It’s really easy to fall into the trap of only pushing our fast players to be great base runners rather than the whole team. The problem is, all of your players will hopefully be on base at some point or another and you can only run for them so many times. When I work with teams and we focus on base running, it’s common to see the “slower” players visibly checkout the minute I begin to talk about the importance of base running. They’ve become very comfortable with the myth of, “I’m not fast so I don’t really need to focus on base running.” This could not be further from the truth.
The technical skill of hitting is much more difficult to teach than the skill of great base running. Kids who wait to be hit from one base to the next are going to be waiting a long time. The goal is to teach an aggressive mentality to our athletes so they’re constantly looking for an opening to get to the next base. I’ve seen slow kids become incredible base runners, and fast kids become a liability rather than an asset. Smart aggressive base running is something everyone is capable of learning and having speed behind it is a bonus. I’ve heard Sue Enquist (UCLA Hall of Fame Coach) on several occasions say, “I’ll take a savvy base runner over a fast kid who doesn’t get how to use her speed.”
Base running is the game within a game. Sometimes you don’t even notice it while it’s happening. The runner who’s safe at 2nd on what should have been a routine lead out on a ground ball to short stop; The “slow” runner who easily scores from 2nd on a base hit because she did the little things right; or the player who read the change-up or pitch in the dirt and breaks before the ball even gets to the catcher because she understands how to read the angle of the pitch. There’s a huge difference in scoring opportunity when a runner can get to 2nd base without using an out to get there. (See Chart Below) -NCAA Softball & MLB
* When looking at the chart, notice there’s a higher probability of scoring from 1st with no outs, than the probability of scoring from 2nd with 1 out. Yes, that means we shouldn’t automatically sac bunt with a runner on 1st, with no outs.
Here’s 3 components of base running you can practice with your team that make a big difference between being safe or out.
1. Lead Offs- BE ON TIME or EARLY!
Most youth/college softball players are leaving late on their lead offs. The most important 2 aspects of being safe/out at the next base is how/when you leave and how you slide. A lead off needs to look the exact same as a steal for the first 3 steps the runner takes. They’re in a sprinter position (rocker style is faster based on momentum) and the first step should occur when the pitcher is at the top of her circle. The movement is not a shuffle but a sprint. In the first two steps, the runners’ head should be down as if they were stealing and on the third step the runner look towards home to see contact and squares to the plate. The same movement occurs from 2nd base but the runner should be taking a 4 to 5 step lead. We're trying to close the gap between the next base as much as possible without being picked off. The goal is to get the other team to yell “GOING!” as much as possible. If that catcher is constantly concerned about what base runners are doing, it’s going to affect how focused she is on receiving.
2. Rounding 1st Base On A Hit
Again, when I watch athletes on a base hit, most of them have decelerated before reaching 1st base and then walk 2-3 steps towards 2nd base then turn and go back. We want every runner to come around first base as hard as possible on a hit to CF or LF. The ball is over 80ft away in most cases giving them plenty of time to turn back to 1st base successfully. The runner should be hitting the inside corner of 1st base at full speed taking 5-6 hard steps. When runners round a base with a purpose, it can cause outfielders to rush fielding OR throwing the ball, which can lead to mistakes and an extra base for the hitter. Great base running causes pressure that some players can’t handle.
3. Runner on 2nd Always Thinking Home on a Base Hit
If our runner is doing a great job on their lead off, than most likely they’ll be in position to score. This point has to do with mentality. We want our athletes thinking 2 bases unless we stop them. Often I see kids slow up and look for the “GO” sign; let’s shift that approach. They should be angling themselves to hit the inside corner of 3rd base as they approach with the intent to score unless they see you give the STOP sign. If they lead off well and angle well we should be sending most runners home on a base hit and forcing the defense to be perfect in executing one of the most difficult plays in baseball and softball. You can practice this by setting up your outfielders, and a catcher. Have the rest of the team at 2nd base. Have a player/or coach simulate the wind-up with another coach hitting base hits to the outfield. Your runners should be practicing their lead off from the pitcher, then picking you up at 3rd. Stop some runners and send others. Have your runners run past home on the outside (full speed) to avoid any unnecessary injury with catcher collision. To keep the runners honest on their lead-offs, have the coach who’s hitting from home swing and miss every few and see where your base runner is.
Every player can be a threat on the bases. Base running can help your team win ball games when they’re not hitting well or facing tough pitching. It can cause a team to breakdown defensively if they’re worried about every runner who gets on base, not just the “speedy” ones. 60ft can make all the difference and when we consciously work on proper base running drills and emphasize an aggressive mentality, our teams become much more difficult to beat.