I look at rundowns in youth baseball differently from most other youth coaches. Too many times I have seen in games that I’m involved in, or when opposing coaches or games I'm observing, instruct their team on a rundown that if they cannot get the out right away, then run the baserunner back to the base where he came from. This is the easy way out. I teach my team that rundowns are a gift from the baseball gods to get a relatively easy out. Welcome rundowns, and only be satisfied when you produce an out. The techniques I see taught in rundowns are not the way I like to teach my players, which may be why many coaches are just happy with the status quo, as long as the baserunner did not advance a base. It took me few years to become pro-active in rundowns and it is one of those situations that I got so frustrated with myself and other coaches I included it in my book, 44 Baseball Mistakes & Corrections.
There are a few reasons why rundowns are not successful in youth baseball. First off when presented with a rundown a lot of teams are seeing it for the first time because they do not practice it. This is a game situation that has to be practiced with players rotating fielding positions, and as baserunners. Teams also think that because it is a rundown they have to begin throwing the ball to each other right away. Still another reason many teams are not successful defending rundowns is that they throw the ball too many times. Because the players don’t practice rundowns, when they are involved in one it may be their first experience. Players are yelling for the ball, coaches are yelling out instructions, and even parents in the stands are playing “coach” and doing their part to confuse the situation.
Let me break down my philosophy when it comes to rundowns. A key phrase I began to use a number of years ago is “sprint mode.” I tell my players this, and even demonstrate how when a baserunner is running full tilt, it is very hard for him to stop short and change directions. I teach my players that we want to get the baserunner in a sprint mode. Youth players seem to get into the habit of too many unnecessary throws, especially when the baserunner is dilly-dallying sideways. Too many throws allows the baserunner to stop and easily change directions. The most basic philosophy I tell my players is the ideal number of throws in a rundown is none. The perfect situation is if one of the fielders gets the baserunner into this sprint mode and is able to run him down and tag him for the out. This will happen sometimes, depending on the personnel. A good point here to remember is that your fielders, even though they are 10-12 years-old, know what they are going to do next. The baserunner has to guess.The second best number of throws besides none is only one.
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If your team practices rundowns, and understands getting the baserunner in a sprint mode, most of the outs will come from rundowns with one throw. And when you think about it, and picture the situation, you can understand why. It is extremely hard, and most times impossible, for the baserunner in a sprint mode to stop and change directions successfully. Remember to convey to your players that it is never a sure out unless they are able to hold onto the baseball. I’ve seen too many times when a team defends a rundown perfectly only to have the fielder tag the runner and the ball come loose because of the momentum the runner creates. Teach your players to squeeze the baseball. The pocket is a better place than the webbing when tagging.A drill I use is to use two base paths, between first and second and third and home. Have a player in the middle of two fielders with a ball, and on the “go”command, the fielders try to get the out. This is also excellent practice for the baserunners when they are in a rundown during a game. You can set up a competition, giving the baserunner two points for getting to the base and the fielders getting one point for getting the out. Using two base paths allows you to use six players at a time. Make sure you rotate players and positions. Kids love competition and when you set up a quality drill they will learn from and combine it with fair competition, you have hit a home run.
Besides this drill, practice rundowns and make sure you teach the other players to back up the throws. It makes little sense when during a rundown your outfielders stay out there far from the infield. I usually have my outfielders come closer to the infield just in case a throw is errant. Whenever players are backing up, if they are too close to the action, the ball can, and will, go past them. When practicing rundowns with my team I like to tell a player to make an errant throw on purpose, just to see how the fielders handle the situation.
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Marty Schupak has coached youth sports for 25 years. He has written 11 books and produced 26 sports instructional videos. His is the founder of T-Ball America.
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