Developing Contact Skills During a Condensed Training Camp Period

By Riddell | Posted 6/26/2020

Much like most everyone, we’re eagerly anticipating the return of football across the U.S., with many states moving through phased reopening plans following the COVID-19 pandemic. As we look towards the summer, some states, particularly those hit harder by the virus, may experience abbreviated and regulated training camp periods.

For coaches that means getting more work done in a shorter period. Getting players up to speed faster and keeping a close an eye on player health and safety through various social distancing measures, especially when it comes to player contact and tackling technique.

This may leave coaches looking for alternative solutions in getting players to, and keeping them in game shape, especially with the reduced level of contact allowed. Additionally, there are a lot of bag and sled systems that may serve as stop gaps to keep players engaged, however many don’t address the need to develop and improve player technique at all levels of contact.

Luckily, there are some great solutions on the market in specialized tackling systems that help players learn the fundamentals of contact at full speed without the need for live practice with other padded players.

Richie Gray, founder and creator of GSI Performance tackle systems, has spent time coaching elite tackling in both professional rugby union and league as well as the NFL and NCAA levels in the U.S. He is one of the most sought-after high-performance tackle coaches in the world today. His experience has enabled him to offer coaching staffs elite training tools that help improve player performance and fundamentals in a controlled environment, so coaches can focus on athlete development.

We spoke with GSI Performance founder, Richie Gray, to understand how coaches can use a technical tackling program to help players get ready for the season in a unique environment like we’re facing today.

“It’s important when selecting a training tool that it accounts for what’s happening on-field during a game and replicates key movement patterns of the tackle, so that the athlete can maintain a base performance level before going back to live practice. Meaning – keeping the player in as close to game-ready shape without going live,” said Gray.

Richie added that most tackling systems do not account for weight and leverage of an actual player. Those are key features to focus on. The training must continually ask questions of the player and in many ways force them to use correct technique, especially when fatigued.

“You will never beat live practice, but we must find ways to achieve that end goal. The better a system can replicate an on-field tackle without the need for another player present, the better skill development it’s going to offer,” said Gray.

Additionally, because coaches need to address social distancing, Gray explains teams can use a system like his while keeping players separated. “Because each piece of GSI equipment concentrates on key fundamentals and is designed to give the athlete direct feedback, a number of pieces can be used by an athlete on their own or in an area where coach and athlete do not need to be in close proximity.”

In a time of uncertainty, Gray also addressed how coaches worried about transitioning to a new program might fair with something new.

“Never purchase a tackling system that does not also provide a methodology to follow when implementing it for training. Over the past 10 years of developing technical training equipment and coaching at the highest levels of the game, we created a coaching methodology around the whole tackle area called the “The Five Fights.” From this methodology, coaches can easily break their tackle coaching program down to concentrate on the five key areas and use the innovative technical training equipment from GSI to assist within each area.”

Tackling programs without a plan or method in place defeat the purpose of the drill, especially when time and resources are tight. Teams need to know that the work they’re putting in is leading to practical skill development that will bear out on the field.

“Not only can a new system like GSI get players ready in a condensed timeframe like we’re facing today, but this can become a permanent staple in your program to get athletes of all skill levels comfortable with tackling at game speed. When you’re able to do that, you are preparing them to be their best on the field – instilling in them and within the building what I like to call the “Tackle Culture." Great tackling is not an individual effort, but a collective culture of everyone becoming better. We must make it important and coaches must measure it along the way.”

As coaches – we can all agree, we aren’t sure what the near future holds with regards to practice guidelines and contact limits – but one thing we can be certain of – the best teams always do the fundamentals best. Block AND tackle. Don’t practice one without the other.

GSI Performance training aids are sold exclusively through Riddell. To find out more information visit or contact your local Riddell sales representative by calling 1-800-275-5338. Also, follow @RichieGrayGSI for news and tips on contact coaching all season.

For more information on the Advanced Tackling System and the Five Fights, coaches can visit USA Football’s Football Development site.