Football Basics: Learning Defense

In the early days of football, the rules were such that the team on defense was favored over the team with the ball. The game emphasized stout defenses. A great many contests were decided by a lone score.

Certainly one of the top thrills in a football game occurs when a team makes a successful “goal-line stand.” Such a defensive stand has turned the tide of many a game. It is not a matter of luck and it is not accidental. It is the result of the defensive players knowing and performing the following fundamentals.


Whenever football talk turns to the defensive part of the game, the main topic of discussion is the tackling ability of each member of the team. The main point, of course, is to stop the progress of the other team’s ball carrier. You want to accomplish this as soon as possible after he has the ball.

The Shoulder Tackle

There are many ways of stopping a ball carrier. However, the fundamental one, the one you should concentrate on developing, is making good, solid contact with either one of your shoulders in the area above the mid-point of the ball carrier’s thigh.

1. Immediately before you contact the ball carrier, have your body in a crouched, coiled position. Do this by having a good bend in your knees and your hips. As body contact is made, your feet must be well-spread, your toes pointing forward. Keep the weight of your body evenly balanced on the balls of your feet. You must have your entire body under complete control. Then, you can change your movement in any way necessary without losing any of your power.

2. Keep your eyes directed toward the ball carrier’s mid-section, right on his belt buckle. This part is the easiest for your eyes to follow as it is the center of his body and it makes a steady target. If you have your eyes on some other part of his body, a quick side step by the ball carrier can fool you into moving the wrong way.

3. Contact is best made somewhere above the mid-point of the opponent’s thigh. Your head immediately slides to the side opposite the shoulder used in the tackle. If you use your right shoulder, your head goes to the left. Using your left shoulder, your head goes to the right.

4. In making contact with your opponent, come out of your crouched position with a snapping spring-like action. Direct an upward driving force into your opponent with your shoulder by straightening your knees and pushing hard off your toes. As contact is made, your shoulder should be going into your opponent at an upward angle.

5. At the same instant, wrap your arms around your opponent’s legs. With your right hand grasp your left wrist or left forearm. You can also reverse this by using your left hand to grasp your right wrist or right forearm.

6. As the shoulder makes contact and the arms go around the opponent’s legs, you have a double action. Your shoulder is pushing the upper part of the opponent’s body backwards. Your arms are pulling his legs out from under him.

This double action, working in opposite directions, destroys the ball carrier’s balance and down he goes!

7. Sometimes it is more effective to aim your shoulder for the area slightly above the opponent’s knees. This is a good idea when your opponent is unusually tall and strong. On still other occasions, you make a low tackle, going for your opponent’s legs below his knees.

8. When making your tackle from either side of the ball carrier, rather than head-on, try to get as much of the upper part of your body, particularly your chest, directly in front of your opponent. This will help slow or stop his forward progress. At the same instant, you grasp his legs with your arms to pull his feet out from under him.

With practice, this kind of defensive action will become second nature to you!

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