Monthly Archives: November 2017

Tips for executing a successful rundown

Teja throw

In my last blog post I talked about the value of practicing rundowns, and all the good it can do. But I didn’t get into the details of how to execute them successfully from a defensive point of view. So guess what we’re going over today?

Step one is to understand what makes for a good rundown. When you watch a rundown on a TV show or in the movies, you see a lot of running back and forth, faking throws, and actual throws.

While that makes for good drama, it’s pretty bad technique for a rundown. Here’s how to do it better.

Limit throws

The first rule of rundowns is the fewer the throws, the better. In fact, as I mentioned last time when I am working with teams I will ask them how many throws in the ideal rundown. The correct answer is zero.

When you make a throw, especially on the run, there are all sorts of things that can go wrong. You can throw the ball away (obviously) – high or wide. You can throw the ball into the runner. You can lose your grip on the ball and send it rolling or even behind you. You can throw too early or too late.

The better bet is to do what the technique says – run down the runner and apply the tag.

Run hard at the runner

The best explanation I’ve heard is when you run at the runner, you should put the “fear of God” in her. The mistake most defensive players make is running at the same pace as the runner. Why?

You want to put the tag on her if you can, so run at her as hard as you can. I used to love demonstrating this part. I’d take one side of a rundown, get the ball, and start chasing the runner like a monster in a horror movie – crazy eyes and a maniacal look on my face. The runner would usually freak out while the others laughed, but the point was made.

Leave no doubt. Make the runner think your plan is to tackle her before you tag her and she will start running full speed to get away. That’s a good thing because it takes a lot more effort, and a lot longer, to turn and run the other way if you’re running full speed.

Keep a Line of sight

Sometimes the speed mismatch doesn’t lend itself to just a run and tag. If you do have to make a throw or two, be sure you can see the person you’re throwing to, i.e., keep a line of sight to the other side.

Rather than running right behind the runner, run a bit off to your throwing-hand side. If the runner moves, you should move too. It’s a lot easier to make good throws if you’re not trying to throw over or around someone.

Use dart throws

Everyone says to use dart throws, but what does it really mean? To understand, get a dartboard and some darts and try to hit the bullseye.

Odds are you’re not going to wind up as throw as hard as you can. Instead, you will use more of a pushing motion, with no wrist snap.

It’s the same for rundowns. If you wind up and throw hard, especially as you get closer, there’s probably a better chance that the receiver will flinch than you will execute a successful throw and catch. Use that more direct push-type throw and you’ll put the ball where you want it.

Oh, and if you have to use more arm to make the throw, you’re not doing it right. Or you’re not in a rundown.

Pinch in

Another mistake teams will make is standing at the two bases and running back and forth between them. That’s a disaster waiting to happen.

Instead, both sides should start pinching in to shorten the distance the runner has to work with. If you run hard at the runner and get her to commit, as we said above, it will take her a little time to stop and reverse direction.

If the receiver on the other side is close, she can get the ball, run up, and make the tag before the runner has a chance to change direction. That’s way better than trying to run 60 feet back and forth each time.

Run the runner back

Whenever possible, get the ball ahead of the runner and try to run her back toward the base she’s coming from. While not as good as getting the out, keeping the runner at the base she started at is better than having her advance a base.

Time your throws

To make sure you’re running the runner back, anytime she gets more than halfway to the next base make the throw and get it in front of the runner. It’s not a hard and fast rule, but more of a rule of thumb.

The closer you let her get to the next base the more chance the runner has of advancing. So try to make sure you’re only working within the 30 feet between the last base and the next one whenever possible.

Peel off after the throw

Again, if you do have to make a throw, it’s important to know what to do next. Start by getting out of the way. Peel off to the side so you don’t interfere with the play going on. Then keep going and get in line on the other side, just in case you’re called on again. Although hopefully you won’t be.

Watch the trail runner

If there is more than one runner on base, don’t forget about the trail runner. As soon as you get the out on the lead runner, start looking for the trail runner.

High five

When you get the runner, and the play is over, don’t forget to celebrate! You just got a free out.

Practice these techniques until they become automatic and you’ll win your unfair share of rundowns.

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A quick rundown on why you should regularly practice rundowns

Practicing rundowns can pay off on both sides of the ball

A few years ago, when I was still coaching teams, I heard through the grapevine that one of the parents was griping about how much we practiced rundowns. He was a “baseball guy,” and as such was of the belief that rundowns didn’t happen very often. He couldn’t figure out why we would spend so much time on them.

Forget about the fact that if he’s opened his eyes a little more he would’ve seen that in fastpitch softball, rundowns tend to happen a little more often. It’s a faster game than baseball, with shorter distances between bases (60 feet v 90 feet for those who don’t know) and a smaller field overall.

As a result, baserunning tends to be somewhat more aggressive, and runners (as well as coaches) are more likely to take chances. Especially if they’re not sure they’re going to have many opportunities to score.

But even if that wasn’t the case, there are a lot of other things your team can gain from practicing rundowns other than the specific skill of handling rundowns. Here are a few.

Precision

Rundowns occur over shorter distances overall, and they tend to squeeze in more as they go on. That means there isn’t a lot of room for error. Throwers learn to throw to a specific spot instead of a general direction, and receivers learn to focus intensely – especially when the throw may be coming from an odd angle because the thrower didn’t maintain a good line of sight.

Grace under pressure

This goes along with precision. Things happen quickly in a rundown, and they can go wrong very quickly. If you panic, you’re likely to pull the glove down early and miss a throw, or make a throw you don’t need to make, or hold the ball too long. Rundowns help players learn to handle pressure and stay focused on the task instead of the outcome. By the way, that goes for the person running too. Their job is to stay alive until the defense makes a mistake. Can’t do that if you’re in panic mode.

Communication and teamwork

The ideal rundown has zero throws: the ball gets ahead of the runner, and the fielder chases her down until she makes the tag. But that doesn’t happen too often, so fielders need to be able to communicate effectively to coordinate their efforts. I’m not a believer in the receiver calling “ball” and the thrower holding the ball until they hear that, but if one side isn’t doing their job the other side needs to be able to tell them. Or if the thrower is running with the runner between her and the receiver, blocking the line of site, one of them needs to tell the other to move over so she can see. Or think about a first-and-third situation, with a runner caught between first and second. The team needs to know how to communicate effectively if the runner on third starts heading for home, so the team can break off the rundown on the trail runner and get the lead runner. So much going on!

Conditioning and agility

Yeah, you could have your team line up on the baseline and run a bunch of sprints to build up their speed and recovery time. But why not have them practice rundowns instead? They can get the same level of conditioning – especially if you limit the number of runners who can sub in – and you don’t have to listen to all the complaining. Create a little competition with a prize at the end and they’ll practically kill themselves trying to win. They’ll also learn how to change directions quicker – a valuable skill in several aspects of the game.

It’s fun

When I was a kid, we used to call it “running bases.” Others call it “pickle,” and I’m sure there are other names. But the basic rundown was something we used to do for fun when there weren’t enough kids around or we didn’t have enough time to play a regular game. All you need is a couple of gloves, a ball, something to use for bases, and some space. Instead of treating it like a drill, treat it like a reward – something fun to do at the end of practice.

The beautiful thing is if your team gets really, really good at executing rundowns, they can generate more outs in the field. They’ll look for opportunities, and will be more confident in going after the lead runner in tag situations. On the offensive side, they’ll be more comfortable if they do wind up in one, helping you avoid some outs on the basepaths.

Don’t take rundowns for granted. Make them a regular part of your practice routine and watch the difference they make.

Now it’s your turn. How often do you practice rundowns? How good is your team at executing them? And if you played running bases/pickle as a kid, what did you call it?

Where have all the officials gone?

There has been a decline in sports officials nationwide

If you’ve been thinking lately that it’s a tough time for officials in a number of sports including fastpitch softball, you’d be right. As this infographic from Ohio University demonstrates, the number of officials nationwide is on a steady decline.

That’s bad news for everyone involved in youth sports, because even though you may not always like their calls, and in some cases may think they are biased/blind/complete idiots, umpires and referees are still essential for competitive sports. You could play without them, I suppose, but if you’re counting on all the coaches and players to be completely honest about close calls you’re bound to be sorely disappointed.

Where are they all going? Well, like the rest of the workforce, older officials are retiring. Unfortunately, not enough people are stepping up to replace them. It seems that players who are either finishing or have finished their playing careers aren’t exactly stepping up to stay involved in softball by becoming umpires. Although there are some exceptions.

The opportunities to advance from high school to college officiating aren’t exactly abundant either, which may discourage some. The pay isn’t exactly great, the hours can be long and inconvenient, and so forth.

Then there is the issue of the hostile environment these days. More and more, youth sports contests are beginning to sound like political debates on Facebook. This has led more than 85% of current officials to “consider terminating their services if (the) environment worsens.”

What’s the consequence? According to the infographic, potentially it could mean fewer games, fewer opportunities at the lower levels in high school, and perhaps some sports being dropped altogether at some schools.

While the infographic doesn’t get into travel/club ball, fewer officials could mean even shorter games in an effort to cover the same number of games, or perhaps bringing in unqualified or untrained volunteers to pick up the slack. Yes, I know there are some bad umpires out there even with training, but the situation could get a whole lot worse.

So what’s the solution? I can think of a couple of things.

One is to be sure coaches, parents, and players treat officials with respect rather than imitating the bad behavior they see on TV. That not only gives current officials a reason to stay in it; it also encourages current players to stay in the game by officiating when their careers are done.

As part of that, coaches and players should shake the officials’ hands after every game – even if you think they blew a call that cost you the game. Just that act alone can mean a lot.

Stiffer penalties for those who verbally or especially physically abuse or threaten officials should be put in place and enforced vigorously. No official should ever have to wonder if he/she will be confronted by an angry coach or parent after a game.

Officiating organizations should also make an effort to reach out to high school and college players (and their parents, for that matter), encouraging them to sign up when they’re done playing. Sometimes all it takes is asking someone. They should do more than send an email. They should actually show up in person and present, in my opinion.

Those are just a few ideas I had. What about you? What do you think we can do to turn the tide and swell the ranks of quality officials?

Getting the feel of dragging the changeup

I could have sworn I have posted this before, but I just ran a bunch of searches and couldn’t find it so just in case here it goes again.

One of the keys to throwing an effective backhand change is to pull or drag the ball through the release zone knuckles-first rather than pushing it ball first. Or snapping it like a fastball.

Sometimes, though, it can be difficult for pitchers to get that feeling. That’s what the drill shown at the top of this post is for, demonstrated by a former student of mine named Tayler Janda (helped by her mom Jennie) back when she was in high school.

Essentially, you set the pitcher up with her feet apart so they won’t move. Then have her grasp a swim noodle with her knuckles facing forward. When you say go, she pulls the noodle out of your hand and flings it forward. (NOTE: have her try to do it without spinning her shoulders like Tayler is doing in the video.)

The goal of this drill is to get the pitcher to feel what it’s like to hold onto the ball until she reaches forward as far as she can go before releasing, and to maintain speed all the way through.

A few repetitions and she should start to get the feel. The nice thing about this drill is you can do it indoors on a rainy day just as easily as you can on a field or in a cage.

If you have (or are) a pitcher who is having trouble finding the proper release on your change, give this one a try.

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