On this episode I’m going to talk about the softball rundown, also known as the pickle. Something that every team experiences and few teams have constant success with. Running the runner back and forth between first and second base for example is not the way to get an out, especially when you have a runner on third.
The Softball Rundown
The rundown is one of the most confusing plays when the players don’t know exactly what to do and when it’s not practiced frequently. Many coaches will say that if you can’t get her out, at least make sure that she goes back to the base she came from instead of advancing to the next base. This is sometimes a good idea if there’s a runner on third base. In this case, the third base player will need to call out if the runner is going so that the defensive player with the ball can throw it to home to get the runner out.
If there are no other runners on base however, and the rundown is executed efficiently, you can get the out in 3 throws or less. Some will even say 2 throws or less but that’s usually done with a very highly organized and experienced team.
There are 3 things that will enhance your ability to get the runner out and if any of them don’t happen, and you at least get the runner back to the base she was coming from you have done a good job. The three keys are the following.
- Make sure that the person you are throwing the ball to, can see the ball. What I mean by this is that for the thrower, the ball should be held up high at about shoulder height or just higher. The receiver needs to make decisions about the runner and make sure she doesn’t make contact with the runner as she changes directions, so finding the ball should be as easy as possible. If the thrower always holds the ball up on the throwing side, then the receiver will always know where to look for it. If the receiver is left handed and the thrower is right handed, the ball will have to go across the base path so extra care needs to happen. If the thrower and the receiver are right handed, then the throw will always be going to the glove side of the receiver, and on the outside of the base path, which lessens the chance of the ball making contact with the runner.
- Make sure that you are off the baseline and out of the way of being contacted if you don’t have the ball or are not receiving the ball. Sometimes in the confusion it’s easy to freeze and not know where to go or what to do. That’s usually when the contact occurs. If you have a specific movement pattern in your rundown defensive procedure, it will become automatic. Sometimes the procedure changes which is what can cause confusion and either contact with the runner or a ball that ends up in the outfield. There’s a couple of simple ways you can execute the movement of the defensive players after throwing the ball. It can be to either just peel around behind the defensive player that is backing you up or it can be to move forward with the throw on the side of the throw so that the base path is not crossed and then in behind the person who just received the ball. By selecting one way and sticking to it and practicing it regularly, there is no reason to give the runner a base due to contact or a missed assignment.
- Make sure that you don’t simply go back to the base when receiving the ball but that you essentially close in on the runner. What I have seen is that the defensive player who throws the ball then goes to the base either behind them or ahead of them to receive the ball if it comes back to them. What you’re basically doing here is chasing the runner back and forth to the bases until either she outruns the defense or there is a defensive error. If the defensive player who is going to receive the ball takes a step or two forward from the base the runner is headed to, then the runner has less distance to outrun or create errors. It also prevents the runner from simply doing a head first dive past the defender and touching the base for safety. The trick is, when the runner is no longer facing the person with the ball, while trying to evade the tag, as she is 2 steps away from the receiver of the ball, a quick toss will get there just before the runner gets there and she can be tagged easily. You can see here why it’s so important for the ball to be visible to the receiver and to close the gap.
The rundown, or the pickle is one of the most confusing plays in softball where sometimes the most yelling can occur from teammates, coaches and fans. This is why practice is so critical to make the procedure automatic. Run a drill with lots of distractions so that the players can use mental training skills to remain focused during the execution and to maximize the potential for a successful outcome. It’s easy to turn a complicated play into a standard out if it’s practiced often in various situations with all of the players on your team knowing how to run the play.