The Run Rule – and the Golden Rule
Most of us are taught the Golden Rule as children: Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.
So you have to wonder what goes through some coaches’ heads when their team is clearly going to run rule their opponents but they decide to keep their foot on the offensive accelerator anyway. I mean, why would you beat an opponent by 15 runs when you could do it by 30 runs instead? Right?
This topic came up when I was talking to a coach friend of mine who recently saw this type of beating in real time. She wondered why the coach of the superior team felt the need to run up the score when the game was already decided pretty early.
I didn’t have an answer. Maybe the winning coach wasn’t used to being in that situation and didn’t know how to control events on the field.
Maybe she thought that hanging a big number on their opponents would somehow give her team more confidence and they’d start playing better. Maybe she just didn’t know any better.
Maybe the losing team over-reached (or under-researched) when entering that tournament or scheduling that game and put themselves in a bad situation.
Or maybe, just maybe, the winning coach enjoyed the feeling of beating up on a weaker team. There are people like that out there.
Whatever the reason, scores of big numbers to 0 or 1 really shouldn’t happen. Once the direction of the game has been established as being greatly lopsided, the coach of the team on top should do what he/she can to keep it under control rather than humiliating a group of kids who may not have been playing for very long or just don’t have the talent to compete at that particular level.
There are several ways the superior team can help keep the score from getting out of hand:
- One of the first things to do is quit stealing bases. Not just actual steals but even on passed balls or wild pitches, and especially with a runner on third. Just hold the runners where they are to give the fielding team more of an opportunity to make plays without the offensive team racking up runs.
- You can also have baserunners run station-to-station. In other words, even though runners could move up two or three bases at a time, just have them move up to the next base and stop. And no taking an extra base on an overthrow. I can already hear the objections: “But I want to teach my runners to be aggressive and this will hurt that plan.” Stop already with that. First of all, the head coach can (quietly) explain what the team is doing (and why), letting the team know it’s only for this one game. And if pulling up in one game really leads baserunners to be unaggressive in the next game, well, the coach has some more work to do on teaching the game.
- You can have runners slow down a little to give fielders a little extra time to make a play. Not too much – you don’t want to look like you’re trying to show up the other team. But a little bit might help.
- If those steps don’t help, the team on offense can start making outs on purpose. One of the classic strategies is to have baserunners leave the base early so they can be called out by the umpire. In my experience it’s best to let the umpire know quietly you’re planning to do it so they are watching for it.
- Another way is to have hitters line up at one of the edges of the box and then step out as they hit. For example, a hitter who strides can have her front foot at the front of the batter’s box and stride out. A slapper can run out of the box and slap or bunt. Again, it helps to let the umpire know you’re doing it to make it easier for him/her to call.
- On a ground ball, baserunners can gently run into fielders to be called for interference rather than going around. It should be just enough to be seen, but definitely not enough to cause distress or injury.
- And, of course, for teams that have designated starters and subs, put those subs in early. The starters might appreciate the break and the subs will have a chance to play. Just make sure the starters know it’s now their turn to support their teammates on the field and at the plate. The risk here is that the subs will be anxious to show what they can do and might bring a little too much enthusiasm to the opportunity. So make sure everyone on your side understands what’s happening and what they are expected to do.
There are also a couple of ways I wouldn’t go about it, including:
- Telling a hitter to strike out on purpose, or just go for a weak hit. While the intention may be good, you run the risk of having that come back to bite you in a game where you do need a hit.
- Having players bat opposite-handed. Again, while the intention might be good, it could also be viewed as trying to show up the other team. They feel bad enough. No use adding insult to injury.
- Having all your hitters bunt. Most teams spend less time on their bunt defense than their standard ground ball defense. This is especially true of weak teams in my experience. While you may think you’re helping them, you could be making them look even worse.
Coaches should want to keep the score somewhat under control because it’s the right thing to do. Again, the Golden Rule.
You wouldn’t want someone running the score up on your team, so don’t do it to someone else. But there’s another reason too.
You may have also heard the phrase “Karma (or payback) is a b***h.”
Some day that team you’re humiliating today might get better while yours loses a step or two.
Coaches tend to have long memories for these sorts of things, so should that day come what you do today could have a big impact on how you end up looking and feeling then.
No one learns anything when a team runs up the score on a weaker opponent. Except that maybe someone doesn’t have much class.
“Do unto others” and you can never go wrong. The lessons learned there will be worth a lot more than a few extra runs in the “runs for” column.
The definition of sportsmanship – and class
This isn’t a fastpitch softball story, but it’s still one I found worth sharing because it demonstrates everything great about sports and what they teach you. Full disclosure: I am friends with Abbey D’Agostino’s uncle Tim and Aunt Janet Boivin so the story has a little extra impact for me.
If you haven’t heard, this happened during the women’s 5000 meter race at the Olympics. Everyone was running in a pack when Nikki (no relation to Hillary) Hamblin of New Zealand tripped, and the USA’s Abbey D’Agostino fell over her.
Understand that Abbey has waited a long time for this opportunity. If I recall correctly she just missed the cut for the 2012 Olympics while she was still in college, so making the team and having the opportunity to go for the gold was the fulfillment of a dream.
After falling like that, many runners would have just gotten up and tried to make up the time. That’s what being a competitor is supposedly all about. But Abbey saw that Nikki was hurt, and instead of taking off she stopped to help Nikki up off the ground and start running again.
Then, in an interesting turn, after both ran a few meters Abbey went down again. (Later we would discover she tore her ACL and meniscus when she fell originally. Nikki stopped to help her up, and the two of them proceeded to help each other finish the race. (Shades of Cool Runnings, eh?)
The other thing to understand is they weren’t friends before. They didn’t know each other at all. But they are bound together for life now.
We see a lot of negative things out there in the world. At softball parks we see all kinds of bad behavior from players, coaches, parents and fans. But this story is a reminder, on the biggest stage of all for most sports, of what it’s really all about.
If you’d like to learn more, here’s one of the many stories that have come out of this incident, complete with an interview of both runners.
Hopefully Abbey will be back on the track sooner rather than later and will have another shot at a medal. But if she never runs competitively again, she’s set an amazing standard for all athletes. Watch for the Disney movie in about five years. 🙂