Coaching First Basemen is not as Easy as it Looks
Many coaches think the first base position is for non-athletic players and that it is just a matter of being able to catch a ball to play the position. Nothing is further from the truth and many youth coaches do not know the finer details of the position to help first basemen and teams.
Baseball is such a game of inches and nowhere is that more evident than with first base play, when every inch matters. Any slight mistake by first basemen makes the difference between the out and safe call. Unfortunately, many youth coaches do not know the finer details of first base play and do not realize they are causing their team to lose outs, and maybe lose games in the process.
Most big league first basemen make it look so much easier than it is, but even they make some mistakes, often because they get casual, thinking every throw will be a good one at the major league level. Good first baseman assume nothing, anticipate off target throws and make other players better around them with great footwork, saving them from throwing errors.
Just as players need concentration to keep their head in the game, coaches need concentration to notice the little things that players do that are not correct. Noticing and correcting these common first base mistakes is necessary for winning baseball and good baseball coaching.
Mistakes Youth Coaches must watch for from First Basemen
1. Wrong foot on the base – youth coaches must pay attention to this, as there is a big difference of getting out calls and catching tough to catch throws, when the wrong foot is on the base. The correct foot for 1st baseman is the opposite one of their throwing arm on all throws except from throws in front of the pitching mound, when the left foot is used on the bag by all first baseman.
2. Placing the foot in the middle of the base instead of on the inside edge – 1st baseman must concentrate on setting their foot on the infield side of the bag only, to avoid getting stepped on and for maxim balance and stretch possibilities.
3. Setting the glove too high on their initial set up – As with all fielding principles, it is easier to raise the glove than lower it, so it is best to begin the target below the waist, with the ability to raise it if need be. Many youth throws are low or drop as they approach first and the failure to set the glove low prevents catching low and in the dirt throws.
4. Stretching out too soon – this is a big mistake made by many youth first baseman, resulting in throwing errors on throws that are not that far off target. The stretch should come only after recognition of the throw direction, even on short range throws, when players assume a good throw will come.
5. Two hand catch – it is ironic that we teach kids to catch good throws with two hands and then tell them to use only one hand when playing 1st base, but such is the case as 1st base is a one handed position, especially when stretching for balls. Greater balance comes from reaching out with just the glove arm, as opposed to the limitations and loss of balance with two hand catches.
6. Lack of direction stretch – many first basemen and coaches think of a stretch as going only out towards the infield. Players may have to stretch towards the base lines, left and right, to catch off target throws and that is OK as long as they do not retreat into the base line, where they could get run over.
Teaching other 1st base responsibilities for various game situations such as bunts, cut-offs and holding runners on, is important; as well as positioning and communication with other fielders, including the pitcher, but there is no excuse for not coaching the correct basics of playing first base.