Tips for better baserunning
Often times when fastpitch softball hitters are having trouble catching up to the ball, a part of the problem can be found in their mental approach. They are watching the pitch to see if it’s a strike and then making a swing decision instead of assuming the pitch is a strike and then holding up if they see it’s not. The process is known as yes-yes-no rather than no-no-yes.
The same kind of thinking needs to apply to baserunners. They need to be looking for opportunities, assuming opportunities are coming, rather than sitting back passively and then trying to react (usually too late) when an opportunity arises.
This problem is actually how I manage to get baserunners thrown out at third or home from time to time. Because I understand baserunning, and was an aggressive runner myself (hard to believe when you see my picture but I wasn’t always old and fat) I assume my runners are looking for the same things I am.
So I see the ball get away from the catcher with a runner on third, and my immediate reaction is “go!” Unfortunately, if the runner isn’t looking for opportunity her first reaction is usually “huh?” followed by “oh maybe I should run now” followed by running, usually into a tag. It isn’t that the decision to send the runner was wrong — it’s sending THAT runner that didn’t work out because she wasn’t looking for the opportunity. While there may have only been a half-second lagtime between me saying “go” and her leaving, it was enough to get her tossed out.
Runners shouldn’t be relying on coaches to send them. They should be looking for opportunities to go. That means watching the ball out of the pitcher’s hand with the assumption that something will go wrong for the defense, then holding up if it doesn’t.
For example, a runner can look for a ball that slips out of the pitcher’s hand, or a drop ball that will obviously hit in front of the plate. Rather than waiting for the ball to hit the ground and then hit the catcher, the runner should be taking off before the ball hits the ground. It’s a pretty safe bet — not many hitters swing at balls that bounce in the dirt — and those extra hundreths of a second might make the difference between getting tagged out (especially with a strong-armed catcher) and cruising in standing up.
A little more difficult is the ball that is partially blocked by the catcher. It takes a little experience to make the judgment, but essentially you want to see how the ball gets away from the catcher. If you can see it going out to the side, that’s the time to take off because the catcher first has to get to the ball, then get control of it, before she can make a throw. If you’re uncertain, learn to recognize a ball moving to the side versus being blocked in front. As long as the catcher can’t just reach down and grab the ball you stand a good chance of making it to second or third.
If you’re on third, you need to be a little more cautious but you can still take advantage of miscues when they occur. You may have to wait a little more to see what the ball does, but the sooner you recognize that the ball is getting away from the catcher and will have to be tossed, the better chance you have of making it home safely.
But it all starts with planning to run. Make that your first priority, to take advantage of opportunities when they occur, and hold up if nothing happens, and you’ll find yourself getting around the bases a whole lot quicker.