Base running is an often overlooked aspect of the game. Typically, the only concern coaches and athletes have when it comes to offensive production is how hard or how far they can hit the ball. However, it is important to capitalize on every opportunity presented in the game in order to increase your overall scoring production.
Two main components contribute to making an athlete a good base runner: running mechanics and game awareness. As a former student-athlete, a current certified strength and conditioning specialist, and aspiring physical therapist, I find it important to understand running mechanics in order to minimize injuries and improve overall running efficiency. However, having good mechanics alone won’t make you a great baserunner. You have to have good knowledge and awareness of the game in order to make smart yet aggressive decisions on the base paths.
According to the NSCA, sprint speed is codependence of stride frequency and stride length. Essentially by learning to improve both of those aspects, we should be able to enhance an athlete’s speed efficiency. Speed efficiency is the ability to use proper mechanics in order to get the maximum amount of benefits per sprint. Additionally, the energy needed to propel you forward at a quick rate is a direct result of how much force you can direct into the ground. This is referred to as ground reaction force and basically means in order to achieve higher outputs (speed), we have to increase the input (force in the ground).
In the game of softball, a player never reaches her maximum speed due to the length of the base paths. With that being said, learning to maximize running mechanics will help to improve base running performance. Having a good first step out of the box, with good arm movements is important for gaining the initial acceleration needed to reach first base. As I help coach teams on base running, the first thing I notice is most athletes tend to take a ‘false step’ or initiate a backward movement with their front foot. Taking unnecessary or false steps will slow a player down by increasing their home to first time, which ultimately decreases their probability of reaching the base safely. Focusing on improving sprinting mechanics will help you maximize your overall baserunning production. Take a look at the videos below to see the difference between good and bad movements out of the box.
Baserunning is mostly linear speed. Therefore, you should incorporate aspects of a track sprinters start into your lead-off form. From many years of watching and experiencing baserunning myself, I have found the “track start” to be the most successful. Essentially, you are taking the initial starting position of a track athlete and using it on the base baths. Take a look at the picture below to see the specifics of what it should look like. The key takeaways from this position are the shin angle, arm position, and head position.
As seen in the picture with proper positioning, the shin is angled forward in comparison to the ground. This will help you to direct your momentum forward rather than straight up. As the ball leaves the pitcher’s hand and you begin to come off the base, your first couple of steps should be low. Similar to the speed information described previously, the amount of force you put into the ground, you will get back in return. Therefore, if the shin angle is exerting force at an angle less than 90 degrees then the force will be used to drive you towards the next base rather than straight upwards if the angle is greater than 90 degrees.
When sprinting, arm action is just as important as leg drive. Your arms are responsible for the counter-movement of your legs in order to keep your body balanced. With that being said, if the leg drive off the bag is needed to be strong, then our arms are responsible for that same energy potential. In the “track start” position our back hand (same side as the lead leg) should be extended behind us while the other is placed on the ground slightly in front of our front foot. We want to make sure our arm action matches our leg drive. You want to use everything you can to gain speed with your arms. Think about ‘ripping the ground away’ or swiping the dirt behind you. This shows you are being powerful with your upper body and this drive helps create a change in your acceleration off the bag.
Finally, your head position in this stance is critical as you have to keep your eyes on the ball. Often times, kids trying to learn the track start and they have their heads practically upside down. You cannot expect to be early or on time with the ball if your view of the pitcher is disorientated. To stay effective as a baserunner, make sure to keep a balanced head position.
As far as base running, you want to put yourselves in the best possible position to maximize your sprint speed between base A and base B. When you take a lead off any base, your first three steps should be hard and fast.
You want to make the opposing team believe that you are stealing on every pitch. By making them buy into your hard leads, you might just catch them off guard when you actually do get the sign to steal. When you take your lead, you want to take three hard steps followed by a stop with our toes still pointing towards the next base. Check out the examples below to see the differences between efficient leads and inefficient leads.
You should never square your feet up to the field. Your feet should be going in the desired direction until something tells you otherwise. It could be a put in play, a passed ball that gets behind the catcher, or other play inducing action that forces you to move forward. With your feet in the correct position, your toes and body pointed forward, it is easier to keep moving. However, if your feet are turned squared up to the plate, like most of us are taught at a young age, then you have to waste time to change direction. Again, you are trying to maximize every possible angle, turn, and sprint that you can in order to increase our chances of success on the base path.
Having talked about the mechanical side of running that contributes to one's baserunning abilities, it's particularly important to stress the benefit of having an aggressive mentality. Too many times when I am watching softball, even at the collegiate level, athletes are satisfied by moving station to station and do not seem to care if they are able to take an extra base. Once you make contact with the ball, you are no longer a hitter, but now a baserunner whose only goal is to score for the team. Nothing is a given in softball, so anytime you can take an extra base, you are putting yourself in a better position to score. Below I've provided a few simple ways to work on your aggressive baserunning:
There are certain things you can do to help improve your speed, but it's important to understand that you do not have to be the fastest athlete to be a successful baserunner. However, you do have to be smart and aggressive on the bases. Ultimately, if you remember anything, just know it takes a perfect throw, a perfect catch, and a perfect tag to make a complete play. As a base runner, take chances and see what kind of chaos you can make in the process.