Don't Just Practice What You're Already Good At, Eliminate Weakness
All coaches want their players to continually get better as the season progresses. I think that's basically accepted as a universal coaching truth.
Unfortunately, a lot of coaches do not run their team in a way that actually makes that possible. The first couple days or weeks of season seem to include a lot of coaching, a lot of fundamentals training, and a lot of energy is put into making everybody better at baseball. After that, it seems that every practice is basically the same thing, and the team ends up just kind of going through the motions.
Coaches will hit specific tactics now and then; pick off moves, first and third defense, the bunt game, and so on. These things make the team as a whole slightly better, but these are situations that happen rather rarely in the game. There are many huge aspects of player development that coaches need to spend much more time on.
This new series of posts about in-season improvements will lay out all that coaches and players should be focusing on to continue improving all year long.
In-Season Development Aspect #1: Speed
The first aspect of player development that most players could improve right now and for the rest of the year, is speed. Almost all players can get a little bit, or a lot, faster on the bases.
First, let's define what speed really means in baseball. We know that world class sprinters don't reach their maximum running speed until about the 60 meter mark. Everything up to that distance is acceleration. So it's very clear that baseball players actually need to focus on increasing their acceleration, and not worry so much about top end running speed. The two are related, but this knowledge will help us form a more specific and targeted way to make faster baseball players.
1. Reaction Time: It all starts here. How well does the runner read the pitcher on a steal, or take off on the crack of the bat? Regardless of speed, a stolen base often depends on the jump the runner gets on the pitcher. We must start here when training faster baseball players, we must train them to read a pitcher and have the fastest possible reaction time. This is an aspect of on field speed that must be practiced everyday.
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This also applies to taking off on the crack of the bat, and that must be practiced as well. If you observe players in their secondary leads and watch what they do when the ball is hit, you may notice some huge inefficiencies in how they start running. Many are not in a good position to sprint when the ball is hit, and a good half second is spent just orienting their body correctly to get started. Speed can't help you if you're spending all your time in bad positions on the base paths. We'll lay out some really good ways to practice this in our future articles for members.
2. Starting Form: How does the runner start? Does he take a false step, collapse into a bad posture, or stand straight up? Many inefficiencies can be found in the very beginning of the sprint, and if they're cleaned up the runner can greatly decrease his time to second base. One of the best ways to see this is to take a good slow motion video of your runners taking off from their lead. To us, this is just as valuable to improving your players and your team as taking video of a hitter or pitcher, and yet we hardly ever see coaches do it.
3. Accelerate: Like we said before, running bases is all about acceleration, not top end speed. Your players should be focused on maximum acceleration from the first step to the last.
The most important thing to consider here with regard to acceleration, is that it is performed by pushing the body forward on the ball of the foot. The runner should have his head low and out front toward the base he's running to, and his goal is to drive himself toward that base with hard and fast pushing from the ground with his legs. Many players get about 30 feet out and stand straight up like they have already achieved maximum speed, when in reality all they have done is stopped accelerating and begun to run at a slower rate than their maximum speed. Simply having the goal of accelerating the entire distance rather than just sprinting can make a huge difference in a players form and reduce his time considerably. This nice low position is also perfect for the dive into the base if it's needed. Much more on this as we go in this series of posts.
4. Running Form: The way a player runs has a huge impact on his speed. We touched on some of the form we're looking for in the last entry, but there's some other things you should look for as well. The arms should be streamline and strong, the feet should strike the ground lightly and quickly on the ball of the foot, and the body in general should be relaxed and smooth. A rigid and stiff runner is a slower runner.
5. Stride Speed and Stride Length: Okay, now we're into the physical strength and power considerations of speed and acceleration. Stride speed and length is what running faster is all about, and both need to be trained often. There are many ways to accomplish these two aspects of speed as long as you know what the goal is. Plyometrics, bounding, high knees, butt kickers, and overall functional strength and power training is imperative for stride improvement. Uphill and downhill sprinting is also a great tool, one we will talk about a lot more later on.
This resistance band is a fantastic tool to train your stride, click on the picture to take a look and watch a video on how it helps:
6. Core Strength: There aren't many things we write about where we don't address core strength and stability. It's at the center of almost every athletic movement that baseball players engage in, and if yours isn't built out of the right stuff, you're leaking power at every turn. It's crucial to train your core in 3 dimensions. Just flexing your abs in a crunch is very limited and in some cases will negatively effect your movement patterns for baseball if it's all you're doing. Strengthen your cores ability to act on flexion, extension, and rotational forces.
Here's an article that may help: How To Strengthen Your Core For Baseball
7. Speed Endurance: Although most of what happens on a baseball field is pretty short lived and doesn't require great endurance, it's still important. A runner tiring on the bases on his way around them is real, and needs to be a consideration in speed training. The best way to train speed endurance? Sprint! Sprint short distances, medium distances, and long distances, sometimes with plenty of rest in between and sometimes without. Interval sprints with walking or jogging in between is a great workout that will quickly increase speed endurance.
That's all we have for now, if you follow these 7 guidelines you will create a much faster baseball player. There are almost zero athletes on the baseball field that cannot decrease their times between bases. This should be very encouraging for coaches and players alike, as speed is truly a game changer on game day and something that can create huge advantages for a team that has it.
Our friends at Oates Specialties have all the tools you'll need to increase your speed, check them out by clicking here
Thanks for reading, we have numerous articles upcoming related to in-season improvements and how to attack the specific items listed in this post in great detail.