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Smarts, Not Just Speed, Are Key to Base Running

Softball players often dream of blasting monster home runs or amassing boatloads of strikeouts. But being a star on the base paths? That’s not quite as glamorous. According to two longtime Michigan coaches, however, it should be.

“It’s part of the game that even a lot of coaches neglect,” said Tom Calnen, a high school softball coach in Michigan for over 20 years and the president of the Michigan High School Softball Coaches Association.

“Then you realize, man, I could’ve won a game if we just did this better.”

The key is that smarts on the base paths is often just as important as raw speed.

“You don’t have to be the fastest kid on the team to be the best base runner,” said Dave Brubaker, a high school and travel coach in Michigan for over 30 years who has coached elite teams in the Compuware and Michigan Generals organizations. “A lot of it is anticipation and doing the right technique.”

Calnen and Brubaker said the most important drills involve taking the correct angles and making sure players practice touching the inside corner of bases to maximize time and speed when turning.

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Calnen said the visualization he gives to players is to pretend there is a giant hula-hoop around the infield and follow that circular path.

“When they view it like that, their eyes tend to light up,” Calnen said.

One component to base running that Calnen said also grabs the attention of players is sliding, so he spends a lot time on that. He especially likes drills where players learn to keep their hands up, instead of behind them, so they can use their hands to quickly touch a base and beat a tag.

“We are sliding to the outside of the bag to where they can’t get your body, and you get your hand in there,” Calnen said. “That is probably one of the biggest changes from a base running standpoint that our game has made.”

Both coaches like to use props when they do base running drills as well.

When doing drills indoors on cold or rainy days, Brubaker uses a Slide Rite pad along gym floors to help players master the fundamentals of sliding.

“It just simulates sliding like you are outside on the dirt,” said Brubaker, who said he also employs the common technique of using cones outside in between bases to outline paths to other bases.

Taking an idea from coaches at the University of Florida, Calnen said he puts a 10-foot screen along the infield. That allows base runners to fully concentrate on base running techniques without fear of getting struck by a ball during drills when someone is at the plate hitting the ball into play.

“They can really sit and stare and learn bat angle and ball angle without worrying about getting smoked,” Calnen said.

Such drills are a way for Calnen, Brubaker and other coaches to keep base running drills interesting and get their players to work on it, because as they know, what seems like a non-glamorous activity can often be the most important on a softball field.

From GameChanger and Keith Dunlap.

Softball, Softball Player Development, Softball Tips & Drills

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