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Contact Preparation

Athletes of all sports spend ample time year round perfecting their sport specific skills necessary to excel on the field or court of play. Baseball players practice their swing in and out of season, basketball players take hundreds of shots day after day, hockey players crank out countless slap shots throughout the year. Can you imagine these athletes neglecting to work on these crucial skills for the better part of a year each and every year?

At its core, American Football is a game of blocking and tackling. Yet because of the rules at the high school (NFHS) and college (NCAA, etc.) levels, football programs will often let the skills of blocking and tackling go dormant for the entire off-season. Players continue to throw and catch in 7-on-7, but contact drills are typically taboo.

Be Prepared

My favorite song in the only perfect movie ever made, The Lion King, is Scar’s “Be Prepared.” Much like hockey players will skate and shoot all off-season to stay ready, football players need to be prepared to block and tackle come day one of fall camp.

At EB Athletics we plan to spend this summer, and every off season, working on contact preparation periods with our American Football and Rugby athletes (and anyone else that wants to practice contact) with coaches certified via USA Football in contact, blocking and tackling.

The Why of Contact Preparation

Many injuries in sports occur because the athlete isn’t prepared for the demands of practice or the game. Preparing an athlete can be as simple as conditioning the body to meet the game’s energy system needs or by prepping the hamstrings for a 50-yard touchdown run with full speed sprinting.

We can prepare the visual-cognitive-motor skills for split second decision making using real agility drills, just like we can prepare the athlete for contact. Here are three reasons why you need to be prepared by focusing on contact prep this summer.

1- It’s a skill and it has to be practiced. Safe contact does not come naturally to most players. Shoulder tackling (aka rugby tackling) is the method of keeping your head behind the tackle and using the near shoulder to make contact with the ball carrier’s near hip.

It’s not a natural instinct for humans to run into each other at full speed. Our natural inclination is to get along and get ahead, not pick the leg and re-accelerate through contact while smashing down on the hard ground.

While injuries can happen to anyone at any time, an athlete is less likely to be injured during contact if they are ‘conditioned’ to contact, and if their teammate is a well skilled tackler.

The athlete needs to be prepared for multiple tackle heights (levels), angles (entry into tackle) and distances between the tackler and ball carrier. It’s a learned skill, not a natural talent.

2- It’s a demand for both practices and games. Many coaches are concerned with “conditioning” players so they’re, “fit for the fourth quarter,” but they don’t realize that in order to meet the demands of August 1st practice, being prepared to make contact over and over is key.

Most football players in North Carolina aren’t working on contact prep from November through August. Contact prep drills at EBA can be the method to fill the bucket that’s missed via the NFHS rulebook. And they’ll be performed safely and under the training of a certified coach.

3- Unintended benefit: confidence. All goals are achieved through clarity, confidence and conviction. Clarity is having a Purpose. Confidence is the self-efficacy to believe that you can achieve that goal, and Conviction is going out and actually achieving your goals (effort).

As stated previously, it’s not natural for someone to run their body into another person. Many coaches will wrongfully believe that aggression is the trait that wins a tackle in football. That couldn’t be more false in the vast majority of tackles.

What wins blocks and tackles in football is going to be the player’s confidence in their technique. If I am more clear on the goal, and how to achieve it, and I have the confidence to do so, the conviction to tackle the ball carrier, or finish a block, will follow.

Contact prep drills build confidence in tacklers. Athletes are put in advantageous situations that are safe and well

taught to develop the base skill. Once the basic technique is learned, a well planned progression is the key to building more advanced skill and keeping the players safe and confident in their ability.

The How of Contact Preparation

After the athletes have gone through their recovery block, we can begin contact preparation at the most basic levels. There are five phases that we use in programming contact preparation. We will focus on tackling for American Football and Rugby athletes below.

Phase 1: Basic grappling and pre-fit contact work with predetermined winners and losers.

Phase 2: Close contact, pre-fit and one-step apart; changing levels (heights) | Shield/off ground

Phase 3: Tackler will move to ball carrier. Levels of tackle unknown pre-snap | Use shield

Phase 4: Angles, levels, depth all change per rep. Contact to crash pad | Use shield/Pad

Phase 5: Same as P4, add in distractions, blockers, one-arm contact prep | Shield/Ground

After Phase 5 the athlete should be prepared for August 1st camp for NCHSAA football players, and the fall rugby season for rugby athletes. Use your summer to become prepared, confident, and skilled in the demands of your sport, including contact.

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