3 Pillars for Enhancing First Step Quickness

By Nancy Newell (BS, Strength Coach at RPP)

As a driven high school baseball player with hopes and dreams of playing college baseball your attention is constantly being directed towards sculpting yourself into the quintessential 5-Tool player. The 5-tools below are skills of the game that scouts are looking for in potential prospect(s) to help give their teams the greatest opportunity to compete and ultimately win a national championship.

    1. Your running speed & overall athleticism
    2. Your throwing strength & accuracy
    3. Your defensive skills
    4. Your batting average
    5. Your ability to hit for power

The intention behind this article is to hone in on the first tool…. SPEED, and answer the question “WHY?”. Why is speed such a sought-after tool for scouts and offer you 3 things YOU can do to develop this skill.

What role does speed play & Why it matters?  

This is as simple as it gets…

If you are fast you have the ability to do more than players who are not fast. You get on base more often, you stretch singles into doubles, you give your coach the ability to play small ball, defensively you cover more ground, you become a concern to the other team. You… become… a difference maker and that’s what scouts are looking for.

Don’t believe me…. Just look at the data below gathered from Fangraphs.com, Sprint Speed and Baseball Savant [2].

As you can see from the data circled in red there is a moderate to strong positive correlation between how fast you are and how good you are at the other 4 tools scouts are measuring you on.

Now, how do you go from being a middle of the road speed guy to a front runner?

Pillar 1: Become a Detective 

Enter Vince Coleman. Coleman led the major leagues in stolen bases four times and the National League six consecutive years. He knows a thing or two about the ART of being fast. One of Colemans key philosophies as a player and now as a coach for the White Sox is…

“You don’t have to be fast to be a great baserunner, you just have to be smart, alert, aggressive and [able to] anticipate.”

Pitchers are creatures of habit. They do things subconsciously that will tell you what or where they are about to throw (*especially at the high school level). There are numerous stories of Coleman recalling the patterns, habits and tendencies of each pitcher he would face. Below are just a few examples from an ESPN article written by Anna McDonald [1].

Source: [1]

Now, the real question is…

“Can you take the speed you already do have and put it to work?”

We think so! If you stood in the dugout, put some thought into it and made it your mission to unveil the patterns, habits and tendencies of each pitcher you faced it would give you a strategic advantage. An advantage that would give you the ability to get bigger leads, the ability to steal knowing a breaking ball is coming or recognizing  a shift in the defensive or even the ability to give the hitter behind you in the line-up better odds at connecting with a fastball.

This is the lowest hanging fruit when it comes to enhancing first step quickness. All it takes is paying attention to the clues right in front of you.

Pillar 2: Make Strength and Plyometric Training a Priority (3-4x times a week) 

Improving your first-step quickness out of the box or on the base paths really comes down to improving your strength potential (your ability to produce force) and producing that force as quickly as possible.

Shown below are two force curves. As you can see Athlete B has a stronger force potential than athlete A (see 1). However, Athlete A has the ability to produce higher amounts of force quicker than athlete B (see 2).  That’s the real difference between amateur and professional baseball. The game itself is simply faster.

Image Source: [4]

In baseball, static starts are extremely prevalent. Visualize your shortstop in a ready position who has to suddenly charge after a ball or your leadoff hitter who has to hold his position and suddenly dive back to the bag. In either scenario, you want to develop the same qualities that Athlete A has (high force in a minimal about of time).

Basic weight training that lays a strong technical foundation is a sure way to improve  your starting strength. It’s choosing basic compound movements and providing an overload via intensity, volume, time under tension, intent (VBT), week after week (for more information Velocity Based Training “VBT” at RPP click here).

Pillar 3: Find A Training Partner and Compete 

It’s commonly known that superior athletes develop through competition. You need to learn how to fight your own battles, strategize to gain advantage against bigger faster players, lose, get back on your feet and come back with vengeance. You can see this displayed in sibling dynamics and why a large majority of stud athletes also happen to be younger siblings [3]. Michael Jordan, Serena Williams, Peyton Manning and Nolan Ryan all were younger siblings whose names will always be thrown in the hat of “Greatest of All Time” in their respected sports.

Taking this back to developing speed. Preparatory work is the ideal spot to develop a competitive fire in your training program.  Grab a training partner and compete to see who can jump the highest, who can jump further on a Lateral Heiden, who can get to that cone the fastest, who can create the cleanest rotational med ball sequence, who can beat who in a 60yd dash. And don’t forget to keep score.

Speed Opens Doors

In closing, being FAST matters. Being fast will set you apart from your peers and giving you an upper hand getting you into the college you want. In the dugout STUDY the pitcher and take notes, train with a purpose, and compete!

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Sources:

[1] McDonald, A. (2016, March 14). Where have all the stolen bases gone? Vince Coleman has a theory. Retrieved December 25, 2020, from https://www.espn.com/blog/sweetspot/post/_/id/68743/where-have-all-the-stolen-bases-gone

[2] Linwood, H. (2019, February 22). Examining StatCast Sprint Speed and Running Splits. Retrieved December 25, 2020, from http://www.checkswings.com/2019/02/22/examining-statcast-sprint-speed-and-running-splits/

[3] Hopwood, M. J., Farrow, D., MacMahon, C., & Baker, J. (2015). Sibling dynamics and sport expertise. Scandinavian journal of medicine & science in sports, 25(5), 724–733. https://doi.org/10.1111/sms.12387

[4] Verkhoshansky, Y., & Siff, M. C. (2009). Supertraining. Rome: Verkhoshansky SSTM.

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