Coaches must get athletes excited about learning to dominate the basepaths individually and as a team. To accomplish this, stress baserunning daily, instilling into players’ minds that comfort off a base, comfort with body movement and technique, and instincts are just as important in maneuvering around the bases as speed.
Are coaches gaining the mind-set of their athletes? Are athletes gaining confidence as they learn details on the bases? Are you developing a team philosophy for baserunning and base stealing? Is every athlete, regardless of speed, learning ways to be effective on the bases? Are athletes learning how to work together if they are on the bases at the same time?
Coaches must gain the athlete’s confidence and mind-set early on. They have to get players excited to run the bases and work on base stealing in practice. When players are excited and want to learn more, coaches should teach the smallest details of picking up advantages on the basepath. This improves the athlete’s comfort and instincts and leads to quick improvement.
My son Brian loved to run and always wanted to start up a game of pickle in the yard, at the beach, or wherever he could find a ball and a couple of people to play with him. Syd Thrift, director of the KC Academy, always said, “The most effective instruction is repetitive.” I believe the reason Brian became an exceptional base runner and base stealer was repetition.
In pickle, bases are placed approximately 20 to 40 feet (6-12.2 m) apart. One person runs back and forth between two people standing near the bases tossing the ball back and forth trying to tag the runner out before the runner arrives safely at either base. The game is lots of fun; keeps the runner working on back-and-forth movements, quickness, and deception; and can include practicing sliding into a base.
Pickle led to Brian’s excitement about base stealing. He wanted to learn more because he found an area of the game in which he could have some success. Playing pickle early in his life did help him to become a good base stealer and eventually Major League Baseball’s American League base-stealing champion in 2007.
I enjoy every opportunity to engage and challenge players to work on improving all areas of their baserunning and base stealing. When I work with players under the age of 12, it is relatively easy to prove to them in my teaching that speed is just a small element of success. I work with them to improve their running and comfort with variable leads and to be able to slide into a base with ease either feet first or head first.
I try to show athletes that a body’s shape, whether perceived as good or bad, does not predetermine whether a player is quick or can maneuver the bases better than a teammate. I demonstrate to the athlete that technique and instincts often are more important in on-base situations than speed.
I usually can develop more confidence in younger players soon after I begin teaching them because fewer coaches have instilled in their players that only speed changes games on the bases. In many leagues for kids 12 and under, a player must keep his foot on the base until the ball is delivered, so players rarely try to steal. However, once baseball players have participated in a league for ages 13 and up, when many coaches constantly talk to only the speed guys about helping the team on the bases, I find a much larger challenge convincing athletes to accept that every team member has a chance to improve. Often, when I start teaching an average to below-average runner new to my philosophy that he can dramatically improve his baserunning skills, I have to spend a little more time and effort convincing him he can be more confident and successful at stealing bases.
Are coaches committing enough practice time for base stealing and baserunning? Do they separate base stealing from baserunning? Are they making practices “live” at times for game simulation? Are they taking video of practices so athletes can review their form, rhythm, and techniques?