Running the bases could be the most overlooked skill in Fastpitch Softball. The object of the game is to outscore the other team so the faster you get your girls from one base to the next the better chance you have of scoring. How many girls do you have that slow down as they approach a base (especially first base)? How many of them are afraid to slide? How many just aren’t very aggressive on the bases? When you conquer these challenges, your team will turn into a high-octane scoring machine.
Get the Stopwatch Out
The first step to being successful running the bases, is to get your girls to understand the concept of their speed. Undoubtedly, some players on your team are considered fast and some considered slow, but do you really know, and do the slow girls know how fast they really are? It’s time to break out the stopwatch (please read the article about the
greatness of the stopwatch
) and find out. Time the girls running from home plate to first base. When I last coached a 12U team, the times ranged from 3.18 up to 3.75 with the bulk of the girls clocking about 3.5 seconds. (Yes, the girl running the 3.18 is exceptionally fast.) When I coached 8U our goal was to get the times below 4.0 seconds. Most of the slower players will be amazed at how close they really are to the faster players and this will go a long way towards building their confidence on the bases. At the close of EVERY practice, I have the girls line up at home, and time them running to first base twice. This helps the girls practice running in general, gives them a goal to achieve since they want to beat their teammates, and MOST importantly it teaches them to run through first base.
Running the Bases - Time and Distance
The next step is to make them understand the concept of time and distance. You will probably find this very enlightening as well. Have your players gather between home plate and first base, then mark off seconds on the baseline. For my 12U team I used 3.5 seconds as the average speed, so starting at home plate I paced off 17 feet and put a ball on the ground, then another 17 feet and so on until you have reached first base. Now explain to your team what you have done. Ask them questions like: how many times running the bases have you been thrown out by less than one step and have you ever been thrown out by 17 feet? Then explain, that one step they get thrown out by is only 1 or 2 tenths of a second. I believe you will start to see some enlightenment in their eyes. You will want to talk about getting out of the box fast and not watching the ball. When they hit the ball their eyes should be focused on first base and nothing else. To drive this point home, time one of your players running from home to first the correct way, then have that same player run one third the distance with their head turned to the left as if they were watching the ball. The point will have been made, and your girls will now understand time and distance, and the speed of Fastpitch Softball. As a side note, this is a great time to talk about defense as well and knowing where they are going with ball before it is hit.
Running the Bases - A Running Start
In Fastpitch Softball there are no lead offs, but you are allowed a running start if you know how to do it correctly. As you just learned, tenths of seconds make the difference in being out or safe, and ultimately in scoring or not scoring. Base runners should stand in a running position with their left foot on the base, their right foot behind them next to the base, and arms cocked. As the pitch is being thrown the runner should leave her left foot on the base, but begin running with her right foot. Do NOT ever let them stand on base in a set position with their left foot on the base and their right foot forward towards the next base. Feel free to break out the stopwatch and see what a difference this makes. In preseason practices, I will have the pitcher take the mound, have the girls line up on the first baseline, and have them practice timing the pitcher’s release and getting a running start. Generally they will catch on pretty quickly, however, the coach needs to be watching to see who is getting off too early and who is getting too slow of a jump. As the season progresses, I will go back to this drill if I notice some of the players getting lazy on their starts.
Running the Bases - AND SLIDE!
Slide, Slide, SLIDE!!! "OUT" Why didn’t you slide?
You can hear these words at almost every Fastpitch Softball game. Hey coach, guess what? At least half of your players will not slide until you have taught them how and until they have practiced it and been successful. You also need to realize that some of the girls that refuse to slide are very scared of getting hurt. I don’t recommend practicing sliding on a dirt infield ESPECIALLY if the players are just wearing shorts. If they get scraped up even one time in practice, it will be almost impossible to ever get them to slide in a game. I have two suggestions. First, and the most fun, is to have a slip-n-slide day. Have a practice at your house and have the girls wear their bathing suits. Then break out the slip-n-slide and have fun. If you have a little more money, I suggest purchasing
a sliding mat. A sliding mat is a perfect tool for teaching sliding. In the preseason, I take this to every practice and have each of the girls take about five slides. Pretty soon the girls will gain confidence in their ability and lose their fear of being injured. Once the season is underway, I will only use this drill about once a month or as needed. Remember, this game is won or lost on tenths of seconds. If your softball players aren’t sliding, then they are slowing down so they can stop on the base. Ouch, or should I say OUT.
Running the Bases - With Confidence
Once you have taught your players the concept of speed and distance, taught them the proper technique for running starts, and taught them the proper technique to slide, you will have given them the confidence to be more aggressive base runners. Other coaches comment on how fast my players are, but it’s really not true. My players really aren’t faster than their players in a straight sprint. They just play fast by getting a good jump on the ball, concentrating on running the bases, knowing how fast they really are, and running full speed until it's time to slide. Running the bases, sliding, lead offs, and timed sprints will be a staple in the winning coach's practice routine.
Don't forget to read about the
GREATNESS of the Stopwatch
to learn several more tips, drills and uses for a stopwatch. Time is of the Essence in Fastpitch Softball.
Youth Speed Training E-Book for $14.99 Think about how many REALLY close plays are made at 1st base. Did you realize if you can shave just 2/10ths of a second off a girls time to 1st base, that will translate into 3-4 feet. Over the course of a season, how many more runs did you just score by turning that ground out into an infield hit?