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Coaching 1.0 Software Package released: August 1999

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Coaching the Bases
The first base coach is responsible for the baserunner from the time they hit the ball
until they reach first base and until they leave first, headed for second. That's all.
Until they actually make contact with the ball the batter is the responsibility of the
third base coach who is giving the signals. And, once they leave first base, whether they
are stealing or moving with the next batter's hit, they again become the responsibility of
the third base coach. 

The first base coach's responsibilities are few. He encourages the runner to run through the
base so that the runner does not slow down. He may signal the runner whether to make the
turn to go to second or to hold at first. He congratulates the hitter for his hit. He also
tells the baserunner when to steal second. There are several other strategic duties of the
first base coach. He must notice the depth of the infielders. He tells the runner when
there is an infield fly - he can't wait for the umpire to call or signal it. He must be
sure the baserunner knows the current number of outs. He needs to know the strength of the
catcher and where the catcher normally throws the ball when he is throwing out a runner
trying to steal second. He needs to know who takes the throw-down - whether it is the
second baseman or the shortstop. He then uses this information to tell the baserunner
where best to slide to avoid the tag at second base.
While this may seem a lot to remember it doesn't come close to the duties of the third
base coach. Listed below is a preparatory course for future third base coaches.
While this is written about youth baseball most of the points apply to softball as well.  
Foremost the third base coach must stay focused at all times. I often miss the action on
the field because I am focusing on one or two players only. You can't afford to get upset
about a call and let it affect your focus. There have been times when I got so upset about
an umpire's call that I caused our team to miss a scoring opportunity.

THIRD BASE COACH RESPONSIBILITY: Tell each baserunner the number of outs. Make runners aware of certain situations such as infield fly rule, what to do if the ball is hit to the left side of the infield, etc. It doesn't hurt to remind the baserunner whether or not he has to run when the ball is hit. On plays where there is a possibility of and "Infield Fly" the coach should watch the umpire's hands to see if he signals that "Infield Fly".  Most umpires just provide a hand signal.  This means that the runners advance at their own risk.  The coach should already have made a decision about what to do if the Infield Fly is signaled. Tell runner as he approaches third "BE SURE TO TAG THIRD" and point at the bag. As runner leaves third heading home the coach should yell out, "BE SURE TO STEP ON HOME PLATE!"  This may seem like you are treating the players like children but I have never had a runner fail to tag the  home plate when I have called this out. If it looks like a play could be made at home plate advise the runner to slide and tell them which side of the plate to slide to. Tell runner as he approaches third from second to:
SLIDE - Hold both hands out wide apart with palms down. All players should slide if there is any possiblity of a play on him.
STAND UP - Hold both hands out wide apart with palms up.
GO HOME - Windmill motion with left arm. Congratulate player on hits, baserunning, etc..  But - do not touch (i.e. slap hands or "high five") a player unless umpire has declared "Dead Ball" or "Time". Provide signals to batter, that include a activator: An activator is a sign which tells the batter that the next sign is the real sign. A validator is a signal from the batter back to the coach which tells the coach that the batter understands the signal.  A "thumbs-up" from the batter is a good simple validator.  We have our batter tap his helmet to show that he understands the signal.  Early in the season you should keep the signs fairly simple.  By having an activator sign you can mix up three or four signs well enough that other team can't decipher them in one game.   Remind batter of the balls and strikes count - both verbally and with your fingers. Give your players (ALL YOUR PLAYERS) the opportunity to score. This includes the slower baserunners. Be cognizant of the third baseman's and shortstop's depth. Know what the shortstop does when the batter bunts. If the third baseman charges a bunt and the shortstop does not cover third then you have an excellent opportunity to steal third. When you get a baserunner on second you should have your batter square around early as if to bunt. When the third baseman charges it leaves the base unguarded and the baserunner can easily steal third. In most cases I give the batter the signal to fake a bunt and pull back with the hope that not only do we get a runner to third but we may also get a ball instead of a strike. Watch the catcher and the pitcher closely. How quickly does the catcher return the ball to the pitcher?  When the runner on third base fakes an attempt to go home does the catcher "walk" the runner back to third? If he does and then throws the ball to the pitcher there is an excellent opportunity to steal home since no one is covering the plate at that point. The pitcher will have to attempt to run the runner down or throw to the catcher who is also racing towards the plate. When your runner comes off of third what does the third baseman do? Does he come in behind the runner to cover the bag at third? If so, you should be sure to warn your baserunner so that he doesn't get caught straying too far off the bag. Remind your runner not to turn his back on the pitcher. Often the younger baserunners will turn their back on the pitcher or catcher and walk back to the base leaving themselves vulnerable to a quick throw to the third baseman. Remind him that he can dive head first back to the bag. Do not allow your batter to get upset about a called strike that he disagrees with the umpire. Some players can become so upset with a call that they give up and are easily struck out on the next pitch. It is your job to notice a player that is upset and to request a time-out if needed to settle him down. Its important that you take the time to remind the player that no matter what the outcome this is still a little boys game.  I try to know my players well enough to know what will make them laugh or at least what will break the tension in their mind.   A quick joke told with your arm around a player can make all the difference while reminding a player to only swing at strikes will do little good. If there is a runner on second and third you need to remind the runner on second that the runner on third is his key. If that runner advances only then can the runner on second advance. There is an old (and very wise)baseball theory that you should never make the first or last out of an inning at third base.   What this means is to not make the out by aggressive base running.   With no outs you should always hold the runner at second base if there is any possibility of a play being made at third. When the baserunner is on third with less than two outs be sure he understands that if the hit is a fly ball to the outfield he should stay on third and go home as soon as the ball is caught rather than risk having to retreat to third to tag up and then go home.  In almost all cases there is plenty of time to run home as soon as the ball is touched.  Do not worry about whether it was caught or dropped.  There should be no question in the umpire's mind that the runner was on base when the ball was first touched.  The baserunner should stay on third and focus his attention on home plate and await the third base coach's shout of"GO".   Be sure that the base runner understands what you are communicating to him with your signals or words.  If there is any doubt be sure that he understands that it is his responsibility to ask you again or to request time out. Do not admonish a player for making a baserunning mistake during a game.  Wait until the next practice to explain the circumstances and what you were trying to accomplish. Remember that you want your team to be aggressive (but smart) when running the bases.  One of the results of aggressive baserunning is a higher chance of being put out.  You (and your team and parents) must be comfortable with the fact that aggressive baserunning will result in some outs and must be willing to exchange those outs for the possibility of a larger amount of runs (a big inning which in most cases will decide a game). There are times when you do all the right things and play all the correct odds but still get put out.  That does not make the play any less correct.  Be sure that all the players and coaches understand that.   There should never be any criticism (even well-meaning) if a player and/or coach work within the framework that they establish in practice - no matter what the game result. You do not want that same player worrying about whether he will be yelled at or criticized next time he is in the same situation. That little bit of doubt could slow a player down enough to cost a run or the game. From the start of our season we use visulization techniques to put the players in the situations where they want to be the player in the spotlight in critical situations.  As the slogan on a popular baseball tee-shirt says "Bottom of the ninth, down by three runs, two outs, bases loaded, full count - No Fear!" Our job as coaches is to teach our players to want that pressure and to feel comfortable in their ability in those circumstances.  They won't disappoint you or themselves if you as a coach have prepared them well. Obviously these are only guidelines.  Each player is different.  I have had some players who are baseball smart at the age of six - they are aggressive and always have the green light.  They are the players that you purposely hold up at third base with runners behind them even when there is a good chance that they could score from second base because they make the pitcher nervous - so nervous that he might give up an easy walk, a wild pitch or a hit that will win the game for your team. Other players need more guidance. But at all times the guidance should have the goal of making each player make more decisions on his own as the season progresses. As players become more experienced you should become less vocal .The communication becomes less verbal and more through signals and most importantly - the player's own baseball or softball knowledge.

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