The Major League game is moving toward home runs, but the youth, high school, and the college game is still centered around small ball. This how-to guide is to help you as a player steal bases, and its to help parents teach their kids the proper way to steal bases. Hint: It’s more mental than you think!
#1 Have Confidence in Stealing Bases
Your chance of stealing bases goes way up if you have confidence in what you are doing. There is nothing worse (I’ve been there), than second-guessing yourself when trying to steal bases.
So, if you are a player wanting to steal more bases, or a parent wanting to help their kid, start with having confidence as soon as you reach 1st or 2nd base and think about taking the next bag!
#2 Get a Base-Stealing Lead
You should never tip that you are trying to steal a base by getting a larger than normal lead, so, if you want to get a good lead to steal – you need to do it every time you take a lead.
Length – Your base stealing lead should be 10-12 feet at first base, and 14-16 feet at second base for HS and College. (Youth Coaches, please adjust accordingly, I’m a Minor Leaguer so I teach what I know).
Again, if you want to steal bases, there should be no difference between your normal lead and your base-stealing lead, so take a big league all the time if you want to steal bases.
#3 Think The Right Thoughts
So, you’ve got a big lead, now what? When you aren’t planning on stealing you should be staring at the pitcher and thinking – back.
You don’t want your weight to be shifted heavily, that should be centered – just think back. When you are planning on stealing, your thoughts should be different for a righty vs. a lefty pitcher.
Thoughts For Stealing 2nd Off A Righty
If the pitcher is right-handed you need to have a soft focus at his feet. If his right foot moves, you have to dive back into the base because he’s picking off.
If his left foot moves – you go – I know, simple!
Thoughts For Stealing 2nd Off A Lefty
Go first move. If the pitcher is a lefty you need to go first move. It’s a debate, I know, but I’ve played for 22 years now and I’ve never met a base stealer that didn’t go 1st move most of the time (first move means you go as soon as he lifts his right leg).
You need to have a soft focus at his entire lower half. If his left foot steps back, dive back into the base. When you aren’t stealing and he lifts his right foot you take a hard step back. I’m going to call this a jab step, it’s a hard step back toward first base with your left leg.
When he sees you do this a couple of times as soon as he lifts his right leg, he’ll forget about picking off. I like to even jab back with my left foot when I do steal, I just do it before he lifts his leg altogether.
Remember Pavlov’s Dog? You train a lefty pitcher 2 or 3 times that you jab hard back toward 1st base every time he lifts his right leg, he won’t think you’re doing much base-stealing at all. Then, when you’re ready, you jab early and go when he lifts his leg.
This makes it the same jump you just got off the righty, maybe even a little better because lefties don’t usually slide step.
#4 Properly Position Your Feet
Your left foot should be even with the bag, some like to angle it towards second, but I think that makes you too slow getting back to the base on a pick-off.
Your right foot is a big deal when you steal. The best method I’ve learned is to line your right toes up with the middle of your left foot, this opens your hips a little toward second.
Once your hips are positioned, position your foot. Your right foot should be pointing 45 degrees toward 2nd base.
This opening up method should be used if you’re running a 60 as well for you older players.
This is a beautiful timing tactic first formed at UCLA, hence the name. They led D1 the year they developed this, in steals.
How it works is most pitchers come set for 1-4 seconds before they go home.
We want to know if it’s 1 second, if its 2, or if its 4, on average.
So, when the pitcher comes set, you start your timer: U – C – L – A. Say it in a way where each letter takes about a second. If he’s going on L every time, that’s his tendency, if he goes on C, then you know that too. This helps with timing and anticipation, and with leaning into the steal.
#6 Lean Into The Steal
This is an extremely subtle tactic which helps a ton. We talked about your mindset and how we want your weight to be centered so you aren’t suspicious and so you can get back.
An advanced tactic, is to time the pitcher using the U.C.L.A. method above, and then when he is about to go based on his tendancies, start a subtle lean toward 2nd base. This little momentum could save you .2 seconds which could be the difference between out and safe.
#7 Take A Big Crossover Step
The first step in stealing a base is crucial. The good news is, you don’t have to run 100-meter sprints to practice it, you only need to sprint about 5 steps to practice your first step.
It starts with your arms, pull your right arm down hard and bring your left knee and arm forward as fast as you can. Your first step should be fast and should gain a lot of ground.
#8 Peak-In On Your Third Step
On the third step of stealing the base you need to peak in to see if the batter hits the ball.
If he misses on a swing, or doesn’t swing, you keep going.
If he hits the ball on the ground, you keep going.
If he hits the ball on a line, you keep going (not enough time to get back anyway).
If he hits the ball in the air, you freeze, assess whether it can be caught, and get back if it can.
If he hits a base hit, you round the base and pick up the 3rd base coach.
#9 Slide Head First
This one is an opinion that certainly has pros and cons. I’ve just been thrown out too many times sliding feet first to ever do it again. Here are the pros and cons for you to decide yourself.
- It’s proven to be faster (Sports Science – look it up)
- It’s easier to avoid a tag
- You get more safe calls on average (umpire perception)
- You can hurt your finger sliding in if your fingers are pointed toward the base (see #10)
- It can be a bit scary for younger kids to get used to
- If you’re on turf, and it’s really wet, you can easily slide way past the base.
#10 Slide With Fingers To Sky And Stay On The Bag
As mentioned in cons above on sliding head first, you can break your fingers if they are pointing straight forward and you slide into a bag.
This is why it’s important to practice at a young age to slide head first with palms up/fingers up.
At our baseball camps we practice this with a slip n’ slide into a pool, pretty fun way of learning to slide correctly.
Once you’ve slid into the base, and you were safe because you followed all of our steps, you need to stay on the bag.
Smart middle infielders will keep the tag on you for a long time in case you come off the bag for a split second. If you need to shake some dirt off or tie your shoe, call time before you do it.
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