How Young Should Kids Learn the Art of the Slide?
Sliding is a very important part of the game of baseball, and learning how to do it is imperative to upping a player’s game from beginner to intermediate. That said, it’s not always the safest technique for younger children to attempt without learning proper technique first, so deciding on when and how to teach a player to slide can be tricky. On top of that, certain sliding techniques may up a particular players’ game but involve more risk, especially if not done properly. So when should you teach your child or player how to slide and add it to their game? Read on to clear it up.
Why Is Sliding so Important?
All things considered, it’s understandable if some parents or coaches are hesitant to allow younger players to start learning to slide. Knowing exactly what it is and how it adds to a player’s arsenal sheds some light on its usefulness. Sliding is a base running technique that uses the momentum behind a runner’s sprint to slide on the ground toward a base. This propels the runner forward while also making them a harder target to tag, compared to someone standing upright. Sliding can be particularly useful in close plays or big running moments in-game, and can translate itself into a fielding technique as well. Sliding can disrupt a fielding player’s focus or orientation during a play occurring at a base -- a fielder waiting for a throw from left field to second base will be much less focused on the ball coming toward him than the person barrelling toward his legs behind him. It becomes difficult to keep both in mind at once in realtime, making the runner’s chances of being safe on base much, much higher.
Once they’re more comfortable with the technique during in-game scenarios, sliding can also be a useful way for players to control their momentum throughout the game. When fielding, players can use sliding to break a hard sprint toward a ball in the outfield while also propelling them forward at the same speed and allowing them to pop up from it to a stop at leisure. More commonly, sliding is used while fielding in the infield for similar reasons, except that the infield dirt is very good for breaking momentum to a stop. In either scenario, the player can change their vertical level to suit the play better than their full sprint while also retaining enough control to plant a solidly athletic throw to wherever the play is going.
When Should Children Learn It?
In a lot of places, sliding isn’t even allowed in league play until a certain age; some only choose to limit it in tee-ball or beginner play, while some prohibit sliding after most players start switching to metal cleats instead of plastic. It’s important to know your local league’s rules regarding sliding before trying to teach it to your child, as it could be for safety or other viable reasons. For some parents and coaches, it’s when stealing bases while baserunning becomes allowed that they deem it appropriate to introduce sliding, depending on how competitive the player is. The right time, as with curveballs and pitchers, varies from player to player. It’s up to you to determine with them when it would be appropriate to bring that new technique to their game.
Teaching sliding can be fairly easy depending on the type of terrain that you have to practice on. It’s important for younger players to practice sliding statically first in order to form muscle memory, proper form, and technique. Ultimately, good sliding comes down to three things:
Putting one leg under the other while running -- the straight leg should be slightly bent to avoid catching the dirt too hard with cleats
Keeping your head forward and your chin tucked tightly to your chest
Raising your arms to be bent at the elbows in the air
Once players understand and can perform the basic mechanics of sliding, coaches can start incorporating various sliding drills and exercises into practices; having players practice stealing with players “fielding” at their destination bases such that they have to slide is one example. The important thing is to make sure that the players can execute the basics the same way every time in order to avoid injury or other complications.
Sliding is a big turning point in the career of a young baseball player. Once they nail the basics, they can feel capable of stealing any base or making any play, so long as the time is right. Follow the guidelines laid out by your local recreation department or other league and when the rules lift, the cleats should go down.