Fastpitch softball is a game of inches, and aggressive, heads-up base running is key to scoring runs. Knowing when to steal, when to run, when to stay put, when to slide, where to slide is key to being a good base runner. This requires a constant awareness by the runner of her surroundings. She will know the pitch count, where the other runners are and what they are doing, she will be aware of the coaches signals, and she will be willing to make educated base running decisions on her own.
I have watched game after game where runs are not scored and base runners do not move into scoring position because the runner is still standing on the base when they should have been anticipating advancing. The base runners simply do not know their situation and their coaches do not know either. They don’t advance on a passed ball, they do not run to first on a walk in case the base coach wants to send her to second. They don’t know there are two outs and instead of running on a fly ball, they hold up, causing an out or losing the extra base that could have been had. All runners must be aware of the situation of how many balls, strikes and outs, how the infield is lined up, and where the ball is on the filed.
I start each season and each practice with the following warm up drill for base runners. They all run around the bases and get loosened up. Then we put them under a stop watch and record their times. They run home to first, home to second, home to third, and home to home. I keep the times so the runners can compete, not against each other, but against themselves. Every runner should be working to improve their running times.
Next I put runners on first, second and third and have a pitcher pitch to the catcher. After each pitch, the runners have to take the largest lead off they can. Runners must be coached to take their lead off and to watch before making the decision to advance or go back to base. The most common problem is runners will lead off and then immediately return to base. Inevitably there will be a misplay and instead of advancing the runner has already started back to the base. Coach your runners to lead off and watch before making a decision on which way to go.
Then I put the runners at first and third and we practice various first and third situations such as the outright steal to second or a delayed steal to second, while the runner at third is leading off waiting to decide to go for home or return to third.