Rugby-style Tackling Catching On In Football

Imagine you’re a linebacker faced with tackling a strong running back. He’s barreling full speed toward you. And he’s big. You want to tackle him, but if you use your head to slow him down he might give you a concussion. So how do you bring him down? Is it even possible to tackle a player while focusing on avoiding a head-on collision?

That’s where rugby-style tackling comes in. Coaches across the country are starting to teach players how to lead with their shoulders and keep their heads completely out of the play. And they’re working with a company called Atavus to help train their teams.

Atavus began six years ago as a rugby business, but has since shifted its focus toward the intersection of rugby and football. Today, the company partners with the Seattle Seahawks, Ohio State University, the University of Nebraska, and other programs to spread the word about this safer tackling technique.

“When one considers that an average football player has roughly 1,500 points of contact during a season, that’s a lot of chances to have impact in areas which we don’t believe needs to happen,” Atavus president Ron Lloyd said. “We believe that this game is going to continue to be a physical, entertaining sport provided that we get people to buy into the concept that there is a safer way to tackle.”

As a youth football coach, Lloyd has seen first-hand how Atavus can keep football players healthy. His son spent a year in and out of hospitals, unable to play football, after a misdiagnosis of a stroke. Doctors eventually told Lloyd’s son that he could return to football but would have to stop if he suffered a concussion. 

Using the Atavus techniques, he has played four years with no issues — all the while starting on both offense and defense. 

Atavus is one of many groups aiming to make football safer. Riddell has developed helmets that monitor impact. The NFL recently made its concussion protocol stricter. But what makes Atavus and its tackling style unique is that it actually helps teams perform better, too.

New Rutgers head coach Chris Ash knows this as well as anybody.

Ash spent his previous two seasons as defensive coordinator at Ohio State, where his defense improved each year. He adopted the rugby-style tackling in his first season, and his defense improved from 47th in the country to 19th. The following year, the Buckeyes used Atavus’ program and became a top-10 defense nationally.

“For our defensive staff and our defensive players at Ohio State, it was drastic improvement,” Ash said. “They really were confident in what we were teaching.”

Rugby-style tackling is about the combination of safety and effectiveness, which is why Ash said he believed it would continue to grow into a widespread practice in football. 

“When a lot of people are having success doing it, more people are open to trying it,” Ash said. “I think it’ll catch on and become the way people teach tackling at all levels.”

Visit the Atavus website to learn more about the company and its program.

Photos courtesy Atavus

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