[The Breakdown] Beyond the Tackle: Teaching Anticipation

ATAVUS Football has been busy since its inception last year. Driven by Rex Norris, the ATAVUS arm has been working with NCAA and professional football programs, most notably integrating rugby inspired tackling that satisfies growing player-welfare concerns. But the rugby and football coach is doing more than teaching a safer tackle. The call for more non-contact, non-padded skill work – across both sports – has provided an opportunity to educate all coaches on how to better engage and prepare their athletes.

And that’s precisely what Norris intends to address during the 4th annual ATAVUS coaching conference in Las Vegas (read more). The coach will address the finer points of the tackle, which is taught exactly the same in both rugby and football, but use that particular skill to demonstrate how coaches can diversify a player’s education for a more intuitive game. Conveniently, Norris’ Kent U19 Girls team offers some practical insight:

Last year, 34 girls showed up to the first day of practice on March 1. Twenty-six of those players had never touched a rugby ball. So Norris focused on the core elements of rugby – tackling and rucking – and forewent grander concepts like attacking structure and set pieces until later in the season. Consequently, Kent was self aware of its capabilities and more confident for it, and by May 17, the Crusaders were competing for a national championship.

“It wasn’t because we had a ton of great athletes coming through – that wasn’t it,” Norris said. “They understood what they could and couldn’t do. We committed full force to the educational coaching style of ATAVUS and applied it to tackling, and applied it to rugby.”

Norris introduces the technical and then the tactical aspects of the tackle, and then varies the level of complexity, speed and level of contact in drills. That pressure doesn’t just develop a skill; it promotes learning in a more flowing, game-based manner, “which is really the kind of education that is working with today’s youth and the kind of environment they’re in,” said Norris.

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