Putting Safety First, Pelham Football Practices Without Live Tackling


Johnny Liesman

Member of the football team lowers shoulder into tackle wheel.

Johnny Liesman, Senior, Co-Editor-in-Chief

Imagine a high school football practice: two teammates ready to face off against each other as the entire team, including the coaches, surround them and wait to see who will hit the ground first. That classic image can no longer be found at a Pelham football practice, along with most live tackling drills. That’s because last year, Head Coach Artie Viggiano eliminated from practices nearly all live tackling drills except those he deemed to be safe.

While it may seem shocking to take out such a large element of football in practices, many teams are doing the same. Last year, the entire Ivy League eliminated live tackling in practices. Pelham, the Ivy League teams, along with many other teams in Westchester are now a part of a large movement to make football as safe as possible.

“We have lots of tough young men who I’m sure would love to get after each other,” said Head Coach Artie Viggiano. “But it’s not about what they want to do, it’s about safety.”

At Pelham football practices, coaches will still do some live blocking as well as live tackling in scrimmages, but they are always ready to blow the whistle early.

“We just removed any drill we considered unsafe and not necessary,” said Coach Viggiano. “But we still demand extreme physicality from our players at all times.”

Starting in 2016, Coach Viggiano implemented this decision in all team practices grades 3-12 for safety reasons. Now, by mainly tackling pads in practice, the players are much less likely to receive head, neck or shoulder injuries. This change in practice makes a huge difference, even as players are still obviously live tackling in games. According to a study by JEMA Pediatrics published in 2015, 58 percent of concussions in high school and college occur in practice.

While Pelham has only had this rule in effect since 2016, the Ardsley football program, where Coach Viggiano used to work and got the idea from, eliminated live tackling in 2012. Rye Football did the same several years ago, and Head Coach of the Rye Football team, Dino Garr, agrees with Coach Viggiano in that there isn’t a negative effect on teams that aren’t live tackling in practice. But he also thinks football at the high school level is changing because of it.

“I think there is less physicality in the game now and it has become much more skill oriented,” said Coach Dino Garr, Head Coach of the Rye Football Team.
Along with the elimination of live tackling in practices, coaches have also been teaching a new style of tackling in an effort to make the game even safer: the hawk tackle.

The hawk tackle, made famous by Seattle Seahawks Head Coach Pete Carroll, is a rugby style tackle that almost completely takes the head out of the tackle and emphasizes the shoulder as well as wrapping around the legs. This is a drastic change from previous tackling techniques that emphasized the head and brute force. Pelham is one of the many teams teaching their players this tackle.

“The idea of tackling head on has become much less important,” said Coach Garr of Rye. “There isn’t that overall effort to tackle with force.”

With this addition, as well as the elimination of live tackling in practice, teams such as Pelham are making football a lot safer. Since the start of last season, the Pelham football program has seen only two concussions from grades 3-12.