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Bent-Leg Slide Safer For Base Stealers

From The Oct. 5, 2012 Issue of Collegiate Baseball

By AL FIGONE, PhD &

JUDY KARREN, MLS

Special To Collegiate Baseball

FOLSOM, Calif. — The authors’ base philosophy in teaching three variations of the bent-leg slide is guided by evidence accumulated after comprehensively researching the sliding literature from the late 20th century until now.

To summarize two main points reported previously in Collegiate Baseball:

1) There is no scientific evidence from any appropriately designed study that supports the bent-leg or head first as faster.

2) The overwhelming weight of the evidence illustrates that head first slides are associated with upper body injuries ranging from catastrophic (full body paralysis) to sprained fingers.

Unfortunately, many young players competing in leagues where sliding is allowed, safe and correct bent-leg sliding appears to be lacking for any close play at a base or home.

When perusing the online sources for reasons young players chose a head first slide, comments included: “Because Big Leaguers do it,” “Sliding that way shows you’re tough,” and, “It’s so neat to get up dirty and dust yourself off.”

Furthermore, comments about receiving instruction on how to slide were lacking.

By the time a young player is of junior high age, it’s not surprising that the fear of hitting the dirt or changing from a head first to a bent-leg often echoes what higher level players report about changing to a bent-leg when they are used to head-first sliding: “It’s too risky.”

Sport medicine professionals, such as pediatric and orthopaedic surgeons, athletic trainers, and physical therapists have reported that a significant number of injuries at a young age are related to sliding in baseball.

Most of these studies have been sponsored by the American Sports Medicine Institute, American Academy of Pediatrics, youth league organizations, and other organizations or individuals.

Sliding injuries at the lower levels are overwhelmingly related to under-coaching in this vital aspect of the game.

In comparison, injuries to young pitchers are attributed to overuse, mechanical flaws, or throwing a curve ball too often.

Baseball purists lament the lack of aggressive base running and base stealing at the upper levels of the game as reflecting a lack of instruction on base running and base stealing, including sliding, at the lower levels.

But has there ever been a time in the history of the game when equal coaching attention was devoted to these two aspects of baseball (including sliding) at any level of the game in comparison to hitting, catching and pitching?

Evidence illustrates there has not been, especially in sliding.

The fear of not leaving one’s feet often becomes a mental issue if left unchecked.

How many times have we seen players leave their feet tentatively when attempting a slide which places himself or a covering fielder or catcher in a position of risking a serious injury?

Predictability, not teaching a bent-leg slide will lead to most players selecting their own way of sliding, and they often emulate higher level players’ sliding styles that may not be technically correct.

Allowing players who fear leaving their feet or sliding incorrectly will only reinforce an incorrect habit.

Why not teach sliding correctly at the youngest age possible?

At any level, it does not seem practical to execute the head first for a steal of second or third, and then add more practice time for a bent-leg straight-in to break up a double play or sliding at home.

It’s been our experience that players become proficient in sliding when they master one slide: The bent-leg straight-in, pop-up, and fade-away to either side of a base or home.

When examining all the components of stealing, we know that lead length, including primary and secondary leads, type of lead (e.g. two-way, jump, walking, etc.), picking up a catcher’s sign, knowledge of pitchers’ moves to home or a base, break techniques to one’s right or left, straight line to next base, number of steps before taking off to slide, reading the fielder’s eyes and glove, and an aggressive bent-leg slide are the critical elements to master.

All of the above aspects that occur before the “take off” involve running.

Adding a bent-leg slide to drills related to base running and base stealing reinforces the necessity of regularly practicing sliding as an important element of base running and base stealing.

More On The Bent-Leg Slide: See the Oct. 5, 2012 issue of Collegiate Baseball

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