Last weekend, PPL Park in Chester, PA, hosted the Penn Mutual Collegiate Rugby Championship. Inside the home of the Philsadelipa Union, high school and small college rugby teams competed for titles. But on the practice fields outside, kids were running drills led by rugby and football coaches.
The activity was part of the free Heads Up tackling clinic, which was set up by the Championship organizers to teach aspiring football and rugby players how to tackle safely.
But instead of teaching football tackling methods, the young athletes learned skills from one of the fastest growing sports in America: rugby.
Rugby is a tackle sport played without any pads or helmets, meaning that players have to know how to tackle safely and keep their heads out of the way.
Although football players wear helmets and other protective gear, head-on collisions are still unsafe. That’s why many people think that teaching kids rugby tackling techniques will improve the safety of football while making the kids better players.
One of the event’s organizers was former Philadelphia Eagles linebacker Ike Reese. Others included his former teammate Hollis Thomas and the NFL Director of Football Development Matt Birk.
As someone who has suffered from head trauma throughout his career, Reese thinks that if he had the chance to learn safe tackling techniques as a child, he would not have experienced so many concussions.
“I think with the way football is getting played today and with everyone being smart and being safe, a lot of the things applied in rugby, tackling-wise, can be applied in football,” said former Eagles’ linebacker Ike Reese. “So I think for the kids that are going to get this exposure to rugby, there are techniques they’ll learn that they can apply to a game of football.”
One team at the clinic was the Chester Panthers, a local youth football organization. Their coach said he has seen many head injuries, and he wanted his players to come to the event in order to learn how to play more safely.
Players and coaches on teams like the Panthers are exactly the people this clinic was designed for, according organizer Donald Wash.
“The coaches are looking for different ways of teaching kids to tackle,” Walsh said. ”What they’ve learned is that applying techniques you automatically learn in a sport like rugby to football makes the tackling experience safer for players, and more accomplished.”
From the looks on the faces of the young participants, learning to play it safe with their NFL idols made for a good day on the playing field.
Photo: Al Tielemans for Sports Illustrated