- Sliding is a one of the most important tools that a good ball player must possess
- Improperly executed slides will hurt so don’t expect your players to know how to slide on their own
- Solid instructions and safe practice environment described in this post will allow your ball player to confidently slide without getting hurt
Table of Contents
- Why slide?
- All About Baseball Sliding Rules
- Sliding Techniques
- Sliding Techniques to AVOID
- Sliding into First Base
- Sliding Fundamentals
- Conducting a Successful Sliding Practice
- Tips for Coaches
- Frequently Asked Questions
- REFERENCE LINKS
As a coach or parent, we’ve all seen 6 year old kids rising from a cloud of dust with their faces beaming with a new found confidence that sliding works.
You also probably have seen shy kids wincing after trying to awkwardly slide because done wrong, sliding hurts.
Although not considered to be one of the “5 tools”, learning to slide in baseball without getting hurt is a very important skill to develop in order to become a solid baseball player.
Learning how to slide in baseball without getting hurt is not a difficult task when taught properly.
The purpose of this post is to teach you, the coach or parent, the basics of sliding and provide you with a set of detailed drills to develop your child/players so that theyoo can learn to slide confidently.A
It’s a thing of beauty when you see a once-timid kid running bases and executing the art of sliding with their newfound confidence!
Usually, sliding is executed when a runner is “attempting to advance by taking a base to which he isn’t entitled” (MLB, Stolen Base) in these three situations:
- Sliding to advance to the next base at full speed without overshooting it
- Sliding to avoid a tag
- Sliding to break up a double play (takeout slides)
In youth baseball, sliding is done primarily to avoid being tagged out.
Advancing to the next base at full speed
Try running full tilt to a base and come to a complete stop. You will find that it is virtually impossible to do so unless you consciously start to slow down before arriving at a base.
When you are trying to beat the ball to your final destination, you want to get there as fast as you can.
Of course, if you misjudge the ground (bone-dry) or distance to the base, you may end up over-sliding anyway.
Avoiding a tag
More often than not (unless it’s a busted play), a baserunner will arrive at the base about the same time as the ball.
Sometimes there is nothing that can be done to avoid being tagged out. In other cases, a runner conducts a complex choreography to avoid a tag.
The complex choreography is mostly depended on the runner’s athletic ability but there are specific techniques that can be taught.
Breaking up a Double Play
Also known as a takeout play, a good ball player will know that he will be forced out but will make it difficult for the defender to execute a double play.
Breaking up a double play presents increased injury to both players so there are specific rules.
These rules have been modified over the years to protect both the runner and defender breaking so knowing how to properly execute a takeout play is very important.
I cannot stress enough that you want to teach your kids (especially runners) to be a good sport and learn to break up the double play the right way.
All About Baseball Sliding Rules
In the last 10 years or so, MLB has made several important changes to sliding rules to protect the players.
Legal vs Illegal Slides
Legal slide can either be feet-first or head-first. If sliding feet first, a runner at minimum must have one leg and butt maintain contact with the ground (i.e. bent-leg slide).
An illegal slide is when a runner intentionally attempts to initiate contact with the defender by raising, kicking or slashing his leg at the defender’s knees or by throwing his arm/body or grabbing the fielder to interfere.
After Utley’s ugly takeout incident with Tajeda in 2016 (video link shown in the “Runner must attempt to avoid a collision” section), MLB now stipulates that a runner cannot slide for the sole purpose of breaking up a double play so he must slide within reach of the base by hand or foot.
In addition, all takeout plays in MLB require a runner to slide feet-first
The Myth of a Universal “Must-Slide” Rule
If you have coached or been a parent of a ball player, you probably have seen some of them complain when a player does not slide when running home to score.
This is because of a perceived notion that all players must slide. This mantra has been repeated over the years but it simply is not true.
There is no written, universal “must slide” rule, whether it be at youth, high school, college or in professional baseball.
Here is a brief list of what rules are in place to protect players:
- Little League Slide Rule
- Rule 7.08(a)(3-4)
- There is no “malicious contact” or “must-slide” rules
- Little League relies on unsportsmanlike conduct rules to penalize any malicious action
- Pony League Slide Rule
- OBR Rule 6.01(j)
- Pony does not have any safety rules around sliding on force plays or double plays
- High School (NFHS) Slide Rule
- NFHS Rule 2-32 and Rule 8-4-2(b)
- NFHS rules for malicious sliding behavior is more restrictive than NCAA
- Runner must slide “on the ground and in a direct line between two bases” or “with reach of the base with either a hand or a foot” on the bag away from the defender
Some local leagues do have a “must slide” rule on its own, but the national youth league it is affiliated with will not practice this rule.
Most coaches are surprised to find that this rule does not exist when the post-season championship games start (where your team competes with other towns).
Runner must attempt to avoid a collision
Of course we do not want a runner to intentionally crash into the defender like Pete Rose used to “truck-over” catchers in the 1970s.
Instead of a universal “must-slide” rule, baseball leagues have a “contact rule” that states that a runner must either attempt to slide or try to get around the defender (with a ball).
If an umpire determines that a runner intentionally and maliciously runs into a defensive player, he will call the runner out and possibly even eject that player.
In our recreation league, we specifically mandate that home plate-bound runners must slide without exception because we have a high number of competitive tournament players versus recreation-only players (to protect less-skilled players).
Chase Utley Incident in 2016
Watch the video first.
Is this really a “clean” play as some Dodgers fans claim?
Baseball is a thinking man’s game requiring athleticism, skills and high baseball IQ.
Does Chase trucking over Tajeda (notice how far Utley was off-base) really what we want to see in baseball?
If you are a parent to Tajeda, how would you feel?
I am glad that after this incident, MLB revised it’s slide rule to eliminate the “neighborhood play” discretion (click for more detailed information).
There is no place for such behavior in baseball, at any level so please impress on your young ball players to play baseball the right way.
So in summary, rules for sliding are:
- Runner cannot simply be called out for not sliding when attempting to score
- The contact rule does not mandate sliding or prohibit all contact between a runner and a defensive player (with a ball)
- The contact rule requires the runner to make a reasonable (from umpires perspective) attempt to not initiate contact while attempting to score
Head-first sliding allowed?
Headfirst diving has a higher risk of injury when compared to feetfirst diving.
Rules on this topic may vary depending on your national affiliation and/or local rules but generally speaking, the following is true:
- 8U – headfirst sliding is NOT permitted in any bases
- 9U – same as 8u
- 10U – same as 8u; may only headfirst dive back to return to base
- 11U – same as 10
- 12U – may head-first slide to any bases EXCEPT the home plate
- 13U – same as 12U
- 14U+ – headfirst slide allowed on all bases
As usual, travel/tournament teams play at much higher competitive level so it is not unusual to allow headfirst sliding at 11u or higher.
I know certain kids are just naturally more aggressive and they headfirst dive at any chance they get.
BUT, as a coach, I would like to remind you that the risk of hand, arm and shoulder injury goes up dramatically with headfirst sliding (even if executed perfectly) so please use your discretion even if this sliding technique is allowed in your league / tournament play.
Lastly, most 13 and older kids play on a full-sized baseball field which usually means they start to wear metal cleats (unless you play on artificial turf). Getting your hand stepped on metal cleats can severely damage your hand.
If you do not have to worry about being tagged and or maintain contact with a bag, running “through-the-bag” is the fastest way to reach a base.
If you are trying to avoid a tag, a runner sliding headfirst is faster than feetfirst because the body’s center of gravity carries the momentum towards a base (according to a physicist named David Peters, Wired, 2008).
There are two distinct way of sliding:
- Feetfirst sliding
- Headfirst sliding
Factors to Consider Before Sliding
An umpire makes a judgement to call determine if a baserunner safe or out. At D1 NCAA games and professional baseball games, there are plenty of umpires near the slide to make an accurate call.
Here are the number of umpires at each level of play:
- MLB / NCAA college (regular season games) – four umpires (one home plate umpire and three base umpires);; minimum of 2 umpires a required
- MLB / NCAA college (playoff games) – six umpires (one home plate umpire, three base umpires and two outfield umpires)
- High School (NFHS), 13+ year old tournament (regular and playoff games) – two umpires (one home plate umpire, one infield umpire)
- 13+ year old recreation (regular season games) – one home plate umpire (stationed either behind a catcher or behind a pitcher) (2)
- 13+ year old recreation (playoff games) – two umpires (one home plate umpire, one infield umpire)
- 12 and under rec games – one home plate umpire (stationed behind a catcher)
(2) most rec leagues hire two umpires for rec teams with 13+ year old players; however, due to umpire shortages in 2021 and later, most are only able to staff with one home umpire
What the list above tells you is that at most non-high school games, there are two (or maybe even one) umpire calling the entire game.
So it is incumbent upon baserunners to move his body in a way to convince to the umpire that he is safe (i.e. not doing a pop-up slide because it makes the play look closer than it is).
I will say that you will just have to accept the fact that there will be a plenty of missed calls so in games where there is only one umpire, I tell m kids to not take unnecessary risks (i.e. headfirst slide) because the umpire will not be able to see the close-up play to make the call.
Feetfirst Sliding Techniques
Feetfirst sliding is where a baserunner starts to slid with his legs first.
Although there are many feetfirst variations, it can be categorized into three types:
- Bent-leg sliding
- Hook sliding
- Situational sliding
Bent-leg sliding (most common)
Bent-leg slide is the most common type of slides in baseball. It is one of the easiest technique for young players to learn and is considered to be the quickest and safest slide to a bag. This technique also minimize the risk of going beyond the bag (2nd and 3rd bases) as runners can pop-up.
Disadvantages of using the bent-leg slide is that a straight sliding trajectory provides a bigger target for defense so most players use a variation of bent-leg and hook slide to keep the larger body parts away from a defender.
Hook slide is sometimes referred to as the “93-foot slide” (euphemism for taking a longer route).
Compared to other bent-leg slides (where a lead leg makes contact with the base), a hook slide focuses on making base contact with the dragging leg to avoid a tag.
When do you use a book slide? It is used when a runner sees that the ball will beat him to the base but it is thrown slightly off-target. In a snap decision, the runner will initiate a banana path to the base and use a hook motion to create a larger distance between his body parts and the defender.
Pop-up slide is the most common way young players taught to slide because it is fairly simple to teach and the it hurts the least (both buttocks take the brunt of the force) out of all sliding techniques.
Also referred to as a sit-down slide (because it looks like they are sitting down), when his legs hit the bag, he pops back up to his feet.
The pop-up motion can be some times trick the umpires into believing that it was a closer play than it really is.
Also, if a player is not carefully, he can be tagged out while he is popping up to his feet!
Headfirst Sliding Techniques
- Pop-up and advance sliding
- Wide sliding
- Running to first base
Headfirst (situational slide)
sliding can also be performed as a situational sliding which involves taking a wide-arc as shown in a game between New York Mets and Los Angeles Dodgers.
In this heads-up play, the runner notices that the ball was thrown wide to the right. Instead of attempting to slide straight (that would have reduced the distance between the runner and defender), he decides to take a wider left arc to reach second base to increase the distance that defender has to cover.
Since this was a force-play (meaning the ball was batted), this defender simply had to either touch the bag or the runner.
By taking a wide arc, the runner avoided getting tagged and gave himself a better chance of reaching the base (he was safe).
Headfirst (swim move)
Another variation of headfirst sliding, with a “swim move”
Diving Back to First
When diving back to first base, the runner’s hand (left hand being preferable) should aim for the left corner of the base to create as much distance from the ball as possible. This is a difficult concept for most young players so you need to practice this drill often.
Sliding Techniques to AVOID
Don’t Jump Before Sliding
This happens more often with 8 to 10 years old children who think it is cool to do hurdles while sliding (but the example shows you an MLB player so there’s that).
Please teach your kids NOT to do this as the injury risk goes up dramatically being that high up in the air. At minimum, they will end up with severe bruises.
Sliding Too Early or Too Late (feet-first)
Here are some good examples of sliding too late. The young ball player slid too late and with straight legs with hands down towards the ground. When he lands, it is going to hurt.
The second image is of an older player who also slid late. Notice the runner’s left knee crashing into a bag which increases the risk of injury to his legs.
Arms Not Extended (head-first sliding)
Even a highly athletic baseball players make mistakes like below while headfirst sliding!
Arms Not Extended (head-first sliding) – Ian Kinsler
Here is another MLB player attempting to do a head headfirst sliding without full arm extension:
Headfirst Sliding Techniques to AVOID – Sliding Too Early
It is important to note that I am not in anyway shaming these ball players. These examples are show so that you can properly teach your kids to avoid the consequence of poor sliding techniques.
Sliding into First Base
Most players run “through the bag” at first base because it is a fastest way (because you don’t have to slow down) when compared to sliding into first base.
However, if a ball is thrown off the mark where first baseman has to take his feet off the base, he is now forced to tag the runner.
In these instances, it may make sense for a slow runner to slide feet or head first into first base create a maximum distance between the runner and fielder.
Although many MLB players do execute both feetfirst and headfirst slides into first base, most tend to do a headfirst slide because you don’t have to slow down as much and give better body control.
Feet-first or Head-first
Most youth and older baseball leagues do not have any rules against sliding into first base either feetfirst or headfirst.
- NOTE:: Many players and coaches frown on sliding into first base as the studies have shown that running through the bag tends to be much faster than sliding. The only exception would be if a ball was thrown wide so a runner would have a better chance of avoid getting tagged by sliding.
However, most youth leagues (a) like Little League, Babe Ruth/Cal Ripken, Pony, etc. have strict rules against 12 years old or younger players to head-first slide into first base (resulting in an automatic out).
At the high school (NFHS), college (NCAA) or pro baseball, players can slide either feet-first or head-first into first base.
Once again, college and professional players tend to avoid sliding headfirst due to increased injury risk to head, shoulders, arms and hands.
- NOTE:: Many competitive leagues and tournaments will allow younger players to slide head-first into all bases, including the home plate.
A properly executed sliding requires a certain degree of aggressive movement by a runner but at the same time, they must remain fluid.
A stiff, awkward movement with indecision to slide will most likely cause injury and will do nothing to boost the runner’s confidence.
- NOTE: Like my old coach used to say, smooth makes everything easy in baseball. Check out this video (click here) of Trea Turner’s slides. Doesn’t he look relaxed and confident?)
A successful sliding can be visualized as a gradual landing of a body followed by smooth glide over the ground (i.e. airplane landing).
In order to accomplish this, you need speed and agility. Sliding with an awkward jumping or diving mechanics will cause unnecessary wear on tear on a body.
Some things to keep in mind for a successful slide:
- When going back to base, headfirst slide is recommended
- When sliding home, feetfirst slide is preferable to reduce the risk of injuring hands, wrist, or shoulders
- When breaking up a double play at second, a legal slide calls for the runner to slide feetfirst
Conducting a Successful Sliding Practice
In order to conduct a safe and fun sliding drills, you will need to consider the following:
- Sliding environment
- Sliding equipment
- Sliding drill techniques
Sliding Practice Environment
Many people suggest not cancelling a practice after rain and instead conduct some sliding drills on wet grass under the misguided notion that it will be fun.
Having coached many levels of youth baseball teams, I do not agree with this assessment:
- Sliding on wet grass will get their pants wet in a hurry; I guarantee you that kids will not be able to focus on drills because they will be distracted by their soaking pants
- Sliding on grass requires players to remove cleats to prevent them from catching grass (catching grass increases the risk of ankle, knee and leg injuries). Do think kids like running in wet socks?
- Most kids cannot run max speed on wet grass with only their socks on. This will invariably result in low running speed which in turn results in harder landing)
- Landing on grass will be soft so kids will not mind – um, no, especially if they are not running at full speed. If you don’t believe me, try sliding on grass yourself.
I am here to tell you that if you do any of the above, you will only be making your job more difficult by making your kids to not like sliding.
Instead, pick a dry day and find yourself a nice level spot in the outfield . It would be best if there are no divots found at usual outfielder spots. Even better if grass has recently been cut.
I have used the following to successfully teach sliding, even to kids who were deathly afraid to try.
- Running surface – start out practicing on dry grass the graduate onto infield dirt; DIY sliding pad will work on both surfaces
- Pants– if possible, tell kids to wear their practice baseball pants
- Sliding shorts – designed to hold a protective cup and provide padded cushions in certain spots (check out Youper sliding shorts here)
- Socks – single pair is good; they can also double up on socks for additional cushion
- Baseball Sliding Training mat/pad
- Some coaches use cheap (plastic) water slip-and-slides, exercise mat like this one or Schutt slider-rite used by pros
- I found all of them to be either too thin (no padding, not durable) or too short/cumbersome to transport or too expensive (Schutt mat goes for $350)
- Instead, you can make a home-made custom sliding pad that is guaranteed to take pain away from hard landings Check this link to get the instructions
- The outer cardboard sheet on this DIY pad can be replaced as they wear out.
Sliding drills is all about muscle memory so that young players automatically know how to slide without even thinking about it.
There are hundreds of variations but I am going to outline only three simple and fun drills.
When to Begin Sliding Towards a Base
Before “diving” into specific sliding drills, let’s briefly talk about when a player should start to slide.
In another words, how far away does a player have to be from their destination base before starting the sliding motion?
The general guideline is to use a player’s own height to determine the distance.
For example, if a player is 5 feet tall, he should begin to slide a bit shorter than 5 feet away from the base.
Bent-leg sliding drills
Please realize that your kids will naturally prefer one leg over the other when it comes to bent-leg sliding.
It does not seem to matter if your a right handed or left handed player, the selection of a lead leg seems to be truly random and it will most likely stay with them the rest of their baseball careers.
I do not think this preference is a huge factor but it will definitely be beneficial for a player to learn how to do a bent-leg slide on either legs depending on the situation.
You need to emphasize the importance of pointing their toes up so that they do not snag their shoes.
Once they are good at sliding with their shoes on, you can try them with cleats.
Upon “graduating” from using a sliding pad to actual dirt infield, I advise you to make your kids wear batting gloves while sliding to protect their hands.
Hook sliding drills
Headfirst Situational (93-foot) sliding drills
Headfirst Swim sliding drills
Diving back to first drills
Tips for Coaches
Helping Hands by First-base and Third-base coaches
- First base coach
- situated approximately 5-7 feet off first base
- make sure to step out further if a baserunner will be rounding first to advance to second!
- Responsible for all base runners from the time they leave the batter’s box (until they leave for second base)
- In youth baseball, first-base coaches primarily assist baserunners with pickoff attempts (i.e. yells out something like “back!”)
- First base coach will also guide the runner on appropriate primary and secondary leads
- On a busted hit-and-run play (where the runner is stealing but the batter pops up the ball), the first base coach calls out “back, back, back” loudly to get the runner’s attention so that he can return to base safely
- Some of the common key phrases to remind a runner on first are:
- half way on a fly
- freeze on a line drive
- advance on a ground ball
- check the outfielder positions
- watch for passes balls
- Make sure the ball hits the ground on bunt before running
- watch third base coach when you arrive at second base
- Third base coach
- directs a base runner on second base (or runner from first base rounding second base to third);
- guide on stopping at third or head on home
- when arriving at third, raise both hands and lowers them to the ground while yelling “down, down!” or “down, in” or “down, out!” to instruct a baserunner to slide
- clockwise windmill arm action with the right arm to tell the runner to head home
Check the Field for Problem Areas
A properly maintained youth baseball field should have:
- tear-away bases where they disconnect from the ground when a runner slides into them very hard
- ensured that beveled home plate is 1″ in height (per MLB rule) but also make sure that surrounding field is not worn down (if worn down, the height of the home plate can be effectively “raised” to 2 inches or more which will definitely hurt the runner when sliding)
Many of these fields are maintained by a local recreation league that are lead by volunteers so it is the responsibility of a coach to inspect and report any potential issues to their leagues.
Coaches reflexively avoid teaching sliding because they don’t want their kids to get hurt. Ironically, by not teaching them how to slide properly, these coaches are actually increasing the injury risk.
I can tell you firsthand that by using cardboards with foam cushions inside, my kids had a lot of fun practicing slide. The look on their faces upon successful sliding during games made me very proud of my boys.
It is my hope that you will do the same for your player
Frequently Asked Questions
- Does Little League have a “must-slide” rule?
- No, the Little League does not have such rule for a runner sliding into any base, including home. However, if a defender with a ball is waiting to make the tag and a runner does not slide to avoid a collision, she will be called out
- Does Babe Ruthe / Cal Ripken League have a “must-slide” rule?
- No, like Little League, Babe Ruth/Cal Ripken does not have a must-slide rule but a runner must slide or take action to avoid a collision
- Does PONY League have a “must-slide” rule?
- No. The PONY league’s rule book states that “it is the responsibility of the base runner to avoid contact with a fielder who is making, or about to make, a play”
- High-speed Video Analysis of Head-first and Feet-first Sliding Techniques in Collegiate Baseball Players (ResearchGate.net)
- Force Play Slide Rule / Illegal Slide (UmpireBible)
- Little League Rule 7 – The runner FAQ
- Stolen Base (MLB)
- A comparison of base running and sliding techniques in collegiate baseball with implications for sliding into first base (ScienceDirect.com)