Football

What to Expect from Mandatory Tackling Certification

Atavus is the official provider of tackling certification in Texas


by John Gallagher, VP Marketing

When Rex Norris, Jr., takes the stage during this month’s tackling certification event, he doesn’t intend to lecture, and he isn’t going to say you’ve been doing things the wrong way.

No, instead he intends to empower you to get even better at what you’ve been doing.

“Coaches often ask me, ‘Why are you the experts? Why should I be listening to you, you’re not even from here?’” Norris said. “But the truth of the matter is, we’re not here to tell them what they’re doing is wrong. We’re here to help them see how to be better.”

Norris has spent the better part of two decades coaching high school football in Texas and Washington State, and as the son of a former NFL assistant, he has been around football for the entirety of his life. He also spent nearly two decades coaching a nationally renowned rugby program, which has sent a handful of players to the top levels of the sport.

Tackling Certificaiton at Coaching School
Coaches completing the assessment at the THSCA Coaching School

Like all successful coaches, Norris bases his coaching decisions on evidence – film, statistical data and analyzing the trends. Keeping the head out of the tackle and implementing shoulder-led techniques are not only intuitively safer, they’re also proven to make tackling more effective.

“There’s still a lot being learned about injuries, especially concussions. You don’t have to get too technical in the way you measure that. Everybody believes and understands that if a player uses his head, that’s not safe,” Norris said. “We have a simple measurement of head contact. called ‘unnecessary head contact.’ In situations where the head does not need to be employed, through our analysis we can identify if your head is being used or not.”

Adopting these new philosophies is not very different from adopting a new defensive philosophy. You’re taking something which is proven to work and using it to make your team better. This is what Norris and Atavus want to do for tackling.

Joining Norris in front of coaches on July 24 will be Kellen Gordon. As the High School Program Director for Atavus, Gordon spends his days in front of high school coaches across the country. (He is also a player for Major League Rugby’s Seattle Seawolves, winners of the 2018 league championship.)

“Atavus’ background in rugby and in football, along with the amount of time we’ve spent focused on tackling, have really helped us become more of an expert for coaches, not over coaches,” Gordon said.

Prominent coaches who’ve adopted shoulder-led techniques, or “rugby-style” tackling, include Mark Dantonio at Michigan State University, Chris Petersen at the University of Washington, Chris Ash at Rutgers, Urban Meyer at Ohio State and Pete Carroll of the Seattle Seahawks.

The goal for coaches to be certified in Texas is to empower them with new techniques for educating players.

Atavus’ tackling technique can be broken into three parts:

  • Execution. How to maximize power and control with contact for safer and more effective contact.
  • Drill variation. Different types of drills that address different stages of learning a motor skill help to maximize the small amount of time high school coaches get with their athletes.
  • Different types of contact when teaching tackling. Using a progression-based approach means tackling can be taught year-round in shorts, not just padded up and full contact. You can drill and teach the different techniques that make tackling effective without actual contact.

    At the heart of this training and certification is the desire to help the athletes become safer. When they practice safer habits, they enhance the safety of the entire sport. And it all comes down to what the coaches are teaching the athletes. What you’ve been doing isn’t wrong, but the way you can teach tackling in the future can be better.