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Beating the Ball to the Bag -- How to Increase Your On-Base Percentage

How many times have you hit a grounder and, even with everything you had, you were still thrown out by only a few inches? If you could increase your speed, you could not only increase your on-base percentage, but also improve your overall baserunning skills.

There are many factors that can influence your speed. Strength, flexibility, running technique, and baserunning technique name a few. It is often said that running is easy - just put one foot in front of the other. True, but if you want to increase your speed, there are several things to consider.

Two main items allow you to run faster: stride length and turnover. Stride length is the distance that your feet land apart from each other and turnover is how fast your legs are actually moving. Turnover is affected by how fast your arms are swinging. The most common mistake young athletes commit is keeping their arms still and not moving them when they run. By pumping your arms back and forth, you can increase how fast your legs turnover. This alone can increase your speed dramatically.

Stride length usually comes naturally. Your body will find its own stride length with practice. Flexibility can either help you or hinder your stride length. If you are not flexible enough, your stride length will be short and it will slow you down. It is important to know that trying to increase your stride (“overstriding” as it’s called) can slow you down too, not speed you up. This is because when you purposely try to lengthen the stride too far, your legs will not turnover as fast and your speed slows down.

Be sure to warm-up and stretch properly before you begin practice and games. This will not only decrease the chances of getting injured, but can also help you increase your speed.

You might think that if you are stronger, you will increase your speed. This isn’t necessarily so. Take elephants for example. They are very big and strong, but they have no speed or quickness. Now take a cheetah, and you will see a very fast animal. This doesn’t mean that strength isn’t important; you must combine strength, flexibility, and proper technique to become as fast as possible. You can be very strong and have good flexibility, but without proper running technique, you won’t be very fast. Have a coach watch how you run and analyze your running form. It is also helpful to videotape yourself so you can see what you look like when you are running. This will allow you and a coach to make corrections and then go out and practice it.

Here’s a list of what to look for when analyzing running form:

The Arms: Your arms have to be moving just like your legs. If you look at a major leaguer when he runs, you will see his arms move just as fast as his legs. You will also notice that when his right leg comes forward, his left arm is coming forward. This is called an “alternating arms and legs” swing. Your arms can actually dictate how fast your legs go, meaning the faster you swing or pump your arms, the faster your legs will go.

The other thing about the arms is the position you have them in. The elbow should be angled at about 90 degrees, and they should move in an alternating pattern backward and forward. Try not to allow them to cross over the front of your body too much. This will cause your body to sway back and forth and slow you down.

The Legs: The legs shouldn’t cross over the center of the body when running. Try this drill to see if this is something you need to work on: Start out by running down a base line. Look straight ahead at the base you’re running toward. Place a chalk line down and run down the middle of the chalk line. Your feet should be landing just on the outside of the line, not crossing over it, but not too far apart either.

The Feet: When sprinting, you should be up on the balls of your feet. Some young athletes who are just learning to sprint correctly spend too much time on their heels. To better illustrate this, walk about 10 feet and watch how your feet land on the ground. Next, jog slowly the same distance. Your heel will naturally land first, then you will push off onto the ball of your foot and onto your toes. When you sprint you want to be up on the ball of your foot, not landing on your heels.

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