Here are some tips to help you get your team running on all cylinders and thinking about how to run the bases the right way.
Contact - Getting out of the Box
Whether you've tapped one off the end of the bat or raked a hard line drive down the line, your first goal is always to get out of that batter's box in a hurry. There's no excuse for not hustling, so run hard down the first base line.
Take a brief moment to see where the ball is headed and make a quick judgment - is it a base hit? If not, run as hard as possible through first base, stepping on the bag on the side closest to home plate, and do your best to beat the defense. If it's a hit, run hard and move gradually into foul territory in order to make a smooth turn at first base. Whatever you do, don't get caught watching the ball for too long - that only slows you down.
It's a Hit - What Now?
If you've earned a hit, round first with the full intention of going to second. Quickly find the ball on the field and make another decision - is the defense in control of the ball? If not, decide whether you can make it to second base and go! If the defense has the ball and is in a good position to throw you out at second, stop and return to first base.
A good rule to follow: "Run until the defense stops you."
Taking a Good Lead
Two and a half steps, that's a good guideline to follow when taking a lead. Keep your eyes on the pitcher and never cross over your feet - you want to be vigilant in case the pitcher makes a sudden move and you want your feet to be ready to change direction quickly. Take your lead off the back edge of the base - that increases the distance any pickoff throw must go and also makes it harder for the first baseman to tag you. Every little advantage helps.
Getting up with the Pitch
On every pitch, you should generate momentum towards the next base in a secondary lead. Think of shuffling with three hops and count them in your head - one, two, three. As the pitcher delivers the ball to the plate you begin advancing towards the next base in the form of those three hops. You want your feet to come down on "three" just as the ball enters the strike zone.
Based on what happens-a strike, a passed ball, a hit-make a decision on whether to advance or return.
Third Base - The Walking Base
The shuffling method of taking a secondary lead works for first and second, but when you've reached third base, it's time to take a different strategy. Now you're going to walk towards home with three steps - right, left, right, counting in your head, "one, two, three."
Just as in the shuffling secondary lead, when you get to "three," your right foot should be coming down and the ball should be entering the strike zone. React quickly to whatever happens and focus on taking advantage of every opportunity to score.
When in Doubt, Slide
No matter what base you are approaching (except for first base), if there's even a slim chance of a play, slide. Too many injuries occur because runners are indecisive. Sliding is always a safer alternative to slamming on those breaks.
And you never want to be tagged out standing up when simply sliding could have saved your team an out.
Don't Let Up
You should always hustle, but when it comes to first base and home plate, you absolutely need to run straight through those bases. Nothing feels worse than to let up on your way to first only to realize the defense has made an error on what seemed a sure out.
Your team will also be pretty upset with you if you fail to run hard through home plate, even when the defensive play may be at another base. Fail to cross home plate before the third out is recorded and your run simply doesn't count.
No Fruit or Punctuation Please
I try to avoid terms like the "question mark" or "banana" when describing how to round the bases. Runners shouldn't make a sudden turn into foul territory just to make another quick turn through the bag.
You can judge a base hit before getting too far down the line, so make a more gradual line into foul territory. The turn at first becomes smoother and more efficient.
When looking at the square created by the basepaths, you should really picture a circular path for runners. Make all the turns gradual and runners will never have to break stride. That saves time, increases speed, and helps prevent injuries that can occur when trying to make sharp turns at full-speed.
Bring all of these tips and lessons to your next practice and improve your team's running ability. Before long, you'll see more extra-base hits, more first-to-thirds, and more runs crossing the plate.