Here is a youth baseball scene we can all identify with. I have made this mistake, as I’m sure many of you have. Runner on third and the ball gets past the catcher. Your base runner waits for your call and you scream “GO, GO!” The runner tears off for home and is … “TAGGED OUT” by an eyelash. The folks in the bleachers moan and groan and we silently blame the umpire or the slow-footed runner.
Who should we really blame? Ourselves, of course. We haven’t taught our players how to run the bases. By that runner having to wait for our signal that eyelash turned from safe to out. Teach your runners how to “read the ball in the dirt.” They should track the ball out of the pitcher’s hand and react immediately if it hits the ground. And here’s the rest of the Tip- don’t say anything. Ouch- that’s hard to do. You bet, but the player has to make up his own mind whether or not to go.
If he waits for you to tell him it may be and quite often is, too late. Teach them that the responsibility is theirs, not yours. There is no sign, verbal or otherwise, for a player to advance to the next base on a passed ball or wild pitch. To be truly effective the player has to make the decision.
For you control freaks, like me, this will come hard. But it is teaching the right thing. (Old habits are hard to break.) You have to practice this technique. You can do it when you have situational batting practice. The runner on third ‘reads’ every pitch. This same rule applies for runners at first and second base. It is critical for runners at second. You do not want them to make an out at third base. So teach them to make the decision.
Keep in mind that when you are the third base coach you should constantly be looking for teaching opportunities. I have always felt that youth coaches should be allowed to occupy both coaches’ boxes. They are great places for coaches to teach the game- a very under-coached part of baseball.
You will have to give the kids the freedom to make mistakes.
They are going to make a few so don’t condemn them when they do. You are working toward the day when you have a team of intelligent, aggressive base runners. For players on a regulation-size field it is very important that they take the correct leads.
The runner on third must take a 3-step walking lead when the pitcher is pitching from the stretch. He takes a 5-step walking lead when the pitcher is pitching from the windup. After his primary lead the walking lead will take him 25- 28 feet down the third base line. From there he can “read” the ball in the dirt or quickly return to the safety of the base.
When the runner first arrives at third base the coach can say things like, “Take the correct lead, the backstop is very close so make sure you can make it, it’s your decision.”
But he should not say “go.” I knew a coach once that used “go” and “no.” Well, no sounds too much like go. You don’t want to create confusion at a critical moment like that. If you are observant you will notice relevant things. Maybe the catcher is slow getting to a passed ball. Maybe the pitcher doesn’t sprint to cover home. Those are things you should communicate to your base runner. Armed with vital information and the capability to take the correct leads he will do fine on his own.