If you’re always waiting for instruction, you’re always a step behind.
Call it the 3 A’s. Anticipation, aggressiveness, and autonomy are the keys to smart baseball.
Anticipation of the right move as the play is developing.
Aggressiveness and confidence, without hesitation.
Autonomy because the player is making a decision on his own without waiting for instruction from the coaches.
You smack a base hit to right. While approaching first base, the ball gets by the right fielder. You take a short round of first and stop.
“GO! GO! GO!” your coach yells.
The right fielder recovers, collects the ball and makes a throw to second. You’re out by a step.
The problem wasn’t that you shouldn’t have been sent to second base. The problem was that you weren’t anticipating being sent. You were a step behind because you didn’t act until the instruction was made.
I’ve long talked about not creating robots. I don’t want the players to act only on instruction from coaches. Their growth and maturity as baseball players will happen as they gain more autonomy.
The best, most aggressive, and most successful baserunners are those who anticipate.
Those who await instruction don’t only waste valuable time while waiting. They also stop their momentum, making it difficult to get going again. Those who are a step ahead see the play develop and they assume the instruction is coming.
This seems to be most evident when it comes to baserunning. Another example…
Runners on first and second. A base hit goes to right. The third base coach is waving the first runner home. The second runner stops on second.
Why did that runner stop? Because he was waiting for instruction that he didn’t get. He wasn’t aware of how the play was developing and why waiting was unnecessary.
On a typical base hit to the outfield with a runner on second, there may be a play at home. The defense, particularly when the ball is hit to right, is only thinking about the runner going home.
The runner going to second may not see everything develop in front of him on a ball to right. If the coach is sending the runner home, there are essentially two scenarios for how this play is developing.
1. There may be a close play at home. If there’s a close play at home, the defense will not pay attention to that runner going to third.
2. The run will score easily because the outfielder took a while to get to it or bobbled it in the outfield. While the defense may not care about the runner going home in this case, it also means that the runner from first should have had plenty of time to reach third.
Standing on second base isn’t an option. But it happens when runners aren’t anticipating how a play develops and wait for instruction.
Our current group of Spiders includes 11 and 12-year-olds. They are still learning this. As coaches, we are trying to find ways to help them understand it.
When it comes to baserunning, we want our players to assume, within reason, that they are always going to the next base. We can always stop them. But I’d much rather stop an overly aggressive runner than try to restart a runner who stopped prematurely.
This situation creates a moment of uncertainty for all involved. As a coach, I wanted the player to go based on how the play was developing. He didn’t. A second later, he starts going. Due to his hesitation, now I’m not so sure he should go — but it’s too late.
Anticipation and Thoughtfulness
This doesn’t only happen on the bases, of course. It happens in the field, too.
We may give some basic instructions when presented with a certain situation, but we’re not going to yell out instructions for every possible variation. If the play goes differently than expected, how will the player respond? Will they freeze? Will they anticipate the play developing differently and know how to handle it?
We want thoughtful players. Instinctual players. Aggressive players who are always a step ahead. This happens when we are reacting to a play as it develops, not two seconds later.
How do you encourage anticipation, aggressiveness, and autonomy in your players?
Let me know in the comments below!