Baserunning, as most know it, is a skill that is usually left to the end of practice to work on. And often, the work done in baserunning is more as a conditioner to complete the practice rather than as a stimulator to actually learn how to run the bases.
Since more baserunners get to first base more than any other base, it would only seem prudent that each baserunner work on taking more responsibility for their actions once they get to first base, ensuring they are prepared to take advantage of any opportunity to move up a base, two bases or to score.
Think for a moment … look back up to the first paragraph, and ask yourself, “what does that paragraph actually say?” It is very straightforward, in that the practice of baserunning usually occurs at the end of practice. The end of practice! The end! Well, by the end of practice most kids not only are physically tired, but they are also mentally tired. So, if the practice of the practice of baserunning, whether low impact or for conditioning (which I think is a waste of time), is fashioned at the end of practice, what are the players really getting out of it? Most likely, not much! So what should you do then?
Going back now to the second paragraph above, ask yourself, “what base do players get to more?” Well, if you answered first base, then maybe that should be the primary base of concentration that one should spend time with. Of course each base is critical, but how critical are subsequent bases if players can’t get past first base?
Teaching baserunners to own first base and own their movements off first base will affect their ability to acquire subsequent bases and eventually score more runs. As a result, one of the best methods of coaching baserunners to own first base is the practice they each put in before the actual practice begins.
In reviewing a sample of what teams would do prior to practice or even a game, it would look something like this:
Run, Stretch and Throw … does this sound familiar? The timelines for this are usually 15-20 minutes, depending on numerous factors. The run is pretty basic and instituted to essentially get the blood flowing. Part two, the stretch … for some, it is dynamic in nature, while others may still be implementing the antiquated practice of static stretching. And part three is the throwing portion. That is all good and standard if that is the practice of warm up. However, what is missing for most is taking ownership in movements off first base, as a baserunner works on certain parts of occupying first base.
This process can begin with all players using their gloves as bases or starting points. Players should line up and first begin to work on their footwork outward in setting up their primary leadoffs. They may walk these three or four times to ensure ownership is taken on footwork to assist them in developing the same movements off the base.
Next, each player should work on creating their secondary lead, ensuring they shuffle under control, while keeping their head on a swivel and simulating the tracking of the ball into the hitting zone. This should be an aggressive, yet controlled outward movement toward second base (the outfield if using the foul line as the starting point), and followed by an aggressive back, with the head and eyes looking in toward a simulated catcher.
Next, each player will then work on taking their secondary breaks toward second base. With each secondary break, baserunners should get into the habit of taking a quick peek inward, over their left shoulder, simulating they are picking up the ball off the bat.
Once three or four of these have been completed, they could turn their secondary breaks into delayed steal breaks, ensuring to take one extra shuffle step, with no bouncing and then break for second base. Again, a quick peek over the left shoulder will create the habit of picking up the ball or reading ball in the dirt.
Next, each baserunner can work independently on hit and run breaks. That is, from a slightly shorter primary lead, break for second base and peek in at the hitter (simulated hitter) as the break for second base occurs.
Finally, baserunners can conclude their early baserunning ownership with three or four steal breaks, ensuring they get a good lean and go, by creating a positive shin angle as they break for second base.
Most players rarely use this time, prior to throwing, as an occasion to take ownership into their movements off first base. Just think, they are fresh, eager and have a clear mind, hence, why not make better use of this time? It is a great time additionally to observe which players are taking charge, which are cutting corners and which players are tirelessly working on a critical part of the game.
Good Luck and I hope you find a way to incorporate this type of movement into your team warm up prior to a game or practice. If you have your own tactics to accomplish the same goals, I’d love if you’d share them here.