Teaching Baserunning to Young Players
by Arnald Swift
The best way to teach baserunning to very young players is to combine competition with skills learning.
For the physical skills, here’s what you should focus on with the beginner-level age group. Teach them to:
- Run though 1st base (don’t stop directly on it).
- Stop on 2nd and 3rd base (don’t worry just yet about teaching the best process for doing that, which is dropping your butt to create a momentum change.)
- Round the base properly (don’t run straight to the base and then make a 90-degree angle turn.)
That covers the key three physical skills, but just as important is to go over the mental part of being a baserunner.
- Explain why they can run past 1st base but not the other bases. Add that they need to be in foul territory when they run to 1st.
- Teach them about a force play.
- Warn them to look at the runner ahead (thou shall not pass).
- Communicate the need to look at the base coach and his signals.
- Tell them to round a base by pushing off on the inside of the base. Technically, using the left foot is correct but it’s more important to know the proper angle and to especially ensure a runner does not push off the top of the base.
- Cover tagging up on fly balls (not an often realistic game situation at this level, but it’s a concept that needs to be introduced).
Drills to accomplish what you’re trying to teach
Note: It helps to have several coaches/adults assist with these so you can keep things moving at a good and controlled pace.
Before beginning, use adults (or older kids) to demonstrate the proper way to do each baserunning drill.
- Hit and run through (not to) 1st. Have them hit the ball off the tee and run to 1st base so you can work on leaving the batter’s box and running though the base.
- Turn it into a game situation. A coach hits the ball to an adult at shortstop, who lets the kid beat out the throw to 1st base (another adult). Let them all be safe, just beating the throw.
- Run from home to 2nd. Get them to stand in the batter’s box and then run upon being touched to 2nd base. Have a stopwatch and holler out the time so everyone can hear while also offering “atta boy”-type encouragement. Let each kid go twice and challenge them to beat their initial time on the second try.
- Advancing on the basepaths. Put two runners on base, one at 1st and the other at 2nd. Hit/throw the ball to the outfield then have each runner move up one base. Do the same thing again, but on the second time each player advances two bases.
- Simple tag up play. Everybody starts at 3rd base. Throw a fly ball to left field and have the runner tag up when the coach tells them to go. The runner should not really be looking at the ball at this age. He should be listening to the coach. So for the purpose of this drill, it doesn’t matter if the fielder makes the catch (or if there’s even a left fielder).
- Pay attention to the coach. Baserunners start and take off from 2nd base. The 3rd base coach gives the signal to stop at 3rd base. The next time the coach sends the runner home and the kid must run through home plate.
- To finish, you can opt to do the home to 1st base run as a race against an adult. The kid uses the foul side of the baseline. The adult “runs” on the fair side and lets the kid win. Kids love to race adults so it’s a great way to end a practice while reinforcing a skill (running through 1st base).
Remember to properly demonstrate what you want the players to do before actually doing each drill. As long as they know what to do, baserunning drills can be a lot of fun with the very young age group.
Finally, you need not do every drill in a given practice. Ideally, you could do them all during the practice in which you first cover baserunning and then a drill or two can be used in future practices.