USA Football’s Heads Up Football program isn’t just making the game safer. It’s building better football players and helping coaches create better practice plans.
When the Fairfax County (Va.) Public Schools adopted Heads Up Football and implemented the program in their 25 district high schools, the coaches were encouraged to add Heads Up Tackling drills to their teams’ already cramped practice sessions.
Chris Haddock, head coach of the Centreville H.S. football team and USA Football master trainer, introduced the Heads Up Tackling drills and fundamentals to other district coaches prior to their teams’ two-a-day practice sessions. He says, “By the time we got to football in August with pads and two-a-days, implementing the techniques and fundamentals was a smooth transition.”
Haddock and his fellow coaches found the Heads Up Football practice plan more valuable than some of their previous approaches. Haddock says, “The coaches found pretty quickly that you can go through a great tackling circuit—maybe a better tackling circuit than they’ve been using—in 15 minutes.”
The USA Football Heads Up Tackling protocol teaches five fundamentals through a series of drills that reinforce proper technique for tackling and show players how to tackle while reducing helmet contact.
Here’s a rundown of the primary Heads Up Football tackling techniques, with the drills that reinforce the skills (all of which are demonstrated in the above video entitled “The Five Pillars of Heads Up Football”).
This is the basic starting point for all football movements. Players set their feet shoulder-width apart, squeeze their shoulder blades back, bend their knees and lower their hips to get into a low, pad-level position before bringing their hands in front of their bodies.
“Buzz” action describes taking heel-to-toe strides to close in on a ball carrier. Defensive players attack from a wide base, chopping their feet on either side of a cushioned bag while maintaining body control. Players buzz their feet and finish in the hit position, ready to deliver a strike.
From the breakdown position, players take a downhill power step into an imaginary hole, getting low in a staggered stance with their hands brought back to their hips, ready to explode up and through contact with an ascending blow.
This drill teaches players to open their hips to generate power through the tackle. From a kneeling position on the ground in front of the bag, players shoot their hips forward, keeping their heads and eyes up, and drive forward onto the bag.
“Rip” action describes an upper-body motion that replaces the conventional wrap-up tackling technique. Rip action works with the Shoot to generate a rising blow up into the ball carrier that takes the tackler’s head out of the collision. Players assume the Hit position in front of a horizontal bag held waist high. Players then snap their arms up with double uppercuts, open their hips to shoot forward and drive through the bag for 3 or 4 steps.
Watch the drills in action in the video above, and find out how you can incorporate them into your practice schedule.