This is an excerpt from Survival Guide for Coaching Youth Softball by Robert B. Benson & Tammy L. Benson.
The batter becomes a base runner as soon as she puts the ball into play. Each batter will need to know how to react to the different ways the ball can be put into play: ground balls hit to the infield, ground balls or line drives hit to the outfield, and fly balls hit to the infield or outfield.
Ground Ball Hit to the Infield
On a ground ball hit to the infield, the batter should get out of the batter’s box as quickly as possible without taking any more steps than needed. After swinging, the batter should bring the back foot forward toward first base and run in a straight line toward the base. When running, the player should focus on the spot beyond first base where the dirt from the infield meets the grass from the outfield. This is usually about 10 to 15 feet (3.0 to 4.5 m) beyond first base. For proper running form, the player needs to place her weight on the balls of her feet like a sprinter, not overstriding and not chopping. The player’s hands should be moving from her cheeks to her hips and the elbows should be bent in a 90-degree angle. The player should keep her elbows close to her body, pumping her arms to make her run faster.
Players should step on the front outside corner of first base (figure 3.7), looking down and to the right as they pass through the base. Looking down and to the right will help runners avoid being hit in the face by badly thrown balls. It will also allow them to see if the ball was overthrown. Tell the players to watch their foot touch the base. This will keep the runner leaning forward with her head down as she reaches the base, which may prevent her from slowing down. Players should run through first base by at least two steps and then use short choppy steps to slow down, lowering their body by bending their knees. They should turn to the right, or to the outside, to return to the base. This will give them another opportunity to see if the ball was overthrown. In addition, turning out enables them to return to first base without risk of being tagged out. If a runner turns in toward the infield (i.e., toward second base) after crossing first base, the umpire and other players might assume that the runner is trying to advance to second base. In this situation, the runner can be tagged out even if she is just returning to first base.
Ground Ball Hit to the Outfield
Many youth leagues only allow one base per hit, which speeds up the game and prevents the continuous game of fetch that can occur when fielders overthrow a ball to a base player. This rule also prevents a batter who bunts from getting an infield home run as a result of errors by the defense. If your league uses this rule, you can still have your players prepare to advance to second base when they hit the ball to the outfield, even if they can’t actually take second base.
If the batter hits the ball to the outfield, she will need to get out of the box the same way as when she hits a ground ball to the infield. But on an outfield hit, the runner needs to head in a straight line toward the first-base coach’s box instead of first base. When the runner reaches a point a little more than halfway up the first-base coaching box, she will make a hard angle toward the front inside corner of first base (see figure 3.8). The runner should step with her right foot against the front inside corner of first base as she makes the turn toward second base. To help players maintain balance while making the turn, tell them to lean into the turn to the point where they would fall over if they weren’t moving so fast. Remind them to accelerate through the base on every turn!
Once the runner has cleared first base, she will need to locate the ball immediately. At this point, the player should listen to the instructions from the first-base coach; however, your players also need to know how to handle the situation on their own. Occasionally, first-base coaches get caught up in admiring a hit, and they forget that they have a runner to coach. If the rules allow, encourage your players to keep running if they believe they can make it to the next base without being thrown out. Even if a runner gets thrown out when advancing to another base, you should praise her for her aggressiveness. These sorts of actions may cost the game, but they can provide a far better reward—that is, helping the players develop confidence and teaching them to play aggressively and to take chances.
Fly Ball Hit to the Infield or Outfield
Of the many frustrations you may face as a coach, none may drive you closer to the edge of insanity than when the following scenario occurs: Your batter hits a pop-up with a hang time of about 20 seconds to the shortstop, the shortstop drops the ball, and yet the batter is still thrown out at first base. Instead of running to the base, the batter was walking back to the dugout, kicking the dirt and getting ready to throw her helmet because she was certain that the ball would be caught.
Depending on the age group, your players may take from four to six seconds to reach first base after hitting the ball. Therefore, if things went correctly in the previous scenario, the batter would be on second base looking to go to third before the shortstop even had a chance to miss the ball. In the interest of your own mental health, teach your players to run down the baseline as soon as the ball is hit! In fact, you can sweeten the deal by explaining that on fly balls the batter usually doesn’t have to worry about beating the throw to first base because she can be on base before a fielder has a chance to make a play on the ball. Teach your runners to sprint hard on all pop-ups and to try to end up on second base before the ball is caught. The fielders will usually not be expecting the runner to be heading to second base. Consequently, if a fielder drops the pop-up, the fielder will not be prepared to throw out the runner.
This is an excerpt from Survival Guide for Coaching Youth Softball.