Guest Author - Traci Falb
Sliding into a base in softball may be a little intimidating for new players. Even kids who have been playing for a few years may not have learned how to do it. It may look complicated but it really is not. When players are young, a basic feet-first slide is best. As kids mature and gain experience, the slides get better. If there is someone who has no idea what to do or is nervous - a slippery tarp, wet with water, works great in the summertime. I learned indoors. My coach had us take off our shoes and we slid on wrestling mats covered with baby powder. This way, no one is sore and it will be fun.
For a basic feet-first slide, players should learn to run without slowing down towards the base they plan to slide into. With about four or five steps until the base, players should get ready to lower their bodies, leaning back while putting one leg out to touch the base and tucking the other leg behind the other one. Either leg can go first. Hands should be up out of the dirt to avoid injury. This may not feel natural at first but should be stressed when sliding. Once started, the slide should carry the player all the way to the base. Once contact is made, the player (or the coach) should call "time-out" to the umpire so they can dust themselves off and not be called out if they happen to step off the base on their way up.
This basic instruction to remedial sliding will be improved every time the player practices. Each player's slide will be different and the only way to determine when to start the slide, according to where the base is, will just take practice. Coaches should watch players when they are learning to correct anything not being done correctly. It is advisable to practice using either leg to accommodate different plays. Remembering to wear pants, long socks, sliding shorts or batting gloves can help protect skin when sliding. The dirt will cut up exposed skin, depending on the field, but covering all areas that the players will be sliding on will reduce sores.
As players master the feet-first slide, they will learn to "pop" right back up with the leg that is tucked under the same leg that is touching the base. This will help the player get up faster in order to keep running to the next base. This takes practice just like the first slide, but it is definitely an advantage when speed will make all the difference between an out and being safe. Another advanced slide enables the player to "hook" the base with the arm when sliding off to the side of a base, to avoid being tagged by the baseman. This is the same as the above slide but instead of directly sliding into a base, the aim is to slide to the side of the base, missing the other team's tag and sliding around the base but catching it on your way by with the arm or arms. This also will take practice but if successful, will be hard to make an out on the player who slides this way.
The alternative to feet-first sliding is diving or sliding, hands-first. This method is a little easier to explain since you do not tuck any body parts. This has been called a "superman slide" and consists only of running towards a base and diving, slowly landing on your belly with arms extended to touch the base. Diving is considered faster by some people but can have a huge advantage because you can get underneath the baseman. In addition to pants (versus shorts), make sure players have their stomachs covered when performing this type of slide. Another thing to remember is to face away from potential balls being thrown your way so your face does not get hit. This will also prevent dirt from getting in your face.
So the more you practice, the better you will get. As players get older and move up to older leagues, being able to slide is very important. In the case of my daughter's former team, it meant the difference between winning and losing, even when the players were sufficient in all other areas. Most of all, you should always have fun when sliding!