Baserunning: Don’t Think Can I, Think Will I
Originally published in Fastpitch Delivery Magazine - www.NFCA.com
These are all questions that we have heard before. To be sure, these are all the questions we've heard when seeking to run what we so popularly call an aggressive offense these days. You can look at these as signs of your team not having faith in your decisions, or you can see them as the gateways to implementing a new and more productive reality when your team is on the bases.
We must begin by looking at the role of baserunning in your program, and why we want to take it from being a simple cornerstone of the game, into the realm of a fully developed component of a comprehensive offensive plan. I subscribe to a set of tenets when it comes to implementing an aggressive run game:
1) Everyone can be an effective baserunner.
You have to introduce and practice effective baserunning with all of your players that will have an opportunity to be on base. I am referring to teaching an aggressive system of leading off the bases that is put to use every time a batter gets on.
The physical makeup of a runner is not important as long as they can execute our system. In my program, we choose to keep as many aspects simple (KISS) as possible. We use an initial lead of three steps, it is our "standard" procedure and is the one we use upon the first pitch of getting on base.
We expand this out to a five-step lead for the purpose of starting the offense. The three step lets us get a read on the footwork and level of effort the defense is exhibiting. Sometimes the key to stealing bases is that your opponent doesn't try to stop you. The five step allows us to work toward drawing a throw to base. At five steps we "bounce" on the last step and are looking to either dive back to our previous base, or steal the next one.
We give verbal cues to our runners by telling them to "follow your rules" when on base; 'We want to draw the throw, if they throw behind we go ahead, if they throw ahead we go back.' We can play this game all day and expect to win it more times than not by reading the defense, the count, and the interactions of our batter at the plate (takes, swinging misses, fake bunts, etc.). We also frown upon our runners diving or sliding directly into a base as a way to minimize being tagged out on throw downs.
The second area of emphasis is that you must be willing to run. It is useless to say you have an aggressive baserunning style if you never run when you get on base (or get on base to begin with for that matter). The getting on base is left for discussion in other articles, but the willingness to execute is up to you as a coach.
We have all heard that you should never run yourself out of an inning, but I counter that by saying you can run yourself into a win much easier. Baserunning is a highly neglected part of our offensive plan sometimes and must be strategically used for maximum benefits: you need to put a structured approach to it into play at every opportunity to allow your team to be successful at it.
As a coach you need to know your personnel, know the situation in the game, and know as much about your opponent as possible.
We seek to put that information to work every game so that we coaches can be fearless looking to steal on anyone we play.
Next, you must be willing to trust in your players' decision making as baserunners.
I kind of have fun relating this to an old 80's song; "I believe that children are our future, teach them well and let them lead the way ..." After you have chosen to implement a running offense, you need to teach the concepts to your players and let them execute it.
We still call steals, but I expect my upperclassmen and more talented runners to be able to read cues and then I give them my blessing to steal when they see an opportunity. I find this very important in the evolution of your team and progressing them toward being able to perform when games are tight and competition has been ramped up to championship levels.
Coincidentally, I have the same feelings about preparing catchers to call games for themselves; once they know what to do, you have to realize that they are the ones playing the game, not us coaches.
One last, and definitely not to be ignored component of implementing an aggressive baserunning strategy is that players need to be supremely confident in their ability to execute the plan in games.
This is where I feel we as coaches come back into the picture; if my players succeed in the run game and it influences the game in our favor, they are given all the credit for our success.
To balance this and to keep them bold enough to perform in high risk, high reward situations I choose to take all of the blame if they don't execute. For example, I don't want any hesitation when a steal is called, so I free their minds by saying that if they work as hard as they can to get there, it's my fault if they are caught stealing. I may seem a bit of 'out there' thinking since we as coaches aren't on the field, but it goes a long way toward building confidence in a ball player who may or may not have ever been asked to run bases before.
The practical reality is that there is no feeling greater than seeing the look of elation on a player's face when she has just stolen a base to influence the outcome of a game.
I find those experiences to be more than reward enough for taking the blame for a freshman running into an out at third (my upperclassmen aren't as likely to run into that out).
To wrap things up, I want to emphasize the importance of an aggressive baserunning style to success in softball program. What I hope this article has given you is an outline for how we promote that style in our programs and how you can do the same.
Teach all your players to run effectively; be willing to call on them to run; trust them to be able to execute the calls you've made, and be willing to take responsibility if they aren't always successful.
I hope that the practicality in the basic framework that we use may be of benefit to you in your decisions about how to make base running part of your program.