Rugby Tackling Drills For Youth And High School Football Teams

Written By: Chris Haddad
Updated: April 22, 2024

Organizing meaningful tackling drills is one of the most important things a coach can do. Coaches worldwide are teaching different styles of football tackling, but what is the most efficient and effective?

In this article, we spoke to HHH Tackling Academy’s Spencer Smith, who walked us through his tackling progression and how he teaches his athletes.

Football Tackling Drills

The main difference between football and rugby is the spacing in which players close to make contact. However, the closing distance and contact points are no different between football and rugby players.

Both contact styles require a strong foundation of leg drive, shoulder contact, wrap from the arms, and the head to be ultimately out of the tackle.

It’s important to do drills like the ones we will show you. Don’t get stuck in the traditional Oklahoma drill routine, where players are susceptible to injury. The videos below are the ones that youth football coaches should be teaching.

Seattle Seahawks introduced their hawk tackling system, a similar rugby-style tackle that has gone viral.

Coach Spencer Smith has adopted similar rugby-style tackling practices with his football spin.

Coach Smith is the co-founder of HHH Tackling Academy. This academy helps players improve their tackling technique and make the game safer for the tackler and the runner.

In his three-year career as the tackling coordinator, he has taken his team from 25 missed tackles a game down to 6. This drastic drop in missed tackles is mainly due to his rugby-style teachings at HHH Tackling Academy.

Coach Smith has broken down his three components of tackling. He has worked with youth football players, as well as NFL players. The shoulder tackling approach is a safe way to introduce straight line tackling techniques.

How To Teach Tackling

3 components of rugby style tackling for football

We’re going to cover the three components of tackling. This framework will help your players get into a better position to make a tackle.

Missed tackles are often caused due to poor angles and positioning.

Get Into Position

Getting into position for rugby style tackling for football

Defensive players must be in the proper position to tackle a runner effectively. Coach Smith references the appropriate focus point, and the tracking point is the near hip of the running back.

The hip is the center of the ball carrier’s body. If the offensive player wants to move in any direction, they must adjust their hip angle and drive toward that direction.

Focusing on the defender’s hip will also help with leverage. Offensive players will often cut back on defensive players if they have poor leverage.

To maintain proper leverage on the ball carrier, keep your near shoulder even with the runner’s near hip as you close the ground.

Missed tackles are often a result of poor leverage and balance. Coming to balance means balancing yourself to move in either direction while maintaining enough leverage and power to deliver a proper tackle.

Establish Contact

establish contact during a rugby style tackling for football

The next phase after the player has got into position is to establish contact with the ball carrier.

Starting with the force from the ground, Coach Smith teaches a power step: the same foot and same shoulder. Once the tackler has established his lower body positioning, attack 1/2, a man to make sufficient contact in the runner’s leg.

Once the tackler is in position, Coach Smith wants an active shoulder. Active shoulders mean the near shoulder should contact the ball carrier while the arms are being shot around the runner.

The arms should squeeze tightly around the ball carrier’s legs to use proper technique.

Finally, and most importantly, the head placement. Different from traditional tackling methods. Contact with the ball carrier should include no head within the tackle. This is what makes the rugby style of tackling so unique.

The head is placed on the side of the ball carrier, which is different from the “head across” technique frequently taught. According to coach Smith, taking the head out of the tackle is more effective and prohibits cutbacks.

Coach Smith uses the “cheek to cheek” coaching cue, meaning the tackler should put his cheek on the side of the runner’s lower cheek. This coaching cue forces the tackler to get low enough to strike the legs and make an impactful tackle.

Uncover your opponent’s offensive and defensive tendencies so you can easily build a game plan.

Inside You’ll Find:

  • Strategies to pick apart defenses
  • How to identify player weaknesses
  • How to save time in your weekly breakdowns

Finish Tackle

Finishing the rugby style tackling for football

Last is the finishing part of the tackle. Once contact has been established, the arms should wrap the person carrying the ball. Coach Smith teaches to shoot the arms from the chest. This will bring the force into the tackle, rather than rounding the arms to wrap. This motion is comparable to football players’ off-season lifts, such as bench presses and pushups.

Squeezing the legs into your active shoulder will bring the ball carrier to the ground and immobile him.

The coach makes a note of not stopping the feet through contact. Players must continue to chase the tackle once contact is made. When the feet stop, often, players will widen their base and lose contact. Coach Smith wants players to run their feet through contact to put ball carriers on the ground.

Football Tackling Drills

Coach Spencer Smith shares the most impactful drills that he does daily. These video drills are great for young players such as 7, 8, 9, and 10-year-olds and high school, college, and NFL players.

All of these drills can be done with or without pads. Coach Smith recommends that players get a feel for these drills without pads; they can transfer their technique to padded practices.

This is a great way to practice fundamentals and teach players how to absorb heavy contact from running backs.

Triangle Tackling Drill

The Triangle drill requires three players to start on their knees. Players will begin with the player on either side. Once they make a tackle, they will reposition themselves back to the starting point.

Football tackling drills

From here, the defensive player will tackle the other ball carrier. Starting from the knees is a great way to teach players to tackle properly and establish effective contact with the ball carrier.

The tackler will go back and forth for four reps and then rotate between players.

Mel Tackling Drill

The “Mel” tackling drill is an angle tackling drill that focuses on players getting into position and using the 3 step progression to finish the tackle.

Mel tackling drill rugby style tackling for football

Coach Smith uses this drill in practice and on the game day. This drill requires players to come downhill at an angle, emphasizing getting into position and finishing the tackle.

This drill is great for game situations and how to develop skills necessary for linebackers to tackle on the run.

Warrior Tackling Drill

Coach Smith uses the warrior drill for footwork and finish. Players standing on the blue cone will move at a 45-degree angle to their right or left.

tackling drills for football

The tacklers will focus on getting their feet into position, wrapping the arms, and finishing through the tackle. The warrior drill is an excellent progression into fitting up a ball carrier and teaching tackling at full speed.

Lion’s Den Tackling Drill

This multi-progression drill allows both players to get significant reps over time. Coach Smith was able to reduce his missed tackles per game due in large part to these drills.

Tackling Drills For Football

The emphasis of this drill is to get into position, tracking, and leverage. This drill will help prevent cutbacks and help defensive players take the proper angles to the ball carrier.

One major point of emphasis in The Lion’s Den is to make sure to finish with the palms on the thigh.

This allows the tackler to be in the proper body position to strike the thighs and the legs as the tackler progresses through the tackle.

Bear Trap Tackling Drill

The bear trap drill is a two-part drill that allows two players to get equal, quality reps. First, the ball carrier and tackler will start back to back. Each player will go around the cone placed in front of them, and the tackler will make an open-field tackler.

Tackling Drills For Football

From here, the ball carrier and runner will switch positions. The next set of cones will be an open-field tackling drill. This requires tacklers to bring the ball carrier to the ground in a game-like situation.

Both the runner and tackler should be moving at full speed, emphasizing the drill is to be as close to simulating a game as possible.

Quad Tackling Drill

The quad is a gauntlet-style tackling drill that forces the tackler to come to balance for each ball carrier he encounters. As the name states, four players will be aligned on four cones.

Tackling Drills For Football

The tackler will run to each of the four ball carriers and emphasize getting into position. This non-contact drill requires players to get their feet in the right position, pad level at the right angle, and head near the cheek.

Coach Smith hops on one main coaching point because the players need to have their feet, hips, hands, and shoulders properly upon contact. Players who have arms extended will often lunge and miss the ball carrier. This drill will help clean up and expose players who are not in the correct position.

Keep Learning

Creating tackling drills is one of the hardest things to do. That’s why we did the work for you. We’ve created 150+ Drills for coaches that has a section dedicated to tackling drills.

We’ve also created courses that will teach you how to block destruct and create havoc for the offense. See below.

Uncover your opponent’s offensive and defensive tendencies so you can easily build a game plan.

Inside You’ll Find:

  • Strategies to pick apart defenses
  • How to identify player weaknesses
  • How to save time in your weekly breakdowns

All of the drills can be found in the video above. These drills can help all youth football and high school teams improve. They will also help you play defense more effectively through better tackling.

Rugby tackling is the new, safe way coaches teach tackling in football. Coaches like Coach Spencer Smith are leading the charge of helping better the game through this safe and effective tackling practice.

These drills can be found on Coach Smith’s Twitter, and you can learn more about his teachings at

Let’s keep learning! Our learning center is packed with techniques, schemes, and more!

If you’re looking for more in-depth breakdowns & coaching resources, visit our coaching resource page here.

If you have any questions about tackling or any drill shown above, contact us on Twitter @vIQtorySports or contact us directly!

About the author 

Chris Haddad

Chris Haddad is the founder of vIQtory Sports & high school coach for over 12+ years. He has been featured as an authority on Hudl, Bleacher Report and countless other football-centric platforms. Chris continues to study and provide valuable content for those looking to learn more about the game of football.