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TackleReady participants at Magic Round.

With player safety in focus more than ever for rugby league, the NRL's TackleReady program is ensuring junior participants are learning the correct techniques.

A six-session program delivered to under-7s players by accredited coaches, TackleReady prepares juniors for tackle rugby league with the aim of increasing confidence and competence.

TackleReady is part of the Player Development Framework which has three main objectives: attract and retain participation, foster personal development and transition and nurture performance.

After first being trialled throughout south-east Queensland in 2019 - garnering overwhelmingly positive feedback from parents - TackleReady is now being delivered to every under-7s team in Queensland, Victoria, Northern Territory, South Australia and WA.

That equates to 415 under-7s teams across more than 240 junior clubs to whom the NRL’s participation and community team will deliver the program nationally.

Neil Henry, the current Maroons State of Origin assistant coach and former Raiders, Cowboys and Titans mentor, was involved in creating the content for the TackleReady training sessions.

TackleReady works in tandem with Tag Rugby League.
TackleReady works in tandem with Tag Rugby League. ©NRL Photos

He sees immense benefit in the program and believes it will limit potential head injuries suffered through poor tackling technique.

"With the talk around concussion - certainly at the NRL level for the last two seasons, in particular - we're talking about ways for players to learn the correct and safe techniques preparing them to play the tackle version of the game," Henry told NRL.com.

"We have League Tag as well as a transition into the game but this is the way of actually teaching the kids how to tackle correctly.

"And not only tackle correctly but practise safe landing – being tackled. How to fall, bracing for a tackle and those sorts of things. 

"I became part of a committee that looked at breaking the tackle down and working on some drills and games to introduce being ready to tackle and actually effecting a safe tackle."

The TackleReady program teaches the correct techniques for tackling and being tackled.
The TackleReady program teaches the correct techniques for tackling and being tackled.

In 2019, 1306 children participated in the pilot TackleReady program and 168 of their families provided feedback via a survey.

The results, per playrugbyleague.com, showed:

  • 85% reported that TackleReady had improved their child's confidence in rugby league.
  • 94% reported that: their child's enjoyment met expectations (17%), occasionally exceeded expectations (29%) or exceeded expectations (48%).
  • 86% reported that TackleReady had improved their child's competence. 
  • 60% reported that TackleReady had influenced their decision to remain/return to rugby league.
  • 73% were highly likely to recommend TackleReady.

James Hinchey, the NRL's general manager of participation strategy, education and training, said that further surveys on TackleReady have resulted in similarly positive parent responses.

In alignment with TackleReady, under-6s and 7s players compete in Tag Rugby League until they reach the under-8s.

This is so participants can gain a better understanding of basic concepts like running, catching, passing and evasion.

Six TackleReady sessions will be delivered to clubs between April and August leading up to a gala day competition that allows players to safely showcase the skills they’ve developed in negotiating tackle situations.

"It is a program that has a progression in the tackle technique," Henry said, adding that it was also fun.

The TackleReady program has led to increased participation.
The TackleReady program has led to increased participation. ©NRL Photos

"There's a series of [16] 'mascot moves' as part of the warm-up which gets the kids used to contact with the ground and improving proprioception (awareness of the position and movement of the body). The kids use gross motor skills ... whether they're doing the 'Broncos Buck' or the 'Titans Tumble'."

The conversation about head injuries and safety has ramped up in recent years, culminating in the NRL's crackdown on high contact this season.

A 2018 study by Gregory J Tierney and Ciaran K Simms of Trinity College Dublin, Ireland, looked into whether tackle height in rugby union could influence the risk of head injury assessment.

It concluded that "to reduce HIA tackler risk, the results suggest tackling below the upper trunk for upper body tackles" and "tackling at the lower trunk for lower body tackle and avoiding the upper legs".

TackleReady breeds greater levels of confidence in players and parents.
TackleReady breeds greater levels of confidence in players and parents. ©NRL Photos

In effect, the study identified the midriff region as the safest tackling zone. That is also being taught by TackleReady.

"Certainly, you'd imagine that the earlier players are introduced to the correct technique for tackling that there's less likely to be injuries from making tackles in the game," Henry said.

TackleReady provides "coach education" too.

"Some coaches just don't know what they don't know around tackling; how you teach the technique," Henry said.

"It's nice and simplified in TackleReady where it breaks it down and there's a gradual increase in the skillset.

"The players that go through it become more confident in the tackle format of the game, become better defenders and therefore enjoy the game a lot more than players that are not confident in being able to make tackles, particularly the smaller kids in the game - the girls and boys that find it really difficult to tackle the larger kids.

"The more we foster this correct technique and the confidence around it, the more the kids are going to enjoy their footy."

Hinchey said Henry's expertise and his ability to tailor his approach depending on the age and stage is "a real asset".

"Neil's record stands for itself," Hinchey said.

"He's a guy who has operated at the top end of the game for a long time and is still operating in the Origin environment and is a big contributor to teams at that level.

"He is also someone with a teaching background who thoroughly understands the community game ... he also has that really in-depth technical, tactical knowledge, so his contribution to what we're doing has been huge."

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