By Ken Reed
Dartmouth coach Buddy Teevens made the bold move 12 years ago to eliminate live tackling during all practices. It was a gamble, because neither he nor anyone else knew if Dartmouth could still be competitive on game days after making that move.
However, Teevens has plenty of data now. Injuries have dropped significantly for Dartmouth, including brain trauma (concussions and subconcussive blows to the head).
And yes, Dartmouth has been very competitive on the field. They’ve won three Ivy League championships and have been ranked nationally, offensively and defensively, during several seasons since Teevens made the switch.
“I’m trying to convince people that there’s another way to do it and it’s going to be safer in the long term,” says Teevens. “You end up with fewer players out with injuries, especially head injuries. A broken hand will heal. A damaged brain may not.”
Why haven’t other schools and conferences adopted the “Dartmouth Way” when it comes to eliminating live tackling during practice?
“Real change is going to take conference offices saying that we’re going to do this together, everyone’s on the same page, and we are all going to eliminate live tackling in practice,” says Teevens. “Otherwise, the one-off risk is to high for a lot of teams. Because what everyone wants is wins, and wins are not measured by how many concussions they’ve prevented.”
That’s a great point. A change like this has to be done collectively, across the NCAA, so nobody believes some teams have an unfair advantage. Too bad the NCAA is so toothless these days.
Old school football coaches and fans think if you don’t practice live tackling with other players during the week, that tackling skills will drop dramatically and the number of missed tackles will go up.
According to Teevens, that hasn’t been the case at Dartmouth.
“We went from missing a good bunch of tackles, like 15 to 20 a game, to just three to five,” says Teevens. “In my opinion, that’s becasue we tackle more than anybody else — we just don’t tackle each other.”
Yes, it’s a misnomer that Dartmouth doesn’t tackle in practice. Instead of tackling teammates, Dartmouth players tackle inanimate objects, not people. They tackle dummies moving at full speed. They use a different variety of dummies, including a robotic moving dummy called the “mobile virtual player,” which was developed in Dartmouth’s school of engineering.
“We tackle everyday in practice,” says Teevens. “We do more tackling drills and break down each phase of the tackle.”
Teevens thinks eventually all teams will move to his approach. If not, the game of football will be in jeopardy, as the pile of research studies linking football to brain injuries and the long-term neurological disease, chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) gets taller.
“What we are doing is so simplistic and common sense; it’s just contrary to what people have done for decades. But unless we change the way we coach the game, we’re not going to have a game to coach.”
— Ken Reed, Sports Policy Director, League of Fans
Sports Forum Podcast
Episode #31 – League of Fans’ Sports Forum podcast: Foul Ball Safety Is Still an Important Issue at Ballparks – Our guests are Jordan Skopp, founder of FoulBallSafety.com and Greg Wilkowski, a Chicago based attorney. We discuss the historical problem of foul balls injuring fans, why some teams are still hesitant to put up protective netting in some minor league and college baseball parks, and the fact the vast majority of players are for more protective netting in stadiums.
Follow on Facebook: @SportsForumPodcast
Episode #30 – League of Fans’ Sports Forum podcast: The State of College Athletics with Dr. David Ridpath: Problems and Potential Solutions – Ridpath is a sports administration professor at Ohio University and a member of The Drake Group, a college sports reform think tank.
Episode #29 – League of Fans’ Sports Forum podcast: The Honorable Tom McMillen Visits League of Fans’ Sports Forum – McMillen is a former All-American basketball player, Olympian, Rhodes Scholar and U.S. Congressman. We discuss the state of college athletics today.
Episode #28 – League of Fans’ Sports Forum podcast: A Chat With Mano Watsa, a Leading Basketball and Life Educator – Watsa is President of PGC Basketball, the largest education basketball camp in the world. We discuss problems in youth sports today.
Episode #27 – League of Fans’ Sports Forum podcast: Kids’ Sports: How We Can Take Back the Game and Restore Quality Family Time In the Process – Linda Flanagan is author of “Take Back the Game: How Money and Mania Are Ruining Kids’ Sports and Why It Matters.” We discuss how commercialized and professionalized youth sports are hurting kids and their families.
Episode #26 – League of Fans’ Sports Forum podcast: How Can We Fix Youth Sports? – John O’Sullivan is Founder and CEO of Changing the Game Project and author of “Changing the Game: The Parents Guide to Raising Happy, High Performing Athletes and Giving Youth Sports Back to Our Kids.”
Media"How We Can Save Sports" author Ken Reed appears on Fox & Friends to explain how there's "too much adult in youth sports."
Ken Reed appears on Mornings with Gail from KFKA Radio in Colorado to discuss bad parenting in youth athletics.
“Should College Athletes Be Paid?” Ken Reed on The Morning Show from Wisconsin Public Radio
Ken Reed appears on KGNU Community Radio in Colorado (at 02:30) to discuss equality in sports and Title IX.
Ken Reed appears on the Ralph Nader Radio Hour (at 38:35) to discuss his book The Sports Reformers: Working to Make the World of Sports a Better Place, and to talk about some current sports issues.
- Reed Appears on Ralph Nader Radio Hour League of Fans’ sports policy director, Ken Reed, Ralph Nader and the New York Times’ Tyler Kepner discussed a variety of sports issues on Nader’s radio show as well as Reed’s updated book, How We Can Save Sports: A Game Plan. Reed's book was released in paperback in February, and has a new introduction and several updated sections.
League of Fans is a sports reform project founded by Ralph Nader to fight for the higher principles of justice, fair play, equal opportunity and civil rights in sports; and to encourage safety and civic responsibility in sports industry and culture.
Vanderbilt Sport & Society - On The Ball with Andrew Maraniss with guest Ken Reed, Sports Policy Director for League of Fans and author of How We Can Save Sports: A Game Plan
Sports & Torts – Ken Reed, Sports Policy Director, League of Fans – at the American Museum of Tort Law
Order from Amazon
Order from Amazon
Order from Amazon
Ken Reed’s Author Page on Amazon