HOW TO TACKLE SAFELY
By Al Mattei
Head injuries have been a major concern in the game in the early part of the 21st Century. Consumer Products Safety Commission data from 1998 makes field hockey the second most hazardous sport (with a 63.8 percent injury rate) when it comes to electronic reporting from the nation's emergency rooms.
On the other hand, according to a 2000-2001 survey done by the NCAA, there was a ratio of 0.9 injuries per 1,000 participants participating in a practice or game, which is the fifth lowest.
But most telling, when you look at NCAA data showing the ratio between practice and game injuries, it is the second worst ratio, with some 70 percent of injuries occurring during practice.
This, frankly, shows that there is a lack of teaching how to play the game safely, if practices are more hazardous than games. The problem has been not that coaches don't know how to teach defense, but that they don't know that they don't know the proper way to teach how to tackle. If more did, the Federation wouldn't be having a conversation about head injuries.
There are two things that can be done to reduce head injuries. The first is already being done throughout the United States, and that is the prudent investment in artificial competition surfaces to eliminate the hazards endemic in bumpy natural grass pitches.
But the second part of the equation is to eliminate possible head injuries from the stick. And the most preventable hazard is to stop defenders from tackling from a ball-carrier's left -- which, incidentally, is the ball-carrier's blind side during the action of the ball-strike.
It was Terry Walsh, USA Field Hockey's Director of High Performance, who pointed out at the National Field Hockey Coaches' Convention in 2005 that not enough emphasis on proper tackling alignment -- matching the right shoulder of a ball-carrier to the right shoulder of the tackler -- is made in field hockey coaching in the United States.
To prevent goggles or other headwear from becoming mandatory in field hockey nationwide, the "right to right" tackle technique must become part of American field hockey culture like the phrase "head on a swivel" in lacrosse and "box out" in basketball.
How do you drill that into your players if you're a coach or parent? Watch them play and shout "Right to right!" when a close confrontation is about to occur between ball-carrier and tackler. Use it to remind players how to angle towards the opponent and force them to their non-dominant side.
So, how can you drill your players in tackling properly? One, get your team involved in small-games play, where situations develop where players have to transition from offense to defense.
Two, if you're a coach, get your players to wear physical markers during practice to give visual reminders to not tackle from the left. This may involve asking your athletic director for special training jerseys like athletes in other sports have.
Third, drill for defense and not just offense. Whether you're jabbing or block-tackling, winning defense is played with the right shoulder. Match your right shoulder to your opponent's when trying to play the ball. Not only are you staying away from your opponent's danger zone, you are channeling the ball-carrier to her weak side -- where, typically, she does not want to go.
And if you want to know why the defender shouldn't tackle from the ball-carrier's left, download the special flipbook and the Quicktime VR files which show the disconnect between what a player sees and the typical arc of a stick swing.
But if you find yourself staring smack into your opponent's left shoulder, follow the directions in this treatise by U.S. men's national team coach Shiv Jagday.
NOTE: The Right To Right Is Right program is designed to help players, coaches, and administrators in maintaining a safe and injury-free environment for all field hockey participants. However, participants in any sport should be aware of the inherent risk of injury.