Tackle (football move)

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A tackle in Australian rules football Caddy tackling Pendlebury (cropped).jpg
A tackle in Australian rules football

Most forms of football have a move known as a tackle. The primary and important purposes of tackling are to dispossess an opponent of the ball, to stop the player from gaining ground towards goal or to stop them from carrying out what they intend.


The word is used in some contact variations of football to describe the act of physically holding or wrestling a player to the ground. In others, it simply describes one or more methods of contesting for possession of the ball. It can therefore be used as both a defensive or attacking move.

Name origin

In Middle Dutch, the verb tacken meant to grab or to handle. By the 14th century, this had come to be used for the equipment used for fishing, referring to the rod and reel, etc., and also for that used in sailing, referring to rigging, equipment, or gear used on ships. By the 18th century, a similar use was applied to harnesses or equipment used with horses. Modern use in football comes from the earlier sport of rugby, where the word was used in the 19th century.

American and Canadian football

College football game: Navy quarterback Kaipo-Noa Kaheaku-Enhada (blue) is tackled by Massachusetts defensive back James Ihedigbo, (white 7), and linebacker Charles Walker, (white 11). Navy-UMass.jpg
College football game: Navy quarterback Kaipo-Noa Kaheaku-Enhada (blue) is tackled by Massachusetts defensive back James Ihedigbo, (white 7), and linebacker Charles Walker, (white 11).

In American football and Canadian football, to tackle is to physically interfere with the forward progress of a player in possession of the ball, such that his forward progress ceases and is not resumed, or such that he is caused to touch some part of his body to the ground other than his feet or hands, or such that he is forced to go out of bounds. In any such case, the ball becomes dead, the down is over, and play ceases until the beginning of the next play.

A tackle is known as a quarterback sack when the quarterback is tackled at or behind the line of scrimmage while attempting to throw a pass. A tackle for loss is a tackle that causes a loss of yardage for the opposing running back or wide receiver. This happens when the quarterback is sacked, when either a rusher or a receiver is tackled behind the line of scrimmage, or when the ball is fumbled behind the line of scrimmage and was picked up by an offensive player who does not manage to move past the line before being tackled. When a player who does not have the ball is taken down, it is generally referred to as a block.

Tacklers are not required to wrap their arms around the ball carrier before bringing him to the ground; in fact, the ball carrier is often "tackled" by the defender taking a running start and hitting the ball carrier to knock them to the ground. Tackles can also be made by grabbing the ball carrier's jersey (or even hair, should it be long enough and allowed to dangle freely from beneath the helmet) and pulling him to the ground. As mentioned above, the referee can declare that a play is dead if the ball carrier's forward progress has been stopped, even if he has not actually been taken to the ground.

To protect players from potentially catastrophic injury, there are some restrictions on tackles and blocks. At no time may a defensive player tackle an offensive player by grabbing the facemask of their helmet; doing so incurs a 15-yard penalty and the victimized team is awarded a new set of downs. Although spear tackles are allowed in gridiron football, a player may not use his helmet to tackle an opponent as the technique can cause serious injury to both players (more often the tackler, due to the force of reaction on the tackler, which is apt to be beyond the limit that the neck can handle) and also warrants a 15-yard penalty as well as a fresh set of downs if committed by the defending team; this is known as "spearing the player". A similar penalty is assessed to any player attempting to make contact with his helmet against another opponent's helmet, which is known as a helmet-to-helmet collision. Grabbing a ball carrier by the pads behind his neck and pulling him down is known as a "horse collar", a method which has been made illegal at all levels of American football.

It is also illegal to tackle a player who has thrown a forward pass (generally a quarterback) after he has released the ball; doing so is called "roughing the passer" and incurs a 15-yard penalty and a fresh set of downs for the team with the ball. However, in the NFL a player can continue forward for one step, which means that often a player who is committed to attacking the quarterback will still make a tackle. Place kickers and punters are afforded an even greater protection from being tackled.

Once the play is ruled complete, no contact is permitted; a player who makes contact with an opponent after the play is charged with "unnecessary roughness" and his team is assessed a 15-yard penalty.

Blocks that occur in the back of the legs and below the knees, initiated below the waist, or clotheslines are also generally prohibited and players who use them are subject to much more severe penalties than other illegal tackles. However, a player who plays on the line can block below the knees (cut block) as long the block is within five yards of the line and the player they block is in front of them and not engaged by another blocker (chop block).

In the National Football League (NFL), tackles are tracked as an unofficial statistic by a scorekeeper hired by the home team. Though the statistic is widely cited, the league does not verify that the counts are accurate. [1]

Association football

A tackle in association football Soccer tackle.JPEG
A tackle in association football

Unlike other codes, tackles in association football have to be predominantly directed against the ball rather than the player in possession of it. This is achieved by using either leg to wrest possession from the opponent, or sliding in on the grass to knock the ball away. A defender is permitted to use their body to obstruct the motion of a player with the ball, and this may be part of a successful tackle. [2] Pulling a player to the ground in the style of tackle common to other codes is completely absent from the game (this would be considered "serious foul play" and result in a dismissal).

Although some contact between players is allowed, the rules of association football significantly limit the physicality of tackles, explicitly forbidding contacts which are "careless, reckless or [use] excessive force". [3] Almost all tackles where the tackler's legs make contact with the opponent before the ball are considered illegal, and heavy contact after initially touching the ball may also be penalised.

Illegal tackles are fouls and are punished with a direct free kick (or penalty if committed within the penalty area) for the opponent's team. Such incidents are common, with dozens of occurrences in a typical match. In most cases these fouls are not considered misconducts, however yellow cards (cautions) may be delivered for more egregious fouls that constitute "unsporting behaviour". If a foul tackle endangers the tackled player's safety, it is likely to be considered as "violent conduct" by the referee and punished with a red card (dismissal).

Alessandro Diamanti (22) slide tackles Steven Gerrard (4) at Euro 2012 Cole Diamanti and Gerrard England-Italy Euro 2012.jpg
Alessandro Diamanti (22) slide tackles Steven Gerrard (4) at Euro 2012

Tackles that involve lunging at an opponent with both legs, regardless of whether the ball is won, are generally considered to constitute serious foul play and hence result in a sending-off.[ citation needed ] This explicitly includes "scissoring"[ citation needed ] (tackling with legs apart, so as to trap the opponent's leg or legs in between), which is likely to be punished with a send-off (red card), as it poses a high risk of severe knee injury to the player being tackled. Tackling with studs up is considered dangerous. [4] A studs up tackle is made when a player lunges into a tackle with a leg or both legs outstretched exposing the soles of their boots. Referees are encouraged to at the very least caution (yellow card) players who commit such challenges. [5]

Additionally, an illegal tackle which is also a professional foul is considered misconduct. [6] [7]

The most spectacular form of tackle in association football is the slide tackle, wherein a tackler slides, leg extended, along the ground, aiming to hit the ball away. [2] This form of tackle carries a high risk of committing a foul.

"Diving" in association football involves tackled players exaggerating the physicality of tackles, so as to gain favourable decisions from the referee.

Australian rules football

Western Bulldogs player Liam Picken tackling Jordan Lewis of Melbourne, who is attempting a handball Liam Picken tackling Jordan Lewis while handballing.jpg
Western Bulldogs player Liam Picken tackling Jordan Lewis of Melbourne, who is attempting a handball

In Australian rules football, the move commonly described as a "tackle" is similar to in rugby and involves wrapping, holding or wrestling a player who has possession of the ball to the ground. Players not in possession of the ball are not allowed to be tackled, and will receive a holding the man free kick if tackled.

As there is no offside rule in Australian rules football, players can be tackled from any direction, and are often blindsided. For this reason, the sport allows players to shepherd and bump their opponents within 5 metres of the ball, to protect the ball carrier.

A tackled player must immediately dispose of the ball legally, by kicking or handballing, but not by throwing or dropping the ball. If this is not done, a holding the ball free kick will be awarded to the tackler. If the ball is knocked free by the tackler, pinned to the player by the tackler, or the player unsuccessfully attempts a kick or handball, a free kick will only be awarded if the ball carrier is deemed to have had a prior opportunity to dispose of the ball prior to being tackled. If a player has not had prior opportunity to dispose of the ball and a tackler knocks the ball free during a tackle then no free kick is paid and the game continues.

A tackle must only contact below the shoulders and above the knees, and a player is able to be thrown to the ground, so long as the tackle is deemed not to be reckless or likely to cause injury. There are also rules outlawing pushing in the back making tackling more difficult. Tripping, by both hand or foot, is not allowed and can be a reportable offence.

Players wear little to no padding to cushion the impact of tackles, however players generally wear mouthguards to protect their teeth.

Types of tackles in Australian rules

There are many types of tackles in Australian rules football:

Other tackling methods

Although the term "tackle" is used in Australian rules to exclusively describe wrapping, holding or wrestling a player in possession, there are also several other ways of contesting possession in Australian rules that other sports would describe as a "tackle" and that also involve a degree of contact.

Other defensive actions are generally categorised as one percenters . The defensive tactic of punching away (commonly known as spoiling) from a player is allowed. Smothering, which involves using the arms or body to get in the way of an opponent's kick as it leaves their boot, is similar to a charge down in rugby football.

Gaelic football

Gaelic football defines tackling as wresting the ball from an opponent's hands. Bumping is allowed on the player with the ball, but a player cannot be grabbed.

International rules football

International rules football is a hybrid game between Australian rules football and Gaelic football. Tackling in International Rules is subject to similar rules as Australian rules football, but with some subtle differences. Tackling is only allowed as low as the waist, whereas it is allowed down to the knees in Aussie Rules. One handed tackling has been banned in International Rules since the 2008 International Rules Series.

Rugby football

Rugby league

Rugby tackles
Hit up into defenders.jpg
Rugby league tackle
Rugby tackle cropped.jpg
Diving tackle (rugby union)

In rugby league the ball-carrier can be tackled by any number of defenders from any direction. The initial contact in the tackle must be made below the ball carrier's neck or it will be deemed a high tackle and penalised. A tackle in rugby league is completed when any of the following occurs: [10]

Once the tackle is completed, the ball-carrier must be allowed to get to his feet to 'play-the-ball' and the defensive team must retreat 10 metres (except 2 markers, facing the tackled player). Spear tackles are illegal in rugby league, with most tackles in which the defender is lifted 'above the horizontal' bringing about penalties in the modern game. A stiff arm tackle is an offence. A 2012 New Zealand study found that over 659 tackles are made per game in professional rugby league. [11] Of all the rugby league positions, second-row averages the most tackles. [12]

Rugby union

In rugby union, a player must be brought to ground for a tackle to be completed. The tackled player must release the ball, but the ball is not dead and a ruck forms to contest possession of it. If the ball carrier is not brought to the ground a maul will usually form. High/reckless or stiff arm tackles laws once dictated any contact made above the shoulders was an offence. Now, even if contact starts below the shoulders, if the head is involved in any reckless tackle it results in the offending player being given a yellow card and therefore sin binned. World Rugby now defines a reckless tackle as being any contact where the tackler "knew or should have known that there was a risk of making contact with the head of an opponent, but did so anyway" [13]

Non-tackling variants

For various codes of football, variant codes have been developed which substitute out the tackling element, making the game less physical. In these games, either a being touched by an opponent or, in some codes, having a tag on the player's person removed, has effects similar to a tackle in the parent code.

Major non-tackling variants
Parent football codeMajor non-tacking variants
Gridiron Touch football

Flag football.

Rugby Touch rugby
Australian Rec footy

Other uses

Other non-football games that feature tackling or similar concepts include British bulldogs, hurling, hockey and shinty.

Tackle types

Some illegal tackle moves result in a penalty play, however others may be "reportable" offences — that is, the option exists for an official to penalise a player's conduct individually rather than during the game refer it to a tribunal for deferred penalty.

Allowable / forbidden tackles by football code
Code Sliding
Ankle tap Diving
Chicken wing Other
Association [note 1] YesNoNoNoNoNoNoRestricted [note 2] Restricted [note 3] No
Australian rules No
[note 4]
ReportableYesRestricted [note 5] NoYesYes
[note 6]
ReportableYesReportableSpoil, Shepherd, Smother
[note 7]
NoNoNoNoNoNoRestricted [note 8] NoNoRestricted [note 9]
Gridiron No
[note 4]
Yes [note 10] YesYesYesYesYesYesYesYes
Rugby league ReportableReportableYesYes
[note 11]
YesYesPenaltyPenaltyRestricted [note 12] ReportableCharge down
Rugby union ReportableReportableYesYesYesYesPenaltyNoRestrictedPenaltyCharge down
  1. Tackling with the hands strictly not allowed
  2. Minor charge or push, shoulder-to-shoulder only, if both players are in direct battle for possession
  3. Foot only
  4. 1 2 Classified as a trip
  5. Between knees and shoulders, no pushing in the back
  6. within 5 metres of ball
  7. Tackling with the hands not allowed
  8. Only on player with the ball
  9. No interference allowed
  10. Illegal if Leading with Head
  11. No grappling around the neck
  12. No knock ons allowed

Controversial techniques

Related Research Articles

Canadian football Canadian team sport

Canadian football is a sport played in Canada in which two teams of 12 players each compete for territorial control of a field of play 110 yards (101 m) long and 65 yards (59 m) wide attempting to advance a pointed oval-shaped ball into the opposing team's scoring area.

Sliding tackle

A sliding tackle or slide tackle is a tackle in association football. It is completed with one leg extended to push the ball away from the opposing player. Sliding tackles can often be sources of controversy, particularly when players being tackled fall down over the tackler's foot, and penalties, free kicks and cards are assessed.

Try (rugby)

A try is a way of scoring points in rugby union and rugby league football. A try is scored by grounding the ball in the opposition's in-goal area. Rugby union and league differ slightly in defining "grounding the ball" and the "in-goal" area.

Gridiron football Sport primarily played in the United States and Canada

Gridiron football, also known as North American football or, in North America, simply football, is a family of football team sports primarily played in the United States and Canada. American football, which uses 11-player teams, is the form played in the United States and the best known form of gridiron football worldwide, while Canadian football, featuring 12-player teams, predominates in Canada. Other derivative varieties include indoor football and Arena football, football for smaller teams, and informal games such as touch and flag football. Football is played at professional, collegiate, high school, semi-professional, and amateur levels.

In rugby football, the penalty is the main disciplinary sanction available to the referee to penalise players who commit deliberate infringements. The team who did not commit the infringement are given possession of the ball and may either kick it towards touch, attempt a place kick at goal, or tap the ball with their foot and run it. It is also sometimes used as shorthand for penalty goal.

Personal foul (basketball) Illegal contact with an opponent in basketball

In basketball, a personal foul is a breach of the rules that concerns illegal personal contact with an opponent. It is the most common type of foul in basketball. A player fouls out on reaching a limit on personal fouls for the game and is disqualified from participation in the remainder of the game.

This is a glossary of terms used in Canadian football. The Glossary of American football article also covers many terms that are also used in the Canadian version of the game.

  1. Legally positioned at the kick-off or the snap. On kick-offs, members of the kicking team must be behind the kick-off line; members of the receiving team must be at least 10 yards from the kick-off line. On scrimmages, at the snap the offence must be behind the line of scrimmage; the defence must be at least one yard beyond the line of scrimmage.
  2. A player of the kicking team who can legally recover the kick. The kicker and any teammates behind the ball at the time of the kick are onside. Thus on kick-offs all players of the kicking team are onside, but on other kicks usually only the kicker is. The holder on a place kick is not considered onside.
  1. A defensive position on scrimmages, also called free safety. Typical formations include a single safety, whose main duty is to cover wide receivers. See also defensive back.
  2. A two-point score. The defence scores a safety when the offence carries or passes the ball into its own goal area and then fails to run, pass, or kick the ball back into the field of play; when this term is used in this sense, it is also referred to as a safety touch.
Rugby league gameplay

Like most forms of modern football, rugby league football is played outdoors on a rectangular grass field with goals at each end that are to be attacked and defended by two opposing teams. The rules of rugby league have changed significantly over the decades since rugby football split into the league and union codes. This article details the modern form of the game and how it is generally played today, however rules do vary slightly between specific competitions.

Free kick (Australian rules football)

A free kick in Australian rules football is a penalty awarded by a field umpire to a player who has been infringed by an opponent or is the nearest player to a player from the opposite team who has broken a rule.

Comparison of American football and rugby union

A comparison of American football and rugby union is possible because of the games' shared origins, despite their dissimilarities.

A comparison between American football and rugby league is possible because of their shared origins and similar game concepts. Rugby league is arguably the most similar sport to American football after Canadian football: both sports involve the concept of a limited number of downs/tackles and scoring touchdowns/tries takes clear precedence over goal-kicking.

Rugby union gameplay

Rugby union is a contact sport that consists of two teams of fifteen players. The objective is to obtain more points than the opposition through scoring tries or kicking goals over eighty minutes of playing time. The play is started with one team drop-kicking the ball from the halfway line towards the opposition. The rugby ball can be moved up the field by either carrying it or kicking it. However, when passing the ball it can only be thrown laterally or backward. The opposition can stop players moving up the field by tackling them. Only players carrying the ball can be tackled and once a tackle is completed the opposition can compete for the ball. Play continues until a try is scored, the ball crosses the side line or dead-ball line, or an infringement occurs. After a team scores points, the non-scoring team restarts the game at the halfway with a drop kick toward the opposition. The team with the most points at the end wins the game.

Shepherding is a tactic and skill in Australian rules football, a team sport. Shepherding is the act of legally pushing, bumping or blocking an opposing player from gaining possession of the ball or reaching the contest.

Rugby union is a team sport played between two teams of fifteen players.

This list of rugby league terms is a general glossary of the terminology used in the sport of rugby league football. The sport has accrued a considerable amount of jargon to describe aspects of the game. Many terms originate from the Laws of the Game. A number of aspects of the game have more than one term that refers to them. Different terms have become popularly used to describe an aspect of the game in different places with notable differences between the northern and southern hemispheres.

Glossary of Australian rules football Wikipedia glossary

This list is an alphabetical glossary of Australian rules football terms, jargon and slang. While some of these entries are shared with other sports, Australian rules football has developed a unique and rich terminology.

The following terms are used in American football, both conventional and indoor. Some of these terms are also in use in Canadian football; for a list of terms unique to that code, see Glossary of Canadian football.

A penalty in rugby union is the main disciplinary sanction available to the referee to penalise a team who commit deliberate infringements. The team who did not commit the infringement are given possession of the ball and they may either kick it towards touch, attempt a place kick at goal, or tap the ball with their foot and run. It is also sometimes used as shorthand for penalty goal.

A comparison of Canadian football and rugby union is possible because of the games' shared origins, despite their dissimilarities.


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