5 Football Tackling Drills to Be More Effective on Defense

By Coach Martin | Football Drills

football tackling drills

Tackling can sometimes be taken for granted, but it's the single most important skill defensive players can learn in football.

A coach's excellent preparation and the players' great work in practice will all be for naught if they can’t tackle ball carriers in game situations.

When it comes to teaching players how to play defense, learning how to tackle is one of the basic skills that players need to learn.

All positions on the field need to know how to tackle and do so well.

They need to learn the basic skills so that they can perform successful tackles during various game situations.

Unfortunately, a lot of attention to teaching kids how to play defense revolves around positional drills and overall defensive schemes.

While these are certainly important aspects of the game to teach, they should be layered on after players learn the basics.

Defensive schemes revolve around things such as where players should align themselves, who’s blitzing the quarterback, which players should cover which receivers, and so on.

But again, none of that matters if players can't successfully tackle.

That's why tackling is a skill that not only needs to be taught at the youth level but reiterated and constantly worked on throughout a football player's career.

At the youth level, tackling should be worked on at just about every practice throughout the entire year -- whether you're working in preseason camps or the week leading up to the last game of the season.

Many football tackling drills can teach players how to properly tackle as well as reinforce the best ways to do so.

The nice part about these drills is that they’re the same for all positions.

This means that they can be taught on a team-wide basis and also once the team breaks out into positional drills.

Here are five football tackling drills every coach should teach their players:

A young football player doing defensive drills and practicing tackles on a field

5 Football Tackling Drills

1. Lift Drill

This is one of the most basic football tackling drills you can teach your players.

It's a drill that focuses on teaching players the proper tackling form.

It's more important that players focus on how they position and use their body than it is to create a big hit.

This drill should be run at half speed to reinforce the importance of form.

When you're first teaching players how to tackle, you can even have players do this drill by walking through the steps.

That’ll help them understand each part of a proper tackle and allow them to put them all together to learn the technique.

To run this drill, you'll need one player who's going to act as the tackle and one who’ll act as a ball carrier.

These two players should line up facing each other about five yards apart.

The coach will blow the whistle to signify the start of the drill.

When he does, the tackler will run at the ball carrier.

Again, he should do this at half speed.

When he comes to the point where he’d contact the ball carrier for the tackler, he needs to use his hips to explode into the ball carrier.

The tackler should rise up, clubbing his hands around the other player.

In the process, he should be grabbing the back of the ball carrier's jersey and lift him off the ground. 

For this drill, the ball carrier should jump into the air when the tackler gets to him. He should also allow the tackler to pick him up off the ground.

This will make it easier for the tackler and help him avoid having to work extra hard to lift him.

Again, this drill is about teaching proper form, not about making a big hit.

Once the tackler has the ball carrier in his hands lifted off the ground, he should drive him back for five yards and then put him back down gently.

There’s no advanced variation of this drill.

It's the most basic tackling drill there is, and it should always be run at half speed.

Most coaches have players start this drill with no pads and just helmets on, too.

This will help them work on all the body fundamentals.

2. Four-Point Explosion

This is another basic tackling drill coaches can teach their players.

Again, it can be run with players wearing just their helmets and no pads, as it's meant to teach some of the fundamentals that are needed to tackle properly.

This drill will not only teach players the basics of tackling but also how to take on a block, shut out a block, and then attack.

This is one of the big reasons why this drill is so popular among coaches.

For this drill, you'll need to have two players face each other about one yard apart. They should also both be on their knees for this drill.

One of the players should shift his weight back and almost sit on his heels.

When the drill starts, this player will explode out of this almost sitting position upward.

He needs to focus on rolling his hips.

In reality, he'll have no choice but to do this, as it's the only way he'll be able to move up from that position.

While he’s shooting up out of this position, he needs to shoot his hands to the middle of the other player's chest.

He should aim for where the numbers on that player's jersey would be, and he should keep his thumbs pointed up on his hands while he's doing so.

Coaches can run this drill continuously in practice since it doesn't take a lot of effort, endurance, or running.

Have one player do this drill for five times in a row, and then switch the roles of the players.

3. Angle Tackling Drill

Angle Tackling Drill Diagram

Those first two football tackling drills will teach players the basics of how to tackle.

One thing they both focus on is tackling a player head-on.

In most cases during a game, though, players will not have the luxury of performing a tackle head-on.

They'll be forced to do what's called an angle tackle, with the ball carrier faced away from the tackler at an angle as he's trying to avoid being wrapped up.

This angle tackling drill will teach players how to use the same fundamentals they learned in the previous two drills and apply them as their body, and that of the ball carrier's, are angled.

For this drill, you'll need three cones and two players.

The first two cones should be set up in front of each of the players, spaced 10 yards apart from each other.

The third cone should be spaced 10 yards apart from the first two and form a triangle with the other cones.

A coach will blow a whistle to start the drill.

The offensive player will run on an angle outside the cones and toward the third cone at the point of the triangle.

The defensive player should run at a similar angle on the outside of the cones on his side.

While he's doing so, he needs to keep his eyes on the offensive player and his shoulders square the whole time.

As the two players approach the top of the triangle, the defensive player needs to cut off the ball carrier by making an angle tackle.

To do this, he'll need to put both his body and his helmet in front of the offensive player and across his numbers.

Once he reaches the ball carrier, the tackler needs to sink his hips and explode up while running straight through the ball carrier.

On contact, the tackler needs to continue to move his feet so that he can drive through the ball carrier, and his helmet must remain in front of the ball carrier.

This drill should be run at half speed to avoid heavy contact in practice.

You can, however, run it at close to full speed but have the tackler ease up and not initiate hard contact with the ball carrier.

The idea, again, is to teach players how to perform an angle tackle, but you don't want your offensive players to get hurt in the process.

4. Sideline Tackling

Sideline Tackling Diagram

This drill will layer another great technique on top of the angle tackling drill.

It teaches defenders a very important lesson:

That the sideline can act as a 12th defender.

By forcing ball carriers to the outside of the field, they can use the sideline to their advantage -- either making tackles easier to perform or forcing ball carriers to run out of bounds.

You'll need three cones to set up this drill.

Two should be placed about five yards apart from each other along one of the sidelines.

The third cone should be placed about five yards away from the sideline, and about halfway between the two other cones.

The triangle that these cones create will form the "playing field" of this drill.

To start the drill, a defender and a ball carrier will each line up about five yards back from the innermost cone, facing each other.

The drill will start when the coach blows the whistle.

When he does so, the ball carrier will run toward the sideline inside the triangle formed by the cones.

The tackler will run toward the ball carrier at the same time. The players must remain inside the triangle at all times. 

The tackler needs to focus on the ball carrier's hip and shoulder, angling him toward the sideline.

He can't let him escape to the direction away from the sideline, back toward the open field.

Once the ball carrier then turns upfield in the direction of the sideline, the tackler should begin his breakdown into the tackling position.

He'll then wrap up the ball carrier once he gets to the point of contact.

The idea is to either perform a tackle or force the ball carrier out of bounds.

5. Mirror Drill

This more advanced tackling drill will teach defenders how to pursue ball carriers downfield, keeping their eyes on them while they’re running downfield before they close to perform a tackle.

You'll need six cones to set up this drill.

The cones should be set up in a straight line with each cone separated by a few feet.

One group of players will serve as ball carriers, and one will serve as tacklers.

One player from each group will line up just to the left of the first cone, about five yards apart from each other and facing each other.

The drill will start when the coach blows the whistle.

The ball carrier will run down the line of cones, with the football placed in his outside arm that's away from the tackler.

The tackler will mirror the ball carrier, running down the line on his side of the cones.

He should remain low while he does so, facing the ball carrier at all times.

At some point during the drill, the ball carrier will turn upfield through one of the gaps in the cones.

The tackler's job is to recognize the ball carrier making this cut upfield and angle his body to cut him off and make a tackle using the proper technique.

To do so, he needs to use the techniques he learned in the angle tackling drill.

He needs to keep his hips low, his feet spread wide, and his chest and eyes faced up.

He'll then wrap his arms around the ball carrier and explode up out of his hips to drive the ball carrier backward.

A football player tackling another player during a practice game


Teaching the basics of tackling using the above football tackling drills is the most important thing defensive coaches can do for their players.

You can work for hours on positional drills and defensive schemes, but it won't be worth anything if your players don't know how to tackle properly.

Tackling is a skill that needs to be taught at the youngest ages of football, but it's also something that needs to be reinforced and worked on as players advance to higher levels of the game.

Ultimately, tackling is probably the most important skill any defender will learn.

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