Choke tackles before low tackles for new tacklers

If I were coaching tackling to kids for the first time, I wouldn’t focus on low tackles. I think it’s better to work on the choke tackle. It’s safer and more effective.

As a professional rugby coach, people often say to me, “oh, but you’ve never coached an eleven-year-old before.” Well, a year and a half ago, before COVID, I not only coached my son’s U10s and U11s, but I coached the rest of the school’s A, B, and C teams, from U9s up to U12s. During this period, I taught them to choke tackle.


Now, with the choke tackle, we gave them two easy principles, barring the tackle technique: 

  1. When the ball is lifted (by the 9 or clearing passer), we’re going to take two steps.
  2. When the ball’s in the air, it’s a race to catch that ball carrier. 

It’s a race, you don’t let him breathe. You’re like a swarm of bees, but you’re not going to all come in, only the first three guys in front. As the ball’s in the air, you’re going to move to that guy and you’re going to just hold him up and swallow him up. Meanwhile, the rest of you are just going to realign. 

The number of choke tackles that we pulled off after just one training session was incredible. 


However, some parents asked me to work on the leg tackle. 

Now, there’s something about the leg tackle that needs explaining. It’s really, really technical, and it’s very hard to train for the following reasons. 

Say, as your coach, I tell you that we’re going to do some tackle practice, and I say that you’re going to low tackle another player. 

Straight away, you’re going to get nervous because they are going to step you about, you’re going to hit the ground hard, and you will probably knock your chin on the ground. Your elbow might even hit the ground or you could dislocate your shoulder. In other words, training a low tackle is rough. 

So, unless you’re a wrestler who’s performed double-leg take-downs, and have experience being very exposed from high to low, it’s realistically not a practical tackle.  


Think, for example, about the short corridors where there’s not a lot of space. If an opposing player is about to get the ball and I fly and I meet him, I will almost, with line speed, always catch him high. 

So, why wouldn’t I go low? This is the mistake that coaches often make. In a short corridor with line speed, I fly up, I stop suddenly and dip to make the low tackle. But if I do that, and there’s a big kid there, he’ll say “thanks for putting your head there,” squash my head into the ground, or bump me like a rhino and I sleep. 

All of the boys, during my time coaching youth teams, tended to give me the same feedback: they feel scared to low tackle. That’s the reality of it, and I think that, rather than teach them bad low tackling, you’re much better to teach them some principles of line speed and how to tackle the choke tackle because, ultimately, it’s more pragmatic. 

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