“Do you want first or third?” is a question that can be heard at most Little League® fields throughout the season. It’s not a question about what Little Leaguer® on the team is better suited for the hot corner or who can make a great scoop for an out. It’s a question among the adults about who is to handle coaching the bases. No matter if you’re responsible for first or third base, here are some simple tips and rules to best coach the base paths.
Make No Contact with the Player
No matter if you are trying to stop a player’s momentum or speed them up, a base coach is not allowed to touch the runner during play. If you do, the umpire will call interference, and the runner will be out.
Stay Within the Coach’s Box
Just like you instruct your players to stay in the batter’s box when hitting, you, too, should stay within the defined area of the coach’s box during play. There are times, however, when a coach leaving the box will be permitted. For example, if a player is rounding third, headed for home, baseball and softball tradition often allows the third base coach to retreat down the line to take a better position on the play.
Train Their Eyes
At the plate, Little Leaguers have a tendency to watch the ball when they make contact. At practice, instruct your players to draw their attention to first base after a hit, and to listen for your instruction. If they are trying to beat out a ground ball, be sure to teach them to run through first base, and not slow down as they are approaching it. If you are coaching third base, be sure to teach your Little Leaguers that if they are on first or second base to pay close attention to your instruction when the ball is struck by the batter. You may have an opportunity for your team to grab an extra base, but that won’t happen if the runner on first or second is watching the ball and not watching you.
Every Little Leaguer should know the base coach’s signs for “hold” or “go.” Most times, two arms straight up means “hold”, and a windmill motion with one arm means “go.” Don’t rely on just signs, though. Little Leaguers, especially younger ones, need verbal instruction as they are hustling around the bases.
Remind Players of Game Situations
Little Leaguers can get caught up in the excitement on the field, and lose track of the game situation. You need to remind them of what is happening. If there are two outs, for example, remind runners to run on contact. If there is one out, tell your players if a fly ball is hit, they should either go a third of the way, half of the way, or stay on the base to tag. When you have a player at the plate, and the count is 3-0, encourage them to only swing at a strike, and when the count has two strikes, tell the hitter to “protect the plate.”
For some Little Leaguers, being up-to-bat can be stressful, and being on the bases can be confusing. They’ll look to their base coaches for guidance and reassurance. Whatever you communicate and however you communicate it, be sure to be positive, supportive, and encouraging.