SIDELINE OBSERVATIONS: Football players need tackling practice

Published: Tuesday, July 29, 2014 at 04:36 PM.

The California state legislature passed a bill last week limiting high school football teams to three hours a week of seasonal tackling practice.

The law — which allows for 90-minute sessions per week — will go into effect in 2015.

While I applaud California lawmakers for wanting to protect the players, I think the law is misguided and not well thought out.

Legendary Green Bay Packers Coach Vince Lombardi was famous for saying, among other things, “Dancing is a contact sport. Football is a hitting sport.”

The fact is, football is more of a collision sport than a hitting sport.

Richard Pickens, a former University of Tennessee fullback from the 1960s, died last week from complications associated with frontal lobe dementia and Alzheimer’s disease. It was estimated that Pickens, who led the Southeastern Conference in rushing in 1968, had more than 20 concussions while playing high school and college football.

As frightening as Pickens’ story is, he last played football more than 45 years ago, when ball carriers and tacklers led with their heads. Rule changes now often penalize players for using their heads as battering rams.

And while rules have changed, today's players are bigger, stronger and faster than their predecessors. More size, strength and speed will lead to bigger hits with an increased chance for injuries on the practice field and in games.

Yes, the force of some collisions on a football field can be life threatening, but taking away time for tackling practice isn’t going to solve the problem. I believe, if anything, the limited time devoted to tackling will increase the risk for injuries.

Most high school coaches are former high school, college or, in some cases, professional football players. These men are highly qualified to teach proper techniques of keeping.

Granted, some poor coaches don’t teach the game's fundamentals, including tackling in a way that is safe for both the player making the tackle and the one getting tackled.

A few years ago I witnessed first-hand what could have been a devastating hit when a defender led with his helmet's crown into the head of a player already on his knees.

The player making the hit might very well have been caught up in the moment's excitement. But he also might have been coached that way. The truth is only the player and his coaches knew if it was poor coaching or an excited kid trying to make a play.

I don’t think a team needs to hit two or three hours a day to learn proper tackling form, but three hours a week is a little lacking when trying to teach kids who have never played the game the right way to tackle.

Some steps can be taken to make football a safer game. But limiting practice time on one the most important fundamentals of the game isn’t a step in the right direction.

Randy Dickson is the Crestview News Bulletin’s sports editor. Email him at, tweet him @BigRandle, or call 682-6524.

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