I have some great news for all youth baseball coaches who feel they have a weak team and still want to be competitive. Here it is. Baserunning.
Hardly anyone practices this underrated skill. I started paying more attention to it within my first few years of coaching. When a rival coach in the minors (9-10 years old) was using some strategies that really threw me and our team off, I went to this coach's next few games just to watch the way he coached his team.
I started to use some of his techniques and developed them into my own strategies over the years. I learned and created numerous baserunning drills that have become a regular part of my practices. And something amazing happened.
The Power of Focus
I saw that if I practiced baserunning, there was a residual effect. Players as young as 9 or 10 were much more focused on the base paths. Even between pitches, their heads seemed to wander less than my earlier teams before we practiced baserunning.
Too often in youth baseball we see coaches explaining from the coaching box what to do in different baserunning scenarios. It's all too common to see a coach yelling instructions to a player on second base such as "Johnny, if the ball is hit to the right side of the infield, run to third right away. If the ball is hit to the left side of the infield, don't run until the fielder throws the ball to first base."
I tell coaches all the time that having the young players experience the situation is much better than just explaining it to them when it occurs on the field.
Go With the Slide
The one baserunning technique that I urge all youth coaches to teach and reinforce is to have their players slide almost all of the time at bases other than first base. Even when there is a close play and the player knows he is going to be out, teach him to slide.
The sliding might disrupt the fielders or help break up a double play-something that is not too frequent on the youth level but is fundamentally good, sound baseball. Teams that have a reputation of sliding almost all the time will also force the opposing team to rush the play and can cause errors on plays that would otherwise have been made.
And trust me, no matter how much you practice this and try to reinforce it, players on the youth level will still forget to slide. I used to get incredibly frustrated when this would happen. I learned it is something we coaches have to accept. It is just human nature for 9 ,10, 11 and 12-year-old kids to not only forget to slide, but other basics that we keep repeating.
It's Not About the Speed
Coaches need to remember that their fastest baserunner is not necessarily the best baserunner. Some young players will just gravitate to being aggressive, instinctive baserunners.
I see this all the time where a player with average speed will just excel at baserunning. Explain and encourage your players to study high school, college or professional teams and to take a little time to observe the runners that are on base. Encourage them to focus on the runner and not the pitcher or batter to see how they approach baserunning and how they react after each pitch.
This is an important point for families that watch a lot of baseball on television. The TV is usually always focused on the pitcher and hitter.
When you are at a live game, you get to see the whole field and have the benefit of watching the players on base go from their initial lead to their secondary lead. It is especially good to study this when there is more than one player on base. Follow these tips and you might be surprised at how quickly players catch on.Find a Baseball camp to take your game to the next level.
Marty Schupak has coached youth baseball for 21 years and is the video creator of "The 59 Minute Baseball Practice", "Winning Baseball Strategies", "Hitting Drills & Techniques", "Pitching Drills & Techniques", "Baserunning & Bunting Drills" and author of the popular book, "Youth Baseball Drills". He is president of the Youth Sports Club, a group dedicated to making sports practices and games more enjoyable for kids.