Football is a very intense game. It’s a very tough and physical sport with a lot of big collisions. With that comes bruises, bumps, blood, broken bones, fractures, and a bunch of other things. People say that if it were an easy sport, everyone would play it. To play football you have to be ready to give and receive hits. Especially big ones. It’s a game of physical and mental toughness. Not only does it consist of mental toughness, but it also heavily relies on being mentally prepared to do something the correct way in the sudden moment of a live play.
It was week two of high school football in the North Shore. It was a cold and rainy Saturday morning down in Beverly, MA. I remember arriving to the field with my mind focused on winning and most importantly leaving the game physically healthy with all my teammates.
The game was going great and we just kept going back and forth with possession of the ball.
Beverly would score one, then we would answer back with a score of our own. This happened about two or three times before both teams could adjust to one another. I remember after playing for a while on their grass field, it began to get really muddy and slippery that it was hard for us to plant our feet right into the ground. It was a very intense game for me until the 3rd quarter was coming to an end.
I played as line-backer for defense (the person whose job it is to tackle the person carrying the ball).
I remember going up against big, tall kids all my high school career but that didn’t stop my ambition of doing my best. Beverly had one of the biggest senior running-backs (person that usually receives a handoff of the ball from the quarterback and runs with it to try and get a touchdown) that I have seen from them in a while this year. I went up against him about 3 or 4 times that game, but the final time was when trouble struck.
Before getting out of a time out, my coach told us we were doing good and making great tackles. Little did I know what would end up happening after that little talk in the huddle. The team and I went back onto the field.
I vividly remember looking into the running-back eyes before the quarter-back could get under the center (person that snaps the ball into the hands of the quarter-back) and say hut. All that was going through my mind was me thinking whether the ball was going to fly in the air to a receiver’s hands or stay on the ground with the running-back. As I looked in his eyes, I waited for the ball to make a sudden movement from my peripheral vision. “HUT!”
As soon as I saw the ball move, I saw the running backs’ eyes look down directly at the quarterbacks hands as he moved to the outside. As he moved outside, I moved with him. Every step he took, I would take with him. He kept running to the outside so that his teammates could block for him so that he could try and score a touchdown. He got a few good blocks from his teammates but luckily for me, they didn’t block me. We made eye contact again as he ran full speed at me like a bull charging at a person holding a red blanket up in the air. As he got closer, I remember bending my knees a bit and slightly leaning forward so that I could get lower and put my shoulder into his abdominal area and wrap my arms around him to make a nice, clean tackle.
As I was midway through the tackle, I felt this tingling sensation in my whole right arm starting from my shoulder down. My arm went numb and I didn’t think anything was wrong because it only went numb for a couple of seconds. “It’s just a stinger,” I said to myself. For those wondering what a “stinger” is, it’s like an intense pinched nerve injury that shoots pain down the whole arm for a few seconds and then makes the arm numb for a couple more seconds.
My adrenaline got the best of me and didn’t stop me from playing the rest of the game because I didn’t feel the pain that I would then be feeling after the game. Unfortunately, we ended up losing the game by a touchdown. I went on with the rest of my weekend just icing up my injuries like any other athlete would after a tough game.
It came time to practice the following Monday and we started hitting but my shoulder hurt every time I went up to hit with someone. I went to see my trainer and told him all about it. He told me that I may have tackled wrong during the game and that may have been the reason to why my shoulder was in pain. He checked me out and told me it could just be a minor shoulder strain, so he ended up giving me this sheet full of stretches to do for my shoulder. The stretches were supposed to help but I didn’t feel it getting better as time went on in the season. I ended up just playing with my shoulder all messed up until the beginning of my senior year of football.
I was in class when suddenly I had got this terrible ache in my shoulder. It hurt so bad that I asked my teacher to go see the teen health center (clinic in school) so I could tell them about it and ask for some kind of pain killers. The in-school Dr. had checked me and asked questions a Dr. would normally ask. What’s wrong? When did this happen? Where did it happen? Etc. She suggested that I go to a shoulder specialist in Boston.
A week went by and I went to my scheduled appointment. They took x-rays of my shoulder at like 5 different angles. As I waited for the specialist to come in to tell me the news, all I could think was what was wrong with my shoulder? Is this the end of my football career? The specialist finally came in the room and told me that something may have separated in my shoulder, but it was very minor, and “it would heal on its own”. She never really clearly identified what the injury was though. She just told me something may have separated in my shoulder causing pain to be there.
She ended up advising me to rest for a couple of weeks and go to physical therapy so that it could fully heal. Luckily it was just the beginning of the football season and it was sort of okay to miss a scrimmage or two and the season opener.
After letting it “heal”, I was back on the field ready to play some ball. My shoulder felt better but still agitated me once in a while after giving and receiving some blows during the season. It’s now been 2 years since this injury happened and I still get aches in my shoulder area. It also hurts when I apply a lot of pressure in that area or move it in a really fast motion like if I were going to throw a football or a heavy object.
The audience that I would want this to reach out to is high school football players in all grades. What I want them to take out of this is how to tackle correctly, lowering the risk of them getting injured on the field. These simple steps could help any player get out of harm’s way before it’s too late and will also fill your coach with happiness when you’re doing it correctly. So trust me, I would know because I’ve been there too.
First and foremost, you always want to remember two important things. You always want to keep your feet wide and your body low. The reason your feet need to be wide is that you need to be ready to receive a hit without losing your balance and getting ran through. Now since you have a wide stance, you want to get low. Why do you have to get low? Well in football, there’s a saying that lots of people and coaches that go “the lower man always wins” and it’s totally true. If you try to tackle someone standing straight up, chances are that it won’t look good for you. But if you get in a wide stance and get lower than the person trying to get through you, you’ll most likely win the challenge and have a better chance of getting the tackle.
Next, when you’re about to wrap up and tackle, you want to keep your head on the ball side, so that way you can avoid a shoulder injury (my injury), and with your head facing up so that way you’re looking at who you’re going to tackle. You never, and I mean never, want to lead with your head when attempting a tackle. Leading with your head leads to either a concussion or something even worse like a broken vertebrate. In an article in nytimes.com by Alan Schwarz, he states “A result has been a steady rise in concussions — estimated at more than 500,000 each season among the 4.4 million children who play tackle football — as well as more rare but catastrophic injuries where vertebrae are crushed or fractured, leaving the player paralyzed.” This is why you never want to tackle with your head, ever.
Finally, as you place yourself correctly in every way, wrap both your arms around your opponent and grab as much cloth as you can. Grabbing cloth helps you get a good grip on your opponent so that they don’t bounce off or slip away from you as to try and perform a tackle. If you do everything correctly, you should be able to drive your opponent back and drive them to the ground without much of a problem.
Football can be a dangerous sport and it can lead to some pretty serious injuries if things aren’t done correctly. My shoulder injury is probably going to be with me for the rest of my life. The reason for that is because I didn’t take into mind the consequences that would show up from doing something minor the correct way. Doing these things correctly will not guarantee you protection one hundred percent of the time because that’s just how football is. Anything really happens. However, it will lessen the risk of anyone getting seriously injured in the sport.