Softball tagging is a skill that is not practiced enough. There is more than one way to tag a runner depending on the situation on the field and game situation. For example, if a tag is to be made at a base after a batted ball, ideally the fielder will have time to get to the base and wait for the throw to make the tag. If it is a tag during an attempted steal, the fielder may be tagging as the ball is arriving and if the tag is being made between bases, the fielder could be chasing the runner or tagging her on the baseline if the ball is hit to her with a runner advancing in front of her.
One of the most important things to remember when receiving the ball for a tag, is that the fielder must catch the ball first and then make the tag. It is easy to get distracted by activity on the field as well as players, parents and coaches yelling during a play. This is why concentration on the task at hand is critical. Make the out then get out, and on with the next play if there is one.
Following are three situations and ways to make sure a successful tag is made while allowing the fielder to be ready for the next play without losing the ball. Something to remember on every tag, is to try and make it with the outside back of the glove rather than with the ball facing the runner to prevent the ball from being knocked out of the glove. There are different view points on some of the mechanics for tagging, but one thing that is the same for all is that the ball must stay in the glove once the tag is made, and the fielder must get away from the runner to prevent injury and focus on the next play if there is one.
The receiver also needs to be prepared for a ball that might be going wide or above the head. In this case, she needs to determine if she will need to leave the base to prevent extra bases or if she can catch the ball and adjust her position to make the tag. Depending on the speed of the action, she might quickly sweep to make the tag or get the glove down on the ground to allow the runner to slide into it. The difficulty with a sweeping tag is that there is a chance of the ball flying out of the glove due to the momentum generated from the sweep. If this is used, the ball must be deep in the pocket of the glove and held tightly to keep it secure. The other option is a quick downward tag and bringing the glove back up right away. This is done to minimize contact with the runner and less chance for the ball to be knocked out of the glove.
To decrease the amount of movement necessary to make a tag, the fielder receiving the ball should allow the ball to come to the glove rather than reaching out for it. By reaching out, she will then need to get the glove to the runner, this adds time to the tag which there is little of. Allowing the ball to come to the glove will also give the receiver more time to make adjustments if needed on an errant throw. When this occurs, the fielder may need to reach for a ball to stop it from going the wrong way. You could actually use a stop watch and you will see the amount of time lost by reaching out for a ball when not needed.
Tagging On A Non Force Play At A Base:
This is done on an out if there is no force at the base that the runner is advancing to. There is never any need to tag a runner on a force play unless there is another play to be made and the fielder has the ball ahead of the base to tag the runner. This most commonly happens at first base when there is a bunt and a runner on base that is at risk of advancing. The first baseman picks up the ball and tags the runner on her way to first and prevents the runner on base from advancing or makes the throw to tag her out.
There are 2 common ways for a fielder to set up to receive a throw to make the tag. One option is for the fielder to straddle the back corners of the base with her weight balanced on the toes of both feet, setting up with the lower body one quarter facing the thrower and three quarters facing the runner. This position permits mobility in any direction, as well as movement of the glove to either side of the base. Some say this prevents spiking however a slide to either side of the base could cause injury if the fielders do not practice this skill. If there is a potential for a another play, this method could also have a negative effect as one of the feet can be pushed off the ground or out from the base by the incoming runner.
The other option is to set up on one corner of the base with a quarter of the body facing the thrower and the rest facing the runner. Some feel that this is a safer position and will help to prevent a collision because it forces the runner to slide to the side that is not being covered by the fielder. The fielder also has a better view of the ball as her body may be more naturally facing the thrower. This gives the runner options though to evade a tag by sliding to the other side using a hook or fade away slide. The fielder will need to be very aware of the path the runner is taking. Often the runners eyes will tell the fielder where she is going to slide.
Tagging on a Steal Attempt:
For this tag, the most ideal way to get the tag down is for the fielder to be crouched low in front of the base that the runner is advancing to, with the glove pocket open to the oncoming ball at about knee height. This gives the catcher a good target to hit and minimizes the movement that is needed to make the tag . It is also great for the one hop throws that often occur as many catchers are strong enough now that they will throw from their knees. The fielder receives the ball and simply makes the tag on the runner and gets out of the way quickly. This position will allow her to keep her eyes on the ball as it arrives and keep the ball in front of her if she doesn’t catch it. It is essential that the back up fielder is about 5 feet behind the base to prevent extra bases on an errant throw.
Now we all know that this is in a perfect situation. We see more often the fielder trying to get to the base as the baserunner is approaching. It is a practiced skill and on set plays, signals will make this much easier because the fielder can then prepare mentally. Many times though there is no warning and the action is more of a reaction. This is why it is important to practice over an over at all bases so that there is more success and less errors. Many teams practice steal defense at second base because that is where most of the action happens. As coaches though we need to practice all situations because it is the ones that you do not practice that will give bases away. The most important play on this one of course is to get the out but it is also important to not allow extra bases so back up is crucial. Of course this also depends on the catchers ability to get to ball to the base which is of course a part of the practice.
Tagging On The Base Path:
The most important and sometimes difficult part of this play is to not lose the ball. If possible, two hands are used to hold the ball in the glove as the tag is made, and then the glove is pulled away quickly to prevent collision or having the ball knocked out of the glove. This also allows for readiness in the event of subsequent play. If the tag is being made in a rundown or while chasing the runner, the fielder should tag quickly with the back of the glove while maintaining her balance.
If the ball is hit to the second base player for example and the runner is running in front of her, she steps toward the runner and tags her while hanging onto the ball with both hands. If the runner is slightly out of reach, the fielder will move towards the runner and might reach to tag her with one hand, but must hang onto the ball tightly in the glove so it does not come out. Sometimes the fielder will tag the runner with the glove and have the ball in the throwing hand away from her body. It happens more often than we think.