Get down. Get down!
There are four different ways to slide. We’re going to take you through each technique discussing both safety concerns and usage along the way. We’ll follow up with some team drills. First though, let’s get started with some basics that are true of every style of slide.
When to Slide - Sliding is done to safely advance a runner. Lowering a player’s profile not only helps avoid a collision with the fielder but with the tag as well.
While you can slide into first, it is rarely necessary. It has been proven that running through first base is both safer and faster than sliding into it. The only reason to slide into first then is to avoid a tag. When the first baseman has to jump for the ball, pulling their foot off the base, it can be useful to go low, and slide in under the tag as well as beat their foot back to the base. There is a degree of experience needed to read a play like this so only seasoned players should be trained to slide into first.
Timing - When do you start the slide? Depending on the age and speed of the slider that answer can vary. Most instructional videos will say between 3-5 feet from the base. When it comes to older players that already have the skillset, and a longer running stride, common wisdom seems to be between 5-8 feet.
Bottom on the ground – A slide should be executed with butts on the ground. Being on their bottom leaves a runner in the proper position to come out of any slide ready to run. If players are getting skin raspberries, it’s a good indication that they are doing something wrong.
Leg Tuck – Whatever leg a player is most comfortable tucking is their tucking leg. Let them do what comes naturally. Many coaches will train left foot under. This is to put the runner in a better position to run toward the next base so we recommend giving it some practice time but if it’s not natural, don’t fight it. That can lead to unnecessary injury.
Sliding is done to prevent injury. Lowering mass on a close play is often safer than running full speed ahead toward a collision. Oddly enough then, the key word to remember for sliding safety is UP.
Sit Up - You always want the player’s momentum to continue forward. They should not be falling or jumping into a slide. Falling naturally leans your body backwards. This not only slows speed but it can lead to head and back injuries if a player goes back too far.
Hands Up – Whenever a player slides, you want hands in the air. Contact with the ground as you move can create a variety of injuries from gravel in the skin to broken fingers and wrists. None of these injuries are good for a ball player. Remember, as your hands go up, your back remains straight. You don’t want the body going in the opposite direction of the forward momentum. Natural instinct is to use your hands for protection so it’s better to train with them in the air from the start.
Feet Up - When sliding feet first, make sure to lift the lead leg a tiny bit off the ground. This avoids cleats digging in and catching in the dirt as a player moves forward. Not only would this slow their speed but it could lead to injuries including jammed joints and broken bones.
Before hitting the base path, there are some basic drills you can do with your team to get them in the rhythm of slide technique.
During warm ups you can call UP. When that happens players can drop their chins to their chest and put their hands up. This gets them practicing safe positioning from the start. Your cue to reset is relax.
Once players are in hands up position call out figure 4. On this cue players should tuck their natural leg behind their standing knee and drop straight to the ground landing in a sitting position with their legs in proper positioning, they will look like the number 4. Straight leg on top. Each time they stand to reset, they should come off the ground with their hands remaining in the air.
You can then take it a step further by forming a circle and having the players walk around. When you call out slide the athletes drop where they are into sliding position. When they get back up, they do so without using their hands. Practice a few times from walking, then speed up their pace to a jog. Finally, finish the set with a few at running speed. For this last one, players may need to widen the circle to allow for their momentum.
Types of Slides
Basic, Straight Leg or Figure 4 Slide – This slide, when properly executed, shapes the players legs into a 4 with their top leg out straight. Using the tucked leg’s foot, the player can literally kick their own knee out from underneath them. This puts them in the proper position to land on their bottoms when they hit the ground.
To train new sliders set up a starting line where they will begin their slide. Place two coaches, one on either side of the starting line, facing the line. Each coach should put out their back hand and bend their knees.
The player runs, half speed, to the starting line from about 5 feet out. When they arrive at the coaches, they take a hand from each and tuck their legs. The coaches hold on and help the player continue their forward motion. When the player stops, they get up without using their hands.
This technique trains the players to lift their body and front foot off the ground while keeping their hands in the air. It also provides the feel of momentum. Finally, it ensures the player remains in a seated position through the slide. It trains the body to land into the slide correctly because the coaches are each helping the core muscles memorize the proper positioning.
Pop-Up Slide – A pop up slide is an extension of the basic slide. The idea is for the player to pop up off the ground from the slide and be ready to run. This is to take advantage of fielding errors.
When a player slides into base, they are already in the seated position with their hands in the air. Their front foot is in contact with the bag. The idea is to use the leverage of the bag to go from a seated to standing position without using hands.
In the case of a head first slide the player will be popping up using their legs and hands, much like a leaping frog.
Have a teammate stand on the opposite side of the bag with their hand out. When you slide in, grab their hand and pull yourself up. After a few tries, you’ll get the feel for getting up using your own momentum.
Hook Slide - The purpose of a hook slide is to help the runner avoid the tag when the play is coming in from a specific side of the bag. The idea behind the hook is that only one part of the player’s body is intended to make contact with the bag, either a foot or a hand. The rest of the body hooks away from the base entirely. This type of slide is most often used heading into 2nd base where the basepath widens to the right of the bag which is the most natural direction for right-handed runners to go. When plays are close at 2nd, the shortstop is often running in from the left side of the bag so the setup is perfect to execute a hook.
There are two different techniques to the hook slide:
1) Legs First – With both legs bent and the full body upright, the back leg makes the tag. Hold that foot as a parking brake, so to speak, remaining in contact with the bag, as the rest of the body slides away from the bag.
2) Hand First – As a runner nears the base from a basic slide, they extend their back arm out and begin laying down and, depending on the player, roll over onto their stomach. The back arm, which is out straight, sweeps the bag after the rest of the player’s body has already passed the bag.
Head First Slide - To execute the head first slide extend both arms straight out in front while launching the body off the back of the legs. The player’s forearms, chest and thighs should hit the ground simultaneously. Keeping the palms of the hand up, the runner reaches for the bag. Unlike every other type of slide you’ll practice, rather than tucking the chin, a player must keep their chin up. Avoid contact with the ground to keep the neck from snapping back.
The head first slide is the most dangerous move in baseball. Please practice safety first. Do not slide head first into home plate. The risk of injury is just too great.
The ideal base to execute the head first slide is at 2nd. The basepath is wider so a player has the opportunity to execute the slide while avoiding the tag and baseman seeing it is generally the shortstop, coming in from 3rd, who handles the tag.
The pop up from this position is the froggy style described in the pop up slide section.
A great way to practice sliding, especially on a hot summer’s day, is to wet down a tarp and let the players get a running start. It’s a perfect starter drill for younger players and a heck of a lot of fun at any age. For winter practice indoors, there are also professional sliding mats you can purchase.
The slide that is the most fun is, of course, the tarp slide. You should always ask the grounds crew for permission before starting and avoid the mound to keep the chance of injury to a minimum. Belly first works best.