“There are ways to alter drills so you can do tackling without major collisions,” Woods said. “Things like footwork and ripping through blocks are easier to teach when it’s not full speed. It’s a fine line: people love the big hits, but coaches like when it’s fourth down and the other team has to punt. We don’t care how they got there.”
The best way to avoid head injuries is to hit with the shoulders and wrap up with the arms. All the power you need to bring down a ballcarrier comes from the hips and legs.
“My coaches growing up told us to put our nose in his chest. No one thought there would be any problems,” Worth said. “You have to make first contact with your shoulder. You can’t lead with the head — and the biggest thing is to teach that technique.”
Football remains unique among sports in terms of its physical, violent nature. That, and the bond it creates between teammates and rivals alike, hasn’t and will not change. This is simply a matter of managing that contact in a way that keeps players safe and healthy and may actually improve on the on-field product.
“It’s still low man wins, still blocking and tackling. It doesn’t matter if its Knute Rockne, Bill Walsh or Bill Belichick; those are the keys,” said Pugh. “It’s still aggressive, hard-nosed football.”
The fact that kids spend more time lifting weights and doing summer conditioning than ever before is one more piece in this puzzle. Coaches don’t have to pound their teams into the ground during camp to build stamina for the fourth quarter, and that allows them to spend more time on technique.
“That’s the biggest obstacle we face as high school coaches. The pros and college have four weeks or more to prepare for that first game — and we basically have two,” said Dembowski. “Time we can spend on technique is time well spent.”