American Football Database
File:ManlySeaEagles CronullaSharks Tackle.JPG

A Rugby League tackle during a National Rugby League Match Between the Manly Sea Eagles and the Cronulla Sharks

Most forms of football have a move known as a tackle. The primary purposes of tackling is to disposses 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.

Australian rules football

A British Bulldog player is chased down and tackled by a Nauru Chief opponent as he tries to get a kick away.

As there is no offside rule in Australian rules football, players can be tackled from any direction, and often blindsided. For this reason, the sport allows shepherding methods for teammates to be able to protect the ball carrier.

The variety of different ways to contest possession in Australian rules has led to first time observers of the game regarding it as having "no rules" or as some Australians unfamiliar with the game colloquially term it "Rafferty's Rules". Despite these stereotypes, however, there are actually quite strict rules governing tackling.

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.

Tackling in Australian Rules is unique in that if tackled player does not dispose of the ball having had opportunity to do so (called the holding the ball rule), or concedes a penalty in the tackle (i.e. tries to throw the ball when he was only allowed to "handball" or kick it) the tackler is rewarded with a free kick. This is only paid if the player tackling does not either deliberately or unintentionally hold the ball to their opponents body.

A tackle must make 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 not reckless. There are also rules outlawing pushing in the back making tackling more difficult.

Players wear little to no padding to cushion the impact of tackles, however mouthguards are essential for keeping teeth. As there is no offside rule in Australian rules, tackling is more often when chasing a player down rather than frequent on head on contact.

Types of tackles in Australian rules

There are many types of tackles in Australian rules football:

  • perfect tackle – when a player lays a tackle on an opponent that has had prior opportunity to dispose of the ball and in the process makes it impossible for their opponent to dispose of the ball. For example if a tackler pins an opponent's arm, then the opponent cannot possibly handball, and if they pin both arms, then it is nearly impossible to legally execute a kick. A player is almost always rewarded for a perfect tackle (except in the case of a slam tackle – see below).
  • gang tackle – when the player in possession is tackled by more than one opponent at the same time.
  • high tackle – any tackle which infringes on the opponent's neck or head. This includes any tackle which slips above the A/C joint. This is illegal and the penalty is a free kick.
  • grass cutter tackle - When a defending player tackles an attacking player around the ankles, making movement impossible for the attacker.
    • coathanger – slang for high contact to the head, usually by a stiff arm, which causes a player to land flat on their back. It is often accidental due to the high pace of the game. The penalty may be a free kick if deemed accidental or a reportable offence which may result in suspension.
  • diving tackle – when a player leaves the ground in attempting to tackle
  • slinging – a player slung to the ground in a tackle (although in the AFL these days, if a player loses possession of the ball while they are being thrown, the tackler will often get penalised for "holding the man".)
  • broken tackle – when a player is able to break free of a tackle
  • spear tackle – also known as a dangerous throw, it is a reportable offence and may result in suspension.
  • push in the back – Any tackle which forces the player forward, into the ground, or both, from behind. This is an illegal tackle and the penalty is a free kick.
  • bump or hip and shoulder tackle is a legal Aussie rules tactic for both dispossession of the player with the ball and also impeding players involved in a contest but not in possession of the ball. The difference between a bump and a tackle is that arms are not used in a bump, which must be made side-on using the hip and or shoulder. Not all bumping is legal, however. Aggressive head on bumping or "charging" of a player with the ball is often described as "rough play" and is a reportable offence, this is particularly so if a player is deemed to have their head down over the ball in an attempt to picking it up off the ground when the bump is applied or contact is made above the shoulders. Standing ground against an oncoming player, however, is legal.
  • slam tackle – relatively new term for a tackle which results in an opponent's head being deliberately slammed to the ground. It is often associated with the pinning of the arms of an opponent so that they cannot cushion the impact of their head on the ground. Although tolerated in days gone by in recent years, in 2009, the AFL branded this a dangerous type of tackle. Incidents in the professional AFL involving Byron Pickett and Darren Milburn have come under particular scrutiny.[1]
  • wing tackle or chicken wing tackle – when one arm is pinned in a tackle. After sustaining severe damage from this type of tackle during the 2009 AFL season, Brent Harvey called for this type of tackle to be banned.[2]

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. Colliding with other players whilst trying to catch or mark the ball is part of the game, however tackling a player jumping in the air to catch a ball is strictly not allowed. Bumping a player who is jumping to catch the ball is not allowed unless the player is deemed to have intentions to contest for possession or have "eyes for the ball". 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, and 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.

American and Canadian football

College football game: Navy quarterback Kaipo-Noa Kaheaku-Enhada is tackled by Massachusetts defensive back James Ihedigbo, No. 7, and linebacker Charles Walker, No. 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 behind the line of scrimmage while attempting to throw a pass. A tackle for loss indicates a tackle that causes a loss of yardage for the opposing running back or wide receiver. 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 and pulling him to the ground. As mentioned above, the referee can declare that a play is dead if the ballcarrier's forward progress has been stopped, even if no actual "tackle" has occurred.

There are some restrictions on tackles and blocks. At no time may a defensive player tackle an offensive player by grabbing the facemask of a football 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).

Tackle is also the name of player positions of interior linemen on both the offensive and defensive teams. Usually there is a left and right tackle on each team, though sometimes on defense there is only a single "nose tackle."

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 IR since the 2008 International Rules Series.

Rugby football

Rugby league

A tackle in rugby league

In rugby league the ball-carrier only may 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:

  • The attacking player's ball-carrying arm comes into contact with the ground while still held by a defender.
  • Although still on his feet, the attacking player's forward momentum has ceased while still held by a defender.
  • The referee calls "Held".

Once the tackle is completed the ball-carrier must be allowed to get to his feet to 'play-the-ball'. 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 2012 New Zealand study found that over 659 tackles are made per game in professional rugby league.[3] Of all the rugby league positions, second-row forward averages the most tackles.[4]

Rugby union

A diving tackle in 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.

Association football

File:Soccer tackle.JPEG

A tackle in Association football

In association football, a player tackles an opponent by taking control of the ball from them. This is achieved by using either leg to wrest possession from the opponent, or sliding in on the grass to knock the ball away. The target of the tackle must always be the ball, otherwise it may be deemed as illegal by the referee, especially if the player makes contact with his opponent before the ball, or makes unfair contact with the player after playing the ball. If the tackle comes from the front or the side and succeeds in touching the ball first a player may still be penalised if the tackle endangers an opponent.[5] Tackling with both legs is illegal. Although tackles from behind were formerly illegal, tackles can now be legally made from any direction, so long as contact with the ball is made and the tackle is not excessively dangerous.[6] This explicitly includes "scissoring" (tackling with legs apart, so as to trap the opponent's leg or legs in between), which is likely to be punished with a straight ejection (red card), as it poses a high risk of severe knee injury to the player being tackled. If a tackle is deemed legal, then play continues.

Tackling with studs up is considered dangerous, although it is not always punished.

Other uses

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

Allowable tackle types

sliding tackle spear tackle dump tackle body tackle ankle tap diving tackle bumping/blocking shoulder charge steal/intercept ball Chicken wing other
Association football[7] Yes No No No No No No Restricted[8] Restricted[9] No
Australian rules football No[10] Reportable Yes Restricted[11] No[12] Yes Yes[13] Reportable Yes No Spoil, Shepherd, Smother
Gaelic football[14] No No No No No No Restricted[15] No No Restricted[16]
Gridiron football Classified as a trip Illegal if Leading with Head Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes
Rugby League Reportable Reportable Yes Yes[17] Yes Yes Penalty Yes Restricted[18] Reportable Charge down
Rugby union Reportable Reportable Yes Yes Yes Yes Penalty No Restricted[19] Penalty Charge down

Controversial techniques

  • spear tackle (dangerous throw) – (illegal in both rugby codes and Australian rules)
  • high tackle (illegal head-high tackle) – rugby league and Australian rules (see also coathanger)
  • grapple tackle – a controversial rugby league tackling technique similar to a chokehold[1].
  • chicken wing tackle – banned in rugby league
  • horse-collar tackle – banned in gridiron football by the NFL, the NCAA, and the CFL. This tackle involves the defender reaching his hand inside the ball carrier's collar, grabbing the collar (and usually, the collar of the shoulder pads), and pulling player straight down or backwards and down. The tackle has the potential to cause severe injuries to the tackled player's neck, legs and ankles. It is considered an "equipment tackle", meaning the protective equipment used by the players is what is used to make the tackle (similarly, a face-mask tackle is considered an "equipment tackle"). The horse-collar was made infamous by former Dallas Cowboys free safety Roy Williams (now with the Cincinnati Bengals) when he performed it on former Philadelphia Eagles wide receiver Terrell Owens.


  1. AFL not so tackle happy after Darren Milburn's tackle last season by Bruce Matthews. February 12, 2009
  3. King D, Hume PA, Clark T.. "Nature of tackles that result in injury in professional rugby league". PubMed. Hutt Valley District Health Board. Retrieved 12 July 2012.
  4. Tim Rogers and Richard Beesley (2006). Fitness for Rugby League. Australia:
  5. FIFA Laws of the Game
  6. (Law 12)
  7. Tackling with the hands strictly not allowed
  8. minor charge or push, shoulder-to-shoulder only, if both players are in direct battle for possession
  9. foot only
  10. Classified as a trip
  11. between knees and shoulders, no pushing in the back
  12. Classified as a trip
  13. within 5 metres of ball
  14. Tackling with the hands not allowed
  15. only on player with the ball
  16. no interference allowed
  17. No grappling around the neck
  18. no knock ons allowed
  19. no knock ons allowed