When you go to order your next baserunner at the local drive-thru, be sure to ask for the 3-item combo. Item one in the combo will be quickness. Items two and three will be a determined attitude and speedy decision-making.
The bad news, obviously, is you can't order baserunners like you can a combo plate at your favorite restaurant, but the good news is, this article will teach you exactly how to develop them.
First, the runner must train the legs to be stronger and quicker. Second, the runner must develop a determined mindset for running the base paths. Lastly, the runner must learn to make quick and accurate decisions.
In NASCAR, a strong engine and excellent tires can only win the race if it has a determined and well-calculated driver behind the wheel. Likewise, extra horsepower and fancy Goodyears can only do so much for a baserunner. Surely slow legs will make for an easy out, but poor decision-making will make for many dumb outs, while a content runner will make for a lot of runners left on base. By correctly training these 3 specific areas, you will be much more likely to develop some Brickyard winners.
STEP 1: GET PHYSICALLY QUICKER
Baserunners need to accelerate more like a Tesla than that of the smooth-talking Dominic Torreto and his Dodge Charger. In the Fast and the Furious movies, Vin Diesel and his beautifully painted Charger crushed the quarter-mile, but it took some time to build up that top-end speed. I'm not going to discuss torque and gear-timing here, but if you look up Tesla vs. Mustang GT on YouTube, you'll get an idea of what I'm describing.
Now, speaking of fast cars, I really like the new Mustangs, and those Camaros, and the Hellcats, but when it comes to baserunners, I prefer the super-quick Tesla. Teslas will not only beat the muscle cars in the quarter-mile race, but they almost always smoke them off the line. Likewise, ‘baseball speed’ needs to be explosive like the instant torque of a Tesla. Remember, 90ft is only 27 meters, while the shortest track and field race is 100 meters. If you have watched a lot of track races, you'll notice the runner leading at 27m is often not the one who wins the race, but in baseball, the runner leading at 27m is the winner.
In baseball, more often than not, a bad jump will cost you the stolen base or the chance at making a great play on defense.
Coaches, train players for explosive quickness, not long distances. Short races and timed sprints are great for this. When training players that are 14 and under, 10 to 15-yard sprints are perfect. When training baseball players that are 15-years of age and older, 10 to 20-yard sprints are perfect.
Base-running very rarely begins with the runner facing the finish line, so let's be sure to train the same way as we'll run in the game. Make sure to incorporate steal-jumps and full bat swings into each sprint drill.
Another tip you can use is to set up a finish line, followed by another cone 5 yards past that. This helps train runners to stop quickly. When running to second and when running to third, it's imperative that a runner be able to stop and stay touching the base. If these bases are the end destination for that particular play, unlike home plate, a runner cannot run or slide past the finish line. Thus, training players to stop quickly can be very advantageous when they're coming in hard to second base or while coming in hot to third base to finish off that triple!
A lesser-known training method that complements these short sprints is to incorporate explosive backpedal sprints as the players return to the starting line. Muscle symmetry is highly undervalued, and running backpedal sprints can help balance out the leg muscle developed from running forward.
Coaches and players must also train the 90-degree turns required to run the bases, and yes, you guessed it, we want to teach these turns to be quick and efficient. The ‘figure-eight chase’ drill is great for this, and players love it. The drill can be seen on Youtube by typing "figure-eight chase drill" into the search bar.
I recommend making the turns tight to challenge the players. Another simple but very effective way to train quick, efficient base-rounding is to have your players line up only 10 yards from the base. Then have them, one at a time, get in a starting position where they are facing in toward the pitcher's mound. Once set, have them quickly accelerate to the base, and as they hit the bag, have them make a quick 90-degree turn towards the next base. As they come off the bag, have the runners accelerate for 10 yards. To keep this drill moving quickly, have the next player go as soon as the first player touches the base. Once everyone has gone, have the players repeat the drill, going back the other way as if they are running the bases in reverse (not backpedaling). Note: This drill is covered from A-Z for 8020Baseball members in the 'Skills and Drills' video library.
Rounding the bases with right turns is an excellent way to ensure muscle symmetry in the ankles and legs. We don’t want our leg muscles lopsided. It's similar to making med-ball rotational throws as though left-handed even if the player is right-handed.
Increase the energy level by having the players compete against each other or against the stopwatch. Also, remember not just to train the straightaways but the corners too. Keep the drill moving, as it will double as good conditioning. The quickness/base-running training can be done in 10-15 minutes (10-12 reps for both drills), and I recommend it be done once a week.
STEP 2: DEVELOP A SCORING MINDSET
Develop a team base-running mindset that is determined to get to home plate and not content with 'just getting on base'.
In my 30+ years of baseball, I have seen thousands and thousands of players get a hit, and I'm always surprised how many of them seem happy and content with just getting on base as if their job was done.
A typical example of this contentment is the player who rounds first after a base hit, and as the ball is still being thrown in from the outfield, he turns his back to the play while gingerly making his way back to first base. On the flip side, I've seen many players round first base eager and ready for the outfielders to make a bad throw. These runners are not cool with just making it to first base. They want to get to home plate. They want to score.
In business, you don't get paid a dollar for making a sales call or meeting with a potential customer; you only get paid when you close the deal when you touch home plate. Of course, these preliminary steps can be a vital part of closing the deal, but the signature on the contract is the only step that makes the deal official. Until then, all the other steps have netted the company zero revenue. Similarly, a player must touch first base, then second, and then third before touching home plate, but it's only home plate that nets the team a run.
Coaches, to create a tenacious base-running culture, you must first explain and then instill the following message into the minds of all your players: "Touching first base, touching second base, and touching third base are important steps, but those bases earn the team ZERO runs; only touching home plate adds a run to that scoreboard! We must always be looking for well-calculated ways to take the next base. We must always be ready for the defense to slip up, to lose focus, and allow us to move up. We cannot be timid on the base paths as we must always use calculated aggressiveness. Our team default base-running mode is aggressive. Your job as a baserunner does not stop until you touch home plate!"
Players should hear this message early, and they should hear it often.
Now we must add the practicum part of the course to the lecture. An excellent way to facilitate aggressive base-running is to run intra-squad games (a Team A vs. Team A scrimmage). Before each game, instruct and encourage your runners to be super-aggressive and even overly aggressive. This training strategy will also help your team on the defensive side of the ball by inherently applying unusual amounts of pressure. We won't get into the specifics of the defensive benefit here, but it's worth noting that it simultaneously sharpens both sides of the sword.
To help foster a relentless base-running attack during these scrimmages, the coach must not yell at a player for making a mistake on the base paths. Instead, keep motivating them to take the extra base or to catch the defense napping.
The nice thing about an intra-squad game is that it only involves your team, so any crazy base-running will not rub the opposing team the wrong way, and the game can also be manipulated to make up for quick outs. It is important to note before we move on that younger players should be encouraged to have a higher level of aggressiveness. The younger the level, the more aggressive the runners should be. Professional and college baserunners take fewer chances than youth baseball runners simply because the throwing and catching skills have caught up and surpassed the running skills. At younger levels, the running skills are typically more advanced than the skills needed to throw and catch.
STEP 3: MAKE QUICK, ACCURATE READS
We must train the brains of our players to make quicker and more accurate situational reads. We want our base runners to be fast processors.
Quick reads can be polished up in step 2 by building an aggressive mindset, but here in step 3, we'll talk about how to train players to react faster through the use of specific drills.
The number one way to get players more comfortable on the bases is to consistently get them out on the bases to train. Quick, accurate reads will become habitual through a ton of repetitions. Games are great to help build experience, but nothing speeds up the process better than an authentic drill conducted efficiently.Bonus Baserunning Tips:
Never spend time with generic running for conditioning; rather use base-running drills instead. Note: If the players are not tired at the end of practice, the practice is too slow, too easy, or both. Efficient, challenging, and competitive practices will move fast.
I highly recommend youth baseball players not follow the MLB movement of "fewer steals." The younger the level, the more they should be trying to steal that next base. Don't go into station-to-station mode until the catchers have beards.
Players should be instructed to keep their foot on the bag unless the ball's precise location is known. Type "hidden ball trick" into the search bar on YouTube to see what I'm referring to. I'm always amazed at how many runners I see hanging out near the bag while looking toward the dugout for signs or while doing some interesting celebration gesture toward their teammates, all the while their cleats/spikes aren't in contact with the base.
By: COACH BO
Photo Credit: Pixabay
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