The infamous Oklahoma Drill was created more than 70 years ago now by Bud Wilkinson, the former coach of the University of Oklahoma football team who won three national championships and 14 conference titles.
While some aspects of the game of football that were created that long ago are still relevant today, this archaic and dangerous drill is not one of them.
Many "old-school" football players, coaches, and fans think the game is becoming "soft" today, but there is plenty of evidence that not only does the Oklahoma Drill put players at risk of serious injury, but it doesn't have many benefits at all.
Despite this, the NFL had to step in and officially ban the Oklahoma Drill a few seasons ago, as some teams were still conducting it.
The Oklahoma Drill is not something that any coach at any level should force on their players, but especially not at the youth level.
Let's take a look at what the Oklahoma Drill is and why it's dangerous.
What is the Oklahoma Drill?
The Oklahoma Drill is a one-on-one or two-on-one drill that is as much about intimidation and "manhood" as it is skill.
It's a drill that doesn't really teach much at all, either…
It simply pits one player against another in a dangerous situation and crowns one the winner and the other the loser.
The way it is set up is a channel roughly three feet wide and nine feet long is set up somewhere on the field, and the rest of the team and coaches surround the channel in a circle.
Two players will start the drill lined up facing each other roughly three yards apart.
The coach will then blow the whistle to start the drill, and the two players will attack each other.
Take a look...
The goal of the drill is to either knock the player down on the ground or drive him out of the corridor.
While this is going on, the team circled around will often scream, yell and chant -- with an eruption of applause and screams for the "winner" and jars for the "loser."
Sounds quite barbaric, doesn’t it?
It's reminiscent of the Roman Colosseum.
Another variation of the drill will see two players on offense with one player on defense. The corridor will be widened a bit to create a little bit more room.
The same two players will line up facing each other, but a third player who serves as a running back will stand behind the offensive player.
The goal of the drill is for the offensive player to successfully block the defender, and for the defender to shed the block and get to the ball carrier.
What Are the Dangers of the Oklahoma Drill?
Head injuries in all sports, but football especially, have garnered a lot of attention in the medical field over the last 20 years.
The Center for the Study of Retired Athletes at the University of North Carolina released a report in 2003 that found a connection between numerous concussions and depression among former professional football players.
A 2004 doctoral dissertation by Don Brady expanded on that, and he eventually filed objections to a settlement offer the NFL made to former players who suffered concussions.
It is now scientifically proven that direct blows to the head can cause a concussion, which is defined as a head injury that temporarily affects brain functioning.
Repeated concussions can lead to what's known as CTE, or Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy, a disease that has been linked to many former players' deaths in recent years.
It's a serious disease that can cause headaches, sleep disturbances, anxiety, depression, and/or memory loss.
While this may sound extreme, it's exactly what the Oklahoma Drill promotes:
Head-on collisions that often result in violent contact to each player's head.
At a time when the entire football world is working to make the game safer, why would coaches still want to run the Oklahoma Drill with their team?
The Oklahoma Drill is one of those outdated things that doesn't apply to today's game of football anymore.
It probably should have never applied to the game of football, but the fact remains that it did at one point.
Today's game is much more about skill and the appreciation of playing the game without having to prove you're a tough guy.
Why Do People Still Run the Oklahoma Drill?
There once was a time when football coaches drilled home these barbaric thoughts of players being better men if they hit harder, worked harder, and -- scary enough -- even caused another player to get hurt.
While most of that view about football is gone today, some of that sentiment is still unfortunately present in around the game.
Some of these coaches try to defend the drill as something that can teach players skills that are relevant to the game.
One of those people is University of South Carolina head football coach Will Muschamp.
At a Southeastern Conference coaches meeting in July 2019 -- after the NFL announced it was banning the Oklahoma Drill -- Muschamp said:
"It's a drill that teaches offensively to finish a block, to get your hands inside, to play with pad level, to do all the basic fundamentals you do on every single snap in a football game … The basic fundamentals of what you would say happens on every single football play goes into that drill."
Despite that quite convincing comment, though, Muschamp followed it up with another statement that shows there is a sense of barbarity mixed in with the logic:
"It's man-on-man, and lining up and whipping somebody's a**. That's what it all comes down to."
Youth football isn't about whipping anybody, or trying to prove that you're more of a man than anyone else -- whether that person be on your team, the other team, or just someone else in general.
Youth football is about teaching the skills needed to play an excellent sport and to come together with friends and teammates to have fun.
Many Coaches Agree the Drill Should Be Banned
At that same SEC coaches meeting, there were a few other coaches who didn't agree with Muschamp's assessment of the Oklahoma Drill.
Georgia head coach Kirby Smart:
“I don't see it culturally bonding to put two men 10 yards apart and ram them."
And Tennessee head coach Jeremy Pruitt:
"I don't know how it makes you a better football player."
There Are Other, More Effective Ways to Teach the Skills
If you take away the intimidation factor from the Oklahoma Drill -- and the celebration of the winner and jeering of the loser -- the drill does seek to teach some solid, fundamental football skills.
At its core, the Oklahoma Drill is trying to teach leverage, pad level, using your hands, shedding blocks, and preventing others from shedding blocks.
Fundamentally, these are all great skills for youth football players to learn -- essential ones, in fact.
But there are much less barbaric ways of doing so that don't threaten a kid's psyche and his health at the same time.
There is no reason why this drill needs to be run by pitting one player against another. Coaches can easily teach the same skills by using bags that they hold up.
This ensures that the contact the player is making during the drill is with something that is soft and will cushion him when he falls to the ground.
You can even run both versions of the Oklahoma Drill using bags instead of players.
For the second version, where the one defender will try to shed a block and then get to the ball carrier, you can have one player stand behind a coach who will be holding a bag.
The coach can encourage the defender to shed the block, and then release the bag to let him get to the ball carrier.
This can also be done at a slower speed with the running back, so that there is hardly any contact at all.
After all, hard contact isn't really necessary in a practice setting.
A coach using a bag would accomplish exactly the same thing as the traditional version of the Oklahoma Drill does, only in a much safer way.
There really is no place in today's youth football game for the Oklahoma Drill.
In fact, there really is no place in the game of football at all for the Oklahoma Drill -- no matter what level of the game we're talking about.
Football is a great game.
It's a game that requires a lot of skill. It's a game that teaches kids how to work together as a team to accomplish a common goal.
It's a game that can give kids confidence to do great things in life, on and off the field, and to become leaders.
And while it is a game that of course comes with some risk of injury since all contact can't be avoided, it doesn't have to be the barbaric sport that it once was promoted as.
Football can still be about good, solid tackles and hits without celebrating a player's injury or putting someone in harm's way.
If you are a football coach who still uses the Oklahoma Drill, stop now.
If you are the head of a football league or on its board, ban it now.
Today's game of football has outgrown the Oklahoma Drill.
There simply is no place in the sport for it.