how to teach football tackling techniques and tactics

All your players, including the goalkeeper, need to be good tacklers.

Apart from the fact that your players need to be able to win the ball back from an opponent wherever they are on field, being able to tackle instills confidence in young players.

There's very little in football as satisfying as taking the ball firmly and cleanly from another player – ask any defender!

Types of tackling

There are three ways to tackle another player:

1. Block tackles – which can be face to face or from the side.

2. Poke tackles.

3. Slide tackles.

How to teach tackling

Before you begin to teach your players how to tackle, it's worth emphasising that the objective of tackling is to take the ball from an opponent, not to hurt the other player or knock them over.

It's the ball they're after, not the player!

When to tackle and when not to

These points should be kept in mind as you teach the techniques described below.

Players in your attacking third of the pitch should try to force a passing error or take the ball from the other team as quickly as possible. Immediate, close pressure on the ball carrier will often achieve this and sometimes there is no need to actually make a tackle at all.

However, if one of your players even has half a chance to make a tackle near to your opponent's goal they should take it without hesitation. 

A defender's main job is to prevent an opponent from scoring, it is not to win the ball.

With that in mind, a player facing an opponent in their own defensive third should be thinking, "how can I force this player to a place where they can't shoot?" rather than, "I'm going to tackle this player". 

This is especially true if the defender is 1v1 with the attacker. Many goals are scored by attackers who have been gifted a clear shot by a defender who dives into a tackle before their team mates have got into covering positions.  

The face-to-face block tackle – what to tell your players

  • Get close but not too close to your opponent – about two to three feet is ideal. 
  • Keep your eye on the ball.
  • If the ball carrier lets the ball get slightly away from him or her, immediately get your non-kicking foot alongside the ball.
  • Lock the ankle of your kicking foot (the foot you're going to tackle with).
  • Bend your knees slightly to give your body a low centre of gravity – this gives you more power.
  • Now get really close to your opponent and strike the ball firmly.

Most importantly (and this applies to all tackling situations) a player must not go in half heartedly. Good tackling is as much about confidence and controlled aggression as technique.

The block tackle from the side

If your defender is chasing an opponent, he should never attempt a tackle until he is alongside or in front of them – tackling from behind is very dangerous and against the rules.

If your player manages to get alongside their opponent he has two choices:

  1. Keep going and try to guide the other player into a corner or towards the sideline.
  2. Tackle them immediately.

If they must tackle (remember, a defender's main job is to stop shots, not get the ball), they need to get shoulder-to-shoulder with their opponent then hook their outside foot around and make rapid, firm contact with the ball.

It's vital that your player tries to stay on his feet during this manoeuvre. Even if he gets a good contact with the ball, it could run loose and the attacker could continue on their run. If your defender is on the ground the race is over!

The poke tackle

The end result of a block tackle is, hopefully, taking possession of the ball away from an opponent. The poke tackle, on the other hand, is an effort to kick the ball away from an opponent. The ball goes out of play or runs loose.

The poke tackle is performed while your player is facing his opponent. It is simply a sudden, firm "poke" at the ball with the front foot.

The slide tackle

Slide tackling is dangerous, both to the the player making the tackle and to the player being tackled.

Many, many players have been seriously injured as a result of badly executed slide tackles or slide tackles carried out correctly on poor surfaces and now FIFA – football's governing body – is considering banning the slide tackle altogether.

For this reason I do not teach slide tackling to my players and I suggest you don't either. It is much better to teach them to stay on their feet and not get into the position where they have to make a desperate lunge at the ball that could break a player's leg.

Bottom line

Teaching the correct tackling technique and helping your players recognise the right time and place to tackle will boost their confidence and, ultimately, help your team score more goals.