A lead off is the distance a runner leaves the base toward the next base. Once a pitcher has the ball in the circle and is not making a play, all base runners must immediately proceed to a base. The base runner cannot again leave that base until the ball has released from the pitchers hand during the pitch. The base runners have to practice timing their lead off to when the pitch leaves the pitcher’s hand.
The lead off is an imperative part of fastpitch softball and if used properly makes the difference in an aggressive team and a non-aggressive team. We have many practices on lead offs. I can’t tell you how many teams I have played over the years whose base runners either do not take a lead off or if they do lead off, they stay too close to the bag or come back to it too soon.
I use very simple rules. Get as large a lead as you can and still be able to dive back to the base if a pick off attempt comes your way. Always watch the ball and do not return to the base until you are required to do so. Typically, a pick off attempt at second base takes longer to develop than a pick off attempt at first or third. For this reason, I coach girls to take a large lead off between second and third and have them stay close enough to dive on first and third. The key to the lead off is that the runner always watch the ball.
Once the runner stops on the lead off, the runner watches the ball and does not turn her back to the play until it is apparent the play is coming her way. I have seen all too often a runner take the lead off of third and immediately turn back to the base, when the opportunity presents itself to steal home. Because the runner is already coming back to base, she cannot take advantage of the steal opportunity.
The key to a good lead off is that it must occur on every pitch by every runner. Trust me, this takes a lot of practice and may involve you drawing a line in the sand that they have to lead off to and then you make plays on them to see if they can get back to base.