing the ball whilst running with it. Once again, any touch on the ball by a defender reverses the att/def roles. This type of practice can begin in a simple 1v1 and progress into 2v2:3v3:4v4 work where att/def situations become more complex.
As players develop their game skills and tactical awareness it becomes necessary to introduce practises that require specific types of tackling skills; the frontal (Block Tackle) and tackles from the side (Sliding Tackle); — once again remember the need for a suitable surface for these practises. Also, as already mentioned, it is important to produce practises that combine both defensive and attacking qualities, in so doing defending and attacking skills stimulate each other to higher performance levels. The game for ‘examining’ work attempted on Tackling can be achieved using PREMIER SKILLS — (Homebase Level 3) areas where either direct or angled goals and straight or angled practice zones can assist in providing the realistic situations required for both the teaching of Tackling as well as other aspects of the game concerning both defending and attacking skills.
Tackling is a vital part of defensive play and it has been somewhat neglected over the years at junior through to senior levels. As i have said if the work required is systematically and carefully introduced it would make a great improvement in the playing quality of our game for both defenders as well as attackers.