Tackling on Target

Varsity Football Head Coach Brian Sommers takes a unique approach to improving tackle safety and drastically reducing concussions.

When it comes to concussions, it seems few sports catch as much flak as football. With the increased awareness of chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE), one might think that the sport’s future is doomed. But University School’s Brian Sommers, the head coach of Wildcats football, is taking an innovative approach to improving football safety and protecting the health of its players.

In 2011, Sommers and Assistant Coach James Becker began teaching players rugby-style tackling, pioneered by Seattle Seahawks Assistant Head Coach Rocky Seto, which involves leading a tackle with the shoulder instead of the head. “We were using the phrase ‘track the hip,’ but nobody knew what it meant,” said Sommers. “Fourteen-year-olds are visual learners, so we thought, ‘Why not put a little target there so they can see it?’ And it clicked.”

A player models the On The Dot pants.

Sommers had bullseye targets screen printed on the hips of practice pants to give players a specific spot to aim for with their shoulders. “The head goes behind the body, and the shoulder goes on the hip,” he said. “The shoulder is much more durable to take the force of the tackle, and we can strengthen shoulders through weight training.”

The results speak for themselves. “The USM team wasn’t doing this style of tackling when I got here in 2011, and we recorded 13 concussions in 2010. Now, we’re much more effective and our safety has improved. We’re still below 13 concussions in all of my seven years of coaching combined.”

“Why not put a little target there so they can see it? And it clicked.”

The concept is gaining traction amongst other coaches, especially in Wisconsin. Sommers and Becker, who are members of the Wisconsin Football Coaches Association, spoke about their tackling style during a three-day football clinic. “We gave a presentation to other coaches on the drills we teach, why we tackle the way we do, and how to tackle properly. If you keep the head out of the game, the game will survive. It was a great experience to get the message out there.” Sommers and Becker have patented and trademarked the idea, coined On the Dot, and sell the tackling pants and shorts online.

As a former player who has experienced his share of concussions, Sommers is excited to improve player safety and ensure a strong future for the game he loves. “There are so many life lessons to learn on and off the field. Injuries are a part of all sports, but we’re doing everything we can to minimize them.”

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