As someone who has played and been around baseball their whole life, I can safely say more goes into running the bases than just speed. I’ve played with and coached kids who weren’t necessarily the fastest players but were still some of the best players at turning singles into doubles and stealing bases. Speed is important but being smart on the bases is key.
So how do you teach youth baseball players to run the bases?
The best way to teach youth baseball players how to run the bases is to demonstrate everything for them. Show them the proper technique involved with running through 1st base, go over leadoffs and how to properly steal bases. These are just some of the many topics you’ll go over with your youth players.
Running the bases optimally can be tricky at first, but with the right instruction and plenty of practice, your players will begin to showcase their abilities. If you’re looking for a guide on how to maximize your team’s presence on the bases, you’ve come to the right place.
Running Through First Base
When teaching young players or players who haven’t played baseball before, make sure you go over the importance of running through 1st base. When the ball is batted in the infield, runners should sprint to and through 1st base.
Once they make contact with the base they should veer right slightly or completely turn around and go back to the base. If you make any kind of move toward 2nd base (even if it’s very slight) you can be tagged out.
While I haven’t coached a player who’s been tagged out like this, I have coached a couple of kids who had issues with running through 1st base. Right before getting to the base they would slow down, touch the base and then immediately veer far into foul territory.
You don’t want to do this immediately after the base because it removes you from the play. You want to stay in a position where you’re able to run to 2nd base if the team in the field makes an error.
Players can put themselves in this position by running through 1st base hard and then looking over their right shoulder. This allows the runner to notice any passed balls and opportunities to advance to second.
Another thing these players of mine needed to work on was their contact point with 1st base. As a runner, you want to touch the front-center part of 1st base when you’re running through it.
Why do we do this? Because it’s slightly faster than touching the top of the base. Players should not only avoid touching the top of the base because it’s slower, but it’s also more dangerous.
The odds of you slipping drastically increase by going for the top of the base. With that said, baseball is a game of inches and you want to take every opportunity to maximize your performance.
It may seem trivial but small changes like this will add up and make you a better ballplayer.
Rounding First Base
Rounding the bases (correctly) is a very valuable skill to possess. You want to make sure your players are hitting the inside corner of the base as they head to second.
A lot of coaches stress the importance of touching the base with your right foot, but ultimately it should come down to the preference of players. I wouldn’t force a player to use either foot when rounding 1st base.
At the younger ages, it’s unlikely players are using the same foot each time they’re rounding the base anyways. Rather than focusing on foot preference, you should work on teaching your players the proper techniques for rounding 1st base.
The first thing you should highlight is the fact that you should always touch the inside corner of the bases if you plan on advancing to the next base/plate.
A lot of youth players struggle with this concept and run directly toward each bag, before running to the next station. As their coach, it’s imperative to address this ASAP!
Going back to the concept of rounding 1st base…batters who hit the ball to the outfield (OF) should flare out slightly into foul territory as they approach the base.
And when I say slightly, I mean slightly! They need to position themselves a little in foul territory before they touch 1st base so they have a more direct path to 2nd base.
If they don’t do this, they’re going to have to significantly reduce their speed or they’re going to take a needlessly wide path to 2nd base.
The amount you should round 1st base depends on where you hit the ball. A ball hit to left field (LF) or centerfield (CF) dictates a larger lead toward 2nd base than a ball hit to right field (RF).
The reasoning behind this is that LF and CF are much more unlikely to throw you out if you make a rounding error. You want to get off 1st base as much as you can to put yourself in a good position to advance to 2nd base if the OF commits any errors.
Taking Leads in Baseball
Leading Off First Base
When taking primary leads from 1st base, we want to work from the back of the base. We also want to dive into the back of the base on pick-off attempts. Why do we want to do it this way?
If we dive to the back of the base, it requires move movement from the 1st baseman to apply a tag. So how far off 1st base should you get? A good rule of thumb for this is “right/left/right”.
This means taking your first step off the back of the base with your right foot, followed by a left and another right. When you take your left step, you want to plant that foot and bring your right foot past it, making sure your feet are apart.
You also want to make sure you stay low to the ground as this will increase your balance. If you’re feeling confident, you can add a couple of smaller steps to your lead.
You generally don’t want to be more than a crossover step and dive away from the base with your primary lead. And once the pitcher commits to throwing home, you should take a strong secondary lead.
A strong secondary lead involves taking two big shuffles toward 2nd base. This extra momentum makes it more likely that you’ll beat out in attempts to be thrown out on fielder’s choices and makes it more likely you’ll be able to go from 1st to 3rd base.
Leading Off Second Base
You have a lot more liberty when taking leads from 2nd base. Five steps away from the back of the base is a good starting point. Your lead from 2nd base can become significantly larger, but how large depends on the opposing team.
If no one is holding you on, you may be able to stretch your lead halfway to 3rd base. You’ll have to keep an eye on the middle infielders however, as the chances of the pitcher trying to pick you off increases as your lead increases.
It’s also a lot harder for a pitcher to pick someone off 2nd base than 1st base. Once a pitcher commits to throwing home, you should be taking an aggressive secondary lead.
This means two or three big shuffles toward 3rd base to build momentum. Don’t go too crazy though. You always need to be able to get back to the base if someone tries throwing you out.
Leading Off Third Base
Always stay in foul territory when leading off from 3rd base. If you were to get hit in fair territory by a ball you’d be called out. If you’re hit in foul territory, you’re not called out and you get to show off your sweet bruise after the game.
After each pitch, you want to return to the base in fair territory. This will hinder the throwing lane for the catcher and make it much tougher for him to throw you out. With that said, you always want to keep an eye on the ball.
Nothing would make a catcher’s day more than throwing out an unsuspecting runner at 3rd base. When it comes to taking a lead off 3rd base, you can generally be as far off the base as the 3rd baseman.
If he’s off 5ft, you should be off 5ft. If he’s off 10ft – get off 10ft! Once they start holding you on, you have to play it much more conservatively.
Sliding in Baseball
Learning how to slide is a daunting task for many youth players. I know it was for me when I was learning to play baseball. I think a lot of the fear with sliding comes from the worry that you’re going to hurt yourself.
That’s what was going through my head at least. But the reality of the situation is that sliding is typically much safer than not sliding on close plays or not committing to a slide. There are two forms of sliding: head-first and the “bent-leg” slide.
I wouldn’t recommend teaching younger players how to slide head-first. At their age, it’s too dangerous. Once they get to high-school and beyond they can start implementing it into their game.
So how do you teach your players the “bent-leg” slide? The first thing you should go over with your players is the proper technique. To do this, take them to the outfield and have them sit down on the grass.
In a seated position they should make a “figure 4” by keeping their right leg straight and positioning their left foot under their right knee. Players should keep their lead foot up, to reduce the chance of their cleats getting stuck in the ground.
They should also throw their hands slightly up as they slide into the base. This may help shut down any potential double players. The alternative is dragging your hands on the dirt and potentially tearing them up.
Before your players try sliding into a base, I recommend that they practice their sliding in the outfield. You can use a cone or glove as a base and have your players demonstrate the technique you just went over with them.
Players should start their slide between 5-8ft away from the base but this may vary slightly between players. Practicing the slide in the grass in tennis shoes or socks could help your players grasp the concept of sliding.
Stealing Bases in Baseball
There’s an art to stealing bases. One that doesn’t require speed but mandates that you process information quickly. Speed becomes increasingly important at the higher levels, but in Little League, it’s not necessary for stealing bases.
Some important things to consider when contemplating stealing a base: the catcher’s pop time, the pitcher’s time to home and how many looks the pitcher gives to you before throwing the ball.
Stealing Second Base in Baseball
When you’re contemplating stealing 2nd base, there are a ton of things you should watch for. The most important being the back foot for right-handed pitchers (RHPs).
For a RHP to throw over to first and not get called for a balk, the pitcher has to step off the rubber with their back foot. If the RHP makes his first move with his front foot, he has to go home with the ball.
Otherwise, it’s a balk. Watch for pitchers to hop off the mound with their back foot and try to pick you off all in one motion. It may sound tricky, but as long as the RHP’s front foot moves first, you’re in the clear to steal 2nd base.
Left-handed pitchers (LHPs) are a whole different ballgame. They can step off the mound and they can also lift their front leg and throw over to first. The latter is by far the move you’ll encounter more from LHPs.
There are a couple of different things you can do when facing LHPs. For Little League, I recommend taking a smaller lead and not stealing nearly as often. Most LHPs are chomping at the bit to throw out runners at 1st base.
The other alternative is going on the first move of the pitcher’s lead foot. This means you need to take off the instant the pitcher moves his right foot.
When this happens, the pitcher has to either throw home or to 1st base. And in the case they throw to 1st base, you should already be at least halfway to 2nd base.
Stealing Third Base in Baseball
If you’re planning to steal 3rd base, you should start with taking 5 steps off the back of the base like previously mentioned. You still need to be aware of where the middle infielders are playing and adjust your leadoff accordingly.
You should also have an idea of how many times (if at all) the pitcher looks back to 2nd base. By getting a good feel for the pitcher’s rhythm and tendencies, you can increase your lead and get a good jump to third.
You should use this knowledge to your advantage and slowly inch yourself toward 3rd base. You need to build as much momentum as you can toward 3rd base, as it’s much harder to steal than 2nd base.
You do have to exercise some caution as both LHPs and RHPs can bring their front foot over the back of the mound to try and pick runners off.
Teaching Base Stealing in Baseball
Every youth baseball player should receive opportunities to steal bases. Stealing shouldn’t be limited to only the fastest players on the team.
For this reason, you should go over the fundamentals of stealing with each player regardless of how many steal opportunities they may receive during the season.
If you’re only going to show some players, you’ll be doing the rest a disservice. Your goal as a coach is to make everyone better and by playing favorites you’re doing the opposite. Being smart is just as important as being fast.
Give all your players the chance to prove themselves.
Trusting the Coaches
We’ve all been in the situation where a coach told us to do something on the bases that made us do a double-take. When this happens, you need to trust your base coaches.
Base coaches should have a better grasp of the situation because they aren’t preoccupied with running around the bases. There will be times when you feel like your coaches run you into an out, but there will be plenty more instances where they played a major role in you scoring.
For that reason, you need to trust your coaches when they tell you to do something. A couple of examples of this are them waving you home and putting up the stop sign.
If a coach inadvertently gets you out, you shouldn’t worry about it. That’s on the coach. However, if you get out as a result of not listening to the coach, that’s on you.
Runners on 1st base and the batter need to look at the 3rd base coach in between pitches. The phenomenon of Little Leaguers not picking up on signs ranks right up there with some of the world’s greatest mysteries.
I’m talking Stonehenge and the construction of the pyramids. For your well-being and the stress levels of your coaches – please watch for the signs! If you have questions regarding the signs, ask the coaches. I think a quick run-through of the signs before each game isn’t a bad idea.
Another good idea is to remind your players of the situation whenever they’re on base. While they should already know what’s going on, it helps to point out how many outs there are, if the pitcher has a good pick-off move and what they should do on a batted ball.
The base coaches should also yell “back!” on pick-off attempts, but getting back to the base is ultimately the responsibility of the runner. The coaches are just there to help and keep your head in the game. As a player, you should already know what to do in each situation.
Always Know the Situation
All your players need to be aware of how many outs there are, the score and the count at all times. If there are 2 outs, they should always run on contact. Where there are 2 outs and the count is full, they should run on the pitch.
Keep in mind that you don’t need to run super aggressively if your run doesn’t matter. By that I mean if you’re down a handful of runs you shouldn’t advance in certain situations unless you’re 100% sure you’ll make to the next base.
There’s no reason to push the envelope and potentially run yourself into an out. One situation where it might make sense is if you’re trying to eliminate the possibility of a double-play.
But whatever you do, don’t make the first or third out at 3rd base. There’s no bigger momentum killer in baseball! Listen to your base coaches and these unfortunate instances shouldn’t occur in the first place.
The base coaches should let you know when you should tag and when you should stay on the base. On fly balls to the OF, you generally want to tag from 2nd and 3rd base whenever possible. The same doesn’t hold true for 1st base.
If you’re on 1st base when a fly ball is hit to the OF, a good rule of thumb is to go halfway or as far as you can and still make it safely back to the bag.
You generally don’t want to tag because the chances of getting thrown out are higher at 2nd base compared to the other bases. Tagging up from 1st base also impedes the progress of the batter if the ball lands.