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.
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.
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.
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.