WATCH THE BALL WHILE YOU RUN THE BASES
Too few youth coaches teach this. In fact, many youth coaches teach the exact opposite.
We watch a lot of 12U games and hear more than our share of well intended, but bad advice.
- "Don't watch the ball while you run"
- "Let the coaches be your eyes",
- "Don’t go until the coach says go" (which sounds a lot like "no" to a kid with a helmet on, by the way).
These are the wrong things to tell your base runners. None of these phrases are spoken by knowledgeable coaches. We understand their reasoning. Many beginning players, if left on their own, will "wander" or run their team out of a big inning or ball game. We also know that some 12U players don't have the maturity or mental discipline to make base running decisions on their own. Our thought to you is when do you think they are going to learn this? The answer from most youth parents is "high school". The answer from most high school coaches is “youth ball".
The reality is that this is just one of over 100 fundamental skills that NEVER get taught to youth players. Many youth players never develop "athletic intelligence"(thinking on their feet) on the base paths. They never learn to consistently make the necessary split second decisions on their own. These players are lost when they arrive on the big field. At that level (90 foot bases) the game is no longer "one base at a time" and the speed of the game is much greater.
Base coaches do not start runners, they only stop them.
At the high school level and beyond, the best base runners are not always fast, but they are always smart. They instinctively anticipate opportunities to go on their own. They often get out in practice and scrimmages as they stretch and learn their limits.
Drill: Line up your players at home and hit balls to the outfield. They should glance at the ball 2-3 times and banana out to take their turn. If the ball bounces off or gets by an out fielder they should never break stride as they take 2b. (The LL drill I really like is the “Bobble Drill.” We show it in our “Youth Skills and Special Drill” video.)
During offensive BP the coach should call for the "hit and run". The runner must "look in" during his third step toward 2b and then react according to where the ball is hit. His choices will be to banana out and make it to 3b (grounders through the infield), slide hard into 2b (grounders to the infield), go "half way" on fly balls to the outfield, etc.
Another negative trend that we see in a lot of 10U games is "chicken base running". You know, when the batter draws "another" base on balls, hustles down to 1b, takes a wide turn and dares the pitcher to throw to 1b. If he does, the runner often sprints to 2b usually without a throw because the coach doesn't want to risk a bad throw that goes into the outfield.
Worse than this is when the pitcher just holds the ball and stares at the base runner (or bluffs like he is going to chase him down). Sometimes we see the runner clap his hands (awful sportsmanship) to try and entice a throw.
Worse than both of these is on balls hit to the outfield where the outfielder slings it to the infield, the pitcher chases it down, turns and sprints to the mound (circle), throws up his hand and yells "time out", so the umpire will stop the runners. What's up with this? What skill are we teaching here?
Coaches need to teach Baseball, where the pitcher backs up 3b and every fielder is taught to throw and catch; not call time out!
Coaches need to teach their kids how to properly execute rundowns and not be afraid of failure.
One other line of "bad advice" that we hear in the younger age groups: "don't watch the ball being caught. Watch the next base and listen for the coach to say go". (When the runner tags up on fly balls to the outfield.)Why watch the next base? It's not going anywhere. What if it's a windy day and nobody can hear well? What if there is more than one runner to move up? What if the coach only wants one of them to move up? What if a fan on the other team shows poor sportsmanship and yells "go" a split second before the ball is caught to confuse and cause the base runner to leave the base too early? What if a second fielder decoys the coach by faking the catch a split second before the ball is actually caught (by the fielder next to him)?
Not only should the tagging base runner watch the ball hit the outfielders glove, but coaches should teach them the proper way to face depending on which outfielder makes the catch.
At third base the runner should have his left foot on the bag, his right foot on the line and face the catch. In this manner he will not get turned around. He will have the entire play in front of him.
At second base the runner should tag up facing the left field fence on fly balls to left and center. He should face the 1b dugout on fly balls to right field. (Remind your players that they must really “bust it” to get back to their base when a fly ball is hit.)
The runner at first base should rarely tag. Instead he should advance as far as he can and still be able to get back after the ball is caught.
All tagging base runners should watch the ball be caught, turn and start toward the next base.
If the 3b coach wants him to stay he should throw up both hands and/or yell, “back”, “stop”, “freeze” or any word that doesn’t end in “o”.
The final example is on pitches in the dirt. Catchers are taught to drop to their knees and block (not catch) these. Many times the ball will bounce 5 feet or more away from him. We teach our base runners to capitalize on this. They anticipate and read the trajectory of the ball, get one extra secondary step and take the next base often without a throw down. This is a great skill for base runners with below average speed.
We often use a pre-pitch reminder to our base runners; “Read the ball in the dirt;” especially when the batter is behind in the count”.
Kids that are not taught this go back to their original base because there is no time for the coach to communicate “go”. On the big field this often makes the difference in a close ball game.
Kids that arrive at high school with these “instincts” embedded in them always excel.