You’ve probably heard the old sports adage, “practice makes perfect.” Taylor Bargiacchi, general manager of In The Zone, a baseball and softball training facility in Flanders, New Jersey, has a more accurate motto: “perfect practice makes perfect.”
This is certainly true for players learning the fundamentals of running the bases. Repetition by itself doesn’t make you a better player; correct repetition does.
“You’ve got to make sure you’re learning things the right way,” explained Bargiacchi, who also coaches several of In The Zone’s travel teams. “When you’re sliding, you’re not just going to fall; you’re going to learn the proper way to slide.”
When teaching younger players, ages 4-7, for example, he said coaches should keep it simple. If they’ve never played before, make sure they know which base to run to. Once that’s established, have them practice hitting off the tee and running to first. As they get older and develop their skills, introduce more situational concepts, such as running to the next base when the ball is on the ground, and watching the ball if it’s in the air.
Bargiacchi encourages parents to work with their kids as much as they can in reinforcing a coach’s teaching, even the finer points of base running.
“If I’m talking to a parent, and that parent feels comfortable teaching the kid how to go when the ball’s on the ground and stay when the ball’s in the air, that’s just making the coach’s job a lot easier,” he said.
One way coaches can help players become quicker at getting out of the batter’s box and going to first is conducting situational base-running drills at the end of each practice. Have each player start at home plate, take a pretend swing (without a bat), then run to first. Do the same when practicing from home to second on a double. Parents can give additional practice time by taking their child to a field and having him run from home plate to first as many times as he can handle. If each response becomes second nature, runners should develop more quickness in getting to each base.
When introducing the finer points of going from base to base, Bargiacchi recommends coaches make sure each player gets in the habit of knowing where the ball is, whether it’s a simulated drill with an imaginary ball or a real ball. In tagging up, for example, when a runner takes a secondary lead off third base, he should be watching the ball, not the coach. If he doesn’t do it correctly, have him go to the end of the line and do it again.
To practice holding up a runner when rounding third, put him at second, and throw a ball directly at an outfielder to simulate a hit. In this instance, you want the runner to look at his third base coach, since he can only watch the ball until it hits the ground.
Players should become students of the game as they get older, Bargiacchi said. Just as major leaguers scout their opponents, players at the youth level can do the same. Study how other teams take infield practice, warm up their pitcher, or take batting practice.
The more a player learns on his own initiative, the more second nature baseball will become. That, combined with plenty of correct repetition, should help turn your team into a group of smart, aggressive base runners.
For more information on In The Zone, visit: http://www.inthezonenj.com/
From GameChanger and Stephen Kerr.