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Offensive and Defensive Collision Drills To Improve Your Team’s Performance

by: Walter Justice
Former College and European Club Coach
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Little boys and men play football because it helps release aggressive energy and humbles all who have tried it. The sensation of running into someone at full speed is defining. No other element of football accelerates players, coaches and spectators than hearing the impact of a collision. Shoulder pads, helmets, forearms, and brute force contacting each other with speed and leverage.

I began being a good football coach when I taught players how to take on a full contact collision. Every practice, video session, and meeting the biomechanics of contact must be emphasized. The key is to deliver and not absorb the shock of the collision. I strongly believe that having players perform full contact drills should be limited in practice and drills. The key is to allow the player to practice techniques, positioning, and leverage of contact without causing physical harm. Full contact without injury and embarrassment builds confidence. No other factor is more important than being confident in a collision. When a teacher-coach uses this philosophy they are not emphasizing the results of a player’s effort; rather, the emphasis is on skills necessary for them being dominant in a collision.

Many coaches believe they can make players tougher, I think you can drill them to be tough but not tougher because toughness is an intrinsic value that comes from a player’s heart. Collisions cause anxiousness and pain and it is most important for them not to have this enter their minds or they will avoid a collision or take the easy way out. I know “no pain no gain”, “pain is weakness coming out of your body”, “pain is temporary”, and many other concepts related to tolerating pain. I use these phrases to motivate players to continue quality efforts through tough times in practice. Many coaches need to realize that there has to be limits on inflicting pain in drills and practice. Remember, it is all about building confidence through self-esteem and self-concept. Emphasize techniques towards a successful collision in your drills. Emphasize the good things and not the bad.

My favorite drill for teaching how to deliver a collision is to use plastic trash cans as the target. They are soft, low to the ground, and are awkward to grasp. The first step is to teach a tackler the proper body position at contact. I have them get in front of the trash can with one knee on the ground, their head up and neck bowed. Their arms are bent at the elbow at a 45 degree angle and are simulating getting ready to draw two guns from their holster in a gun fight. Their back is straight and they are slightly leaning back on their haunches. I call this the “ready position”. On command, they are to uncoil their body off the ground upward while lifting their arms up and around the can. It is similar to coming off the ground from a “lunge” with the lead knee rising upward. Emphasis is on upward motion of the body as to lifting the can straight up into the sky, not pushing it forward. I also have them exaggerate the lift up and arch their back, neck and head at the highest point.

After successful repetitions on each knee I then have them start several yards from the can in an upright ready position. They are to jog towards the can emphasizing short choppy steps and as they get near the “contact zone”, they should then break down and genuflect at the can. I check their position with the knee on the ground as to emphasize the collision position and then allow them to explode at the can. The final step is to go through the drill without stopping at the can, and then completing the sequence at full speed. These collision techniques should again be emphasized in “thud-level" tackling drills against a ball carrier. Never allow a tackler to “leave his feet” when tackling.

About the Author:

Walter Justice is a former college and international head coach. He coached on the college level for 28 years and his JUCO team - El Camino College in 1987 - won a national championship. Justice also coached internationally in Vienna, Austria. He is currently a professor of Health, Exercise Science, and Athletics and department chair at Southwestern College in Chula Vista (CA). He can be reached at wjustice@swccd.ecu.


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