Baserunning Fundamentals

By doconnell •  Updated: 05/18/14 •  11 min read

Baseball Coaching Tips for Baserunning

Baserunning is not just about speed or lack of speed. To develop good baserunners regardless of speed, the baseball coach will need to teach baserunning skills, techniques and concepts. Players will become better baserunners by practicing good baserunning and also by gaining game experience. Let’s take a look at some Baseball Coaching Tips for Baserunning.

#1 Running the Bases Properly

The shortest distance between two points is a straight line. If that is true, and it is, then that concept needs to be applied to running the bases correctly. A baserunning drill that should be run on the first day of practice, and at every practice until the team has mastered it, is simply having players start from home plate and run the bases until they reach home plate again. While running the bases, the runner needs to be instructed to run as straight as possible while hitting each base with their foot on the inside corner of the base that will minimize wide turns. Runners will want to avoid hitting the middle of the base or the outside corner of the base as this will cause a wide turn among other possible problems ( tripping on the base, colliding with a defensive player outside the base path, etc.). The focus of this drill should initially be technique over speed. Once the technique is mastered focus can shift to speed.

#2 Running Through First Base

When a runner is attempting to beat the throw of an infielder to first base, the runner must run through first base. A baseball coach should never take a skill like this for granted. While coaching I have witnessed baserunners come to a dead stop on first base because they were not taught to run through the base when attempting to beat an infielder’s throw to first base. Players must learn that after running through the base they become “fair game” if they make a move to advance towards second base. This baserunning skill should be taught at the first practice and, like running the bases properly should be taught at every practice until it is mastered.

Running Through First Base and Breaking Down

Running Through First Base – Advancing on Overthrow

#3 Rounding Bases

On a hit to the outfield, the baserunner will want to round first base rather than run through it. Rounding the base will allow the runner to advance on an outfielder’s error, a ball that ends up in a gap, or a ball that gets over the outfielder’s head. If the outfielder comes up with the ball “cleanly” then the runner should “put on the breaks” and safely return to first base. To introduce this concept, a very simple drill can be run with just baserunners and without a ball or defensive players. Runners can start at home plate and then be instructed to run to first. The base coach can then shout out verbals like “Hold up!” or “Go two!”. The drill can then be expanded to include doubles, triples, and also holding at second base & third base. The drill can be further expanded by adding runners on bases to start the drill.

Rounding First Base and Breaking Down

#4 Hustle & Alertness

Important keys to being a better baserunner are hustle and alertness. A baseball coach must not underestimate the importance of promoting these concepts. Runners need to be encouraged to run “hard” and also never assume the fielder will make a routine play. There is nothing more embarrassing than a hitter popping up in the infield, not running hard or not running at all, and then being thrown out at first base after the infielder has dropped what should have been an easy catch. Alertness applied to baserunning is simply being ready to run and paying attention to game situations ( how many outs, what to do next, attention to base coaches, etc.). For example, a runner who just reached first base should be listening to instructions from the first base coach, when the pitcher is getting ready to pitch should be in the proper running stance ( one foot on the base ready to drive off the base into a running motion once the batter makes contact), on the balls of their feet, and hands/ arms extended slightly away/off the body ready to start pumping the arms while running. An example of not being alert and ready to run would be standing flat footed with both feet on the base with hands in back pockets ( I’ve seen it!). There is no specific drill to teach hustle and alertness. With that said, the concepts must be promoted in all aspects of practice and games-everything from base running right down to players just simply setting up gear (hustle) or remembering their spot in the batting order ( alertness).

#5 Sliding

Sliding is a skill that doesn’t need to be over thought but at the same time, it is a skill that should be practiced. There are also some techniques that can be taught to make a baserunner more elusive to tags once they slide. A runner should use a slide when a play is going to be close or to make a double play more difficult for an infielder. A dangerous mistake that I would see quite often at the younger levels is sliding too late. If the runner slides too late they can actually jam their legs into the base that can cause injury. A base runner that slides too early will probably only hurt their ego as they may not even reach the base that will make them an easy tag out. Runners will have to time their slides so that the slide carries them to the base quickly. Sliding drills can be run in early season practice and then later incorporated into other drills. The hook slide and the hand slide ( not to be confused with the head first slide that I believe is still banned at the younger levels of play) are two sliding techniques that can help the runner elude an infielder’s tag. The hook slide calls for the body to be away from the base with the leg extended, but knee slightly bent with the foot the only body part being offered to the base. The hand slide sometimes contradicts the concept of sliding late. It can be a late slide, but the legs and body are positioned away from the base while reaching for the base with only the hand. These slides give the fielder less body to tag that makes the tag play a bit more difficult. Another elusive technique is to anticipate where the tag is maybe going and slide where the tag won’t be. A sliding technique for advanced base runners is the “pop-up slide”. This slide requires superior anticipation. The base runner will go into the slide but recognizes an off-target throw and then quickly “pop up” into a standing position ready to advance if the opportunity exists.

Popup Slide

#6 Stealing Bases

A basic straight steal can be very challenging in principle at the younger levels. The base runner attempting the straight steal by rule (can’t leave the base until the ball reaches home plate) does not have any advantage other than possibly the catcher’s factors- good throw, arm strength, technique, handling of the ball, etc. A catcher that does everything required of them should be able to throw out the runner probably 9/10 times. So, how can a base runner become that one that slips by for the stolen base? The answer is the base runner must apply everything previously taught about baserunning (especially Hustle, Alertness, and Sliding) to create an advantage against a good catcher. Finally, the runner must not hesitate in any way for any reason to ensure the best possible chance of stealing the base. A common mistake is to turn the head to look and see what the catcher is doing which can slow down a runner just enough to lose any advantage they may have created.

Want to really be daring? Learn our tips on stealing home.

#7 Tagging Up On a Fly Ball

Tagging up on a fly ball is a relatively easy concept but, like the other skills and concepts that have been discussed needs to be practiced and mastered. A runner can advance on a caught fly ball provided they are still on the base, or they retouch the base after the catch. Simple tag up drills can be run in early season practices followed by incorporating them into other drills. Again like stealing, a baserunner can create a completive advantage on a close play by applying acquired skills and concepts like Hustle, Alertness, & Sliding.

#8 Going “Halfway” on a Fly Ball

Going “halfway” ( this is the term usually used but the distance the base runner chooses may actually depend on a number of factors such as how shallow the fly ball actually is) on a fly ball is a baserunning strategy to avoid getting forced out after a shallow fly ball either falls in or is dropped by an outfielder. Going “halfway” allows for the runner to have a lesser chance of getting forced out or picked off returning to a base. The strategy doesn’t work sometimes by no fault of the base runner but simply by plain bad circumstances. This is another concept that needs to be drilled in practice consistently until it is understood and then incorporated into other drills to keep it fresh.

#9 Situational Baserunning

General situational base running can be taught through a combination of drills and experience. The easiest concept for a young base runner to understand is running on any batted ball to advance as many bases as possible when there are two outs. A more complicated baserunning situation is what a base runner on second or third base with no runner behind them should do on a ground ball in the infield. Generally speaking, a runner on second base can usually advance uncontested when the ground ball is hit to the right side. When the ball is hit to the shortstop or third baseman, then it is more complicated to advance and a lot of the time the runner should stay put. A runner on third base has a better chance of scoring on a ground ball if the infield is playing back. However, the infield will sometimes play in to prevent a run, and this makes it extremely difficult for a runner on third base to score on a ground ball. The ability to recognize when or when not to advance will fall on both the runner and the base coach. Also, the ability of a base runner to anticipate can also be key in getting a “jump” on committing to advance or not advance. Experience is the best teacher for a lot of situational base running.

#10 Base Coaches

I find it comical when base coaches are not utilized correctly. Why not take advantage of something that is within the rules of the game and should only be a positive? At some levels, I have seen adult base coaches not paying attention, ignorant of rules like not touching a player to help them advance, positioned outside the coach’s box, etc. The manager of the team is responsible for making sure the adult base coach is properly trained so that the job is performed correctly. The manager is also responsible for making sure players who coach the bases are trained properly in being effective base coaches. Adults and players should be practicing their base coaching skills during practice. A baseball coach will certainly not want all the good base running skills and concepts that have been taught to be undermined by poor base coaching.

Learn More: Coaching a Base


I have seen extremely fast, athletically gifted baseball players be some of the worse base runners I have ever seen while I once coached a player who was not gifted with speed but was one of the smartest base runners I ever coached. Speed certainly helps, but the keys to developing great base runners are understanding concepts and a player’s ability to anticipate. I can’t stress enough that baserunning is “brains over brawn”!

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