Field Based Movement and Reactive ability for Baseball
How quickly an athlete can re position themselves on a playing field is often the difference maker in a team’s success. Fractions of seconds mark the difference between successfully or unsuccessfully stealing a base, fielding a ground ball, beating out a throw, and chasing down a fly ball the instant before it hits the ground. Speed is what makes a base runner strike fear into a pitcher on the mound, and makes a short stop an impenetrable wall in the field. The faster a player can position themselves so that they can properly perform their athletic movements is key to their individual and team’s success.
When people think speed they think maximal velocity while running straight ahead. However, when performing field based sports, like baseball, an athlete rarely ever hits top end speed. High school bases are only 90 ft (or 27.4 meters) apart. It takes the typical person 20 to 30 meters to reach peak velocity while running. This means that a base runner spends very little time at top speed, and that’s only if you’re running through first base. A runner must slow down prior to sliding into or rounding a base. Most of the time a base runner is in the acceleration phase. Acceleration is how quickly you can increase your speed. A sports car that goes from 0 to 60 mph in 4 seconds has high acceleration. Fielders also have a need for effective acceleration. Being able to get a good jump on a fly ball is highly dependant on how quickly an athlete can increase their velocity running.
The posture and mechanics of running for acceleration and top end speed are very different. Because athletes often start accelerating from a dead stop, they must position themselves in a forward lean so that they can push down and away from the direction that they want to go, with the legs acting in a piston-like motion. An accelerating athlete must also have long arm actions to promote a higher knee drive than that of top a top speed cyclical motion. We need to coach athletes to be stronger and more proficient in these postures to maximize their acceleration capabilities. Once an Athlete can accelerate faster, they’ll have the capabilities to be dangerous baserunners and fielders.
Moving laterally, or side to side, is hugely important for the baseball player’s success as both a base runner and fielder. While getting from point A to point B quickly is important, it’s meaningless if an athlete sacrifices being in a sound athletic position that allows them to transition into another athletic movement. A fielder that gets to a ground ball fast isn’t much good if they can’t get their hips and shoulders square to field the ball and transfer into a proper throwing motion. An elite baseball player must be able to move laterally quickly while also keeping the play at hand in front of them.
Teaching proper mechanics of lateral shuffling and crossover stepping is key to enhancing an athlete’s ability to move side to side quickly and efficiently. Positioning of the ankles, knees, hips, and shoulders all play a crucial role in being able to load the athlete’s system in a way to properly produce force into the ground to move them sideways quickly, without sacrificing their structural integrity and ability to keep making athletic movements.
Change of Direction
As we have previously discussed, acceleration is critical to a baseball player’s performance. However, baseball is a dynamic game, an athlete may not know which direction they’ll have to move next, and must be ready to start, stop, and start back on a dime very quickly. This is where athletes are either exposed for their lack competency, or make big plays that win games.
Change of direction can be broken down into two separate phases; Deceleration and Reacceleration. When preparing to change direction either linearly or laterally, an athlete must position themselves in a way that optimizes their ability to accelerate in the new direction. An athlete must be coached to “Reaccelerate” toward the new direction rather than stopping completely. Proper mechanics of the ankle, knee, and hip come into play to minimize injuries (specifically to the knees) and maximize the force output required to accelerate again.
Baseball players must also be able to be reactive in their movement. You never know which way a ball is going to bounce or be hit. Utilizing plyometric steps and hip turn techniques is useful for an athlete to quickly orient themselves to move in the proper direction.