This is inspired by a recent discussion on Coach Huey about tackling circuits and their place in defensive practice plans, etc.
I was a heavy, heavy tackling circuit/turnover circuit disciple in 2009, I really was. We did both every week, usually one on Monday and one on Wednesday. We created a lot of turnovers, something like ~2.5/game and I really felt that they were worth while. We made a lot of tackles, which is to be expected, but I wasn't happy with our tackling, which surprised me because we spent SO MUCH time on tackling circuits. I mean, 15m/week for something like 15 weeks adds up to about 3 1/2-4 hours of time JUST tackling. My best tackling LB was a guy that I coached for 3 months. My worst tackling LB was a guy I'd coached for 3 years. Evidently, I'm a shitty coach.
Review our film from that season, I noticed some stuff that wasn't necessarily clear to me during the season. First, most of our turnovers were the result of athletic interceptions or gang tackling. We had two fumbles forced, one recovered by the same kid who had a TERRIFIC tomahawk move from behind, but that was probably the best example of practice time carrying over into game time. Almost all of our fumble recoveries were the result of hustle, violence, and fumble recovery skills (which we did work). Almost all of our interceptions were the result of pressure, vision of the QB, and skilled athletes with a shitty coach.
Reviewing our tackling, I noticed a few things. The biggest thing that came to me was that no two guys on our defense really tackled alike. The reason why? No two coaches on our defense taught tackling alike. We were working tackling all season, but everyone's message was SLIGHTLY off. The next biggest thing was that our guys needed to get their asses into the weight room. That was outside my jurisdiction, so to speak, but it's 100% something I believe very strongly in.
So, after this ordeal of self-reflection, I came to the conclusion that I didn't really care to use practice time to work on turnovers and I didn't necessarily like tackling circuits as much.
I think tackling circuits are valuable because you CAN use them to teach fundamental skills rapidly, with lots of repetitions, and do it often. I'll follow that up by saying that I think you really need to be careful about how you administer your tackling circuits.
Tackling circuits should be:
1-Reflective. You should be focused on improving the aspects of tackling that you're not very good at and your drills should show that you've reflected on how to target those precise aspects. If your kids can't angle tackle very well, then you should be working angle tackling in your circuits.
2-Corrective. Don't let bad reps stay bad reps. Force them to do the drill again, and again, and again until they do it right. Then move on to the next kid. If only 3 kids get reps, then you can safely say that next time that's 3 less kids you have to coach. But force them to have a successful effort.
3-Inclusive. I fucking hate kids standing in line. Sometimes it's necessary for their recovery between reps, but if you're not pushing their cardio, why have lines? Work as many kids as possible while still giving good coaching.
4-Short. 15min, TOPS. Time is precious, budget it appropriately.
The school I coached at last year used tackling circuits on every defensive day and we got nothing out of it because the DC had us run the same 4 drills with very little correction going on, lots of standing in line, and poorly budgeted time. You can imagine how I felt about it.
(I'd like to point out that I followed a very strict "direct answers to direct questions only" rule because I was more or less laying low last season and I didn't want to be that coach that was being overly critical when he wasn't going to be a long-term member of the staff. Probably not the best approach I could've taken, but I didn't want the DC to go through an experience similar to the BS I went through in 2011.)
Anyways!... I like tackling circuits for lower level teams (JV/Frosh) because you can use them to enforce good mechanical skills in players without the experience base necessary to tackle well, but I'm not so crazy about them at the varsity level. To me, at the varsity level there's DL tackling and LB/DB tackling and the two are only somewhat related. So, having everyone do the same drills all the time is inefficient and ultimately counter productive. Just my stance on the matter.
Tackling circuits are good if you coach them well, but they suck if you don't. Teach tackling in a uniform fashion, coach up hustle to the ball and aggression, good things will follow.