As a former football player and coach, I can tell you that one of the most important aspects of the game is tackling. It is also the hardest skill to teach because it is hard to practice. From a coaching standpoint, teaching players how to tackle properly has less to do with making them more effective at their position – it has to do with teaching players how to tackle without hurting themselves. That being said, Having players repeatedly hit each other on the practice field is a rough way to learn a critical skill of the game.
A football player gets hit more in practice than they ever do in a game because of the repetitive nature of drills and instruction. As a player who had their knee destroyed by a teammate in practice but understanding the importance of technique drills, I ask the question: “how do you teach proper technique without the risk of injury?”
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Engineers at Dartmouth college have answered that question with their “Mobile Virtual Player” or MVP. This 5’11” 200+ mobile tackling dummy can be remotely controlled to simulate an opponent – and the best part is that you can’t hurt it. Dartmouth has been an innovator in the past when it comes to tackling drills in practice. 5 years ago their head coach, Buddy Teevens implemented a no-tackling policy in Dartmouth’s practices, which is still the only known program in place in Division I college football. Teevens said, “To my knowledge, no one else does it at the Division I level.
It was not received well to be honest with you because [tackling] is sort of fundamental, but I was committed to it.”
Then came along engineering students Elliot Kastner and Quinn Connell. Kastner, who is a former football player himself, and Connell, who played rugby, both understand the importance of proper tackling technique without the risk of injury. “This is going to allow football players to practice tackling safely,” Kastner said. “I was fortunate enough to never have a concussion, but players on my team missed weeks after sustaining a blow to the head. And those injuries can affect you for the rest of your life.”
Currently, there are 2 MVPs in operation at Dartmouth with plans to build a third. At a price tag of about $3,500 a piece, they really do seem like a worthwhile investment in player safety. The current models are remotely controlled, but there are plans to make the pre-programmable. Check out the MVP in action: