Monday, September 11, 2006

Rundowns


Perfecting the Rundown
How many times have you seen a rundown cost your team in a key situation? I asked myself this question a lot last off-season. In the past, our players failed to execute in rundowns and this inefficiency cost us some victories. With this in mind, I wanted our team to improve in this area; so potential defensive outs could be recorded. One of our biggest problems in rundowns was the athleticism of our infielder verses the baserunner. It seemed the opponent’s baserunner could outmaneuver our infielder into making a throwing or glove transfer mistake. Secondly, it seemed that our infielders would get very nervous in rundown situations. This nervousness was illustrated through tense body language. Players looked stiff and uncomfortable when a baserunner was caught up in between the bases. Furthermore, our player’s confidence seemed low in rundown spots, which led to poor oral communication between players calling for the ball.
From our weaknesses, I had to come up with a plan that allowed players to use their intelligence to overcome some physical limitations in rundown situations. Last winter, our varsity coach attended the 2006 ABCA convention in Chicago, Illinois. He came back armed with a DVD that illustrated a new rundown plan. On the DVD, Larry Giangrosso, Head Coach University of Alabama-Birmingham, showed his team’s rundown system and how it could be implemented into your daily practice routine. In his rundown plan, no one ever followed their own throw. Instead, players without the ball charged the runner until they were within tagging distance. As they entered close proximity with the runner, the ball was delivered to them and a tag occurred. This not only extinguished a lot of defensive movement, but helped the defender improve accuracy with their throws. This improvement occurred when defenders remained stopped whiling delivering the ball, instead of chasing the baserunner. After reviewing the DVD, our team tried to carry out Coach Giangrosso’s system.
At first, our team really struggled at implementing the charging aspect of the rundown play. When our team started, many players remained stationed after their throw, not reacting correctly. They had problems getting past the fact that only two players were involved in the rundown. Before, an infielder would make just one throw and follow behind the receiver, having another player take their place in the rundown. With this new system, only two people were responsible in the rundown and our infielders could not “pass” their responsibilities off with an early throw. In the early stages, players were uncomfortable and resistant to the system. But as execution began to improve, players started to get better at the system.
One problem our players had to overcome was overrunning the baserunner. Often, the baserunner would be stopped staring at the receiver with the ball. The charger would sprint and receive the ball too late as the runner returned to the base. Our defenders had a hard time judging the baserunner’s distance and speed. To help players adapt, we decided that defenders would call for the ball when they entered the “tag zone”. The “tag zone” was the area 7-8 feet from the runner. When the defenders entered that zone, they screamed “ball, ball!!” Since the defender is at a full sprint, they are able to cover 7-8 feet very quickly. Before, players were calling for the ball 2-3 feet from the runner. By the time the ball was received, the baserunner had retreated safely back to the base. This small adjustment, getting our defenders the ball on the run against a stopped opponent, helped our defense perfect Coach Giangrosso’s rundown system.
When the technical side of the teaching was completed, our team had to start incorporating rundowns into our daily routine. Our team started running a pregame drill, stolen from Coach Giangrosso’s video, where outfielders split into two groups. One group would start at 3rd base, while the other group started at 1st base. With the infield playing in, a groundball would be hit. The runner from 3rd base would immediately try to score. Upon fielding the grounder, the infielder would fire home. If the throw was early, our baserunners are instructed to stop and participate in a rundown. The runner at 1st, who goes to 2nd on the grounder, tries to move up to 3rd base. The infielders are trying to record 2 outs on the play. Our players had a lot of fun with this drill, which was performed daily for 3-5 minutes.
It not only physically improved our rundown defense, but mentality it helped our players become comfortable with the situation. Since our outfielders practiced as baserunners so much, they really improved their level of play when they found themselves in a rundown on offense. Even with our team’s limited athleticism, our players managed to work themselves out of numerous baserunning spots. Since our team prepared for rundowns daily, their comfort level rose dramatically. You could tell in their improved body language and vocal communication. Not only did our rundown defense improve, but also opponent runner’s were beaten with just one throw. In fact, the final out of an important victory was recorded with a one-throw rundown out.
From this experience, I drew two conclusions. First, that Coach Giangrosso’s system is a great way to improve your rundown defense. It eliminates throws and movement from added defenders in the play. Also, by incorporating rundowns so often players naturally get better at the play and more comfortable with the situation. This elevated comfort level increases player’s chances for success.



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