Three Things Can Happen When You Slide Head First and Two of them are Bad!
By Gene Coleman, Ed. D., RSCC*E, FACSM
Despite what doctors, athletic trainers and coaches say, kids from T-ball to high school and college routinely slide head first into 2B, 3B and occasionally into home plate. Why? They see big leaguers do it, so it must be the quickest way to slide into a base. Most in player development in professional baseball are opposed to sliding head first because three things can happen when you slide head first: 1) you can be safe; 2) you can be out and 3) you can be injured. Three things can happen when you slide head first and two of them are bad!
Most MLB base stealers and many amateur Ricky Henderson’s wear a sliding mitt help prevent injuries to the wrist, hand and fingers. While this is true to some extent, no $50 sliding mitt will prevent shoulder injuries caused by sliding headfirst. In the grand scheme of things, hand and finger injuries, while painful and debilitating, are seldom more serious than shoulder injuries. Cuts on the hand and fingers usually take 1-2 weeks to heal and broken bones and dislocated fingers and thumbs take 6-8 weeks plus rehab. Shoulder dislocations, however, take 12-16 weeks to fully recover and another 6 weeks to 3 months before lifting and light throwing. Some shoulder dislocations can require surgery. Regardless of whether an injury requires surgery or not, the odds of missing the rest of the season and part of the off-season are good.
Those who support sliding head first believe that it is faster because you keep your momentum going forward as opposed to sliding on your back side and you can sometimes avoid the tag. Physicists at Washington University contend that as a runner slides headfirst, the body’s center of gravity, and therefore its momentum, is thrust forward toward the base, and when you slide feet first, the body’s center of gravity falls backwards away from the base. Researchers at The University of Texas at Austin have found no significant difference in the two techniques. The most favorable research suggests that sliding headfirst is .02 seconds faster and a player will reach the base 5-inches sooner. While baseball is a game of inches and 5-inches might be critical in the 7th game of the World Series, the risks of sliding head first in a relatively meaningless youth or high school game outweigh the gains.
But don’t take my word for it. History shows that even elite MLB players get hurt sliding head first. The following is just a sample of MLB players who were injured sliding head first and the number of games that they missed:
- Ryan Ludwick, 116
- Dee Gordon, 60
- Bryce Harper, 57
- Josh Hamilton, 48
- Ryan Zimmerman, 44
- Nolan Arenado, 37
- David Wright, 25 (twice)
- Ian Kinsler, 25
- Melky Cabrera, 22 (season-ending)
- Dustin Pedroia (season-ending surgery)
- Michael Bourn, 20
- Mike Trout, 19
- Ben Zobrist, 13
So far, the focus has been on hand, wrist, finger and shoulder injuries, but those are not the only types of injuries associated with sliding headfirst. Players who slide headfirst are also at increased risk of serious and sometimes season-ending concussions, neck strains, broken clavicles, dislocated elbows and surgery. Finally, sliding headfirst into home plate is never OK. The catcher with all his gear on can do some serious damage to your hands, fingers, shoulders, neck, face, teeth, head, brain, etc.
The following two videos will show you how to slide properly feet-first:
Gene Coleman, Ed. D., RSCC*E, FACSM has over four decades as a head strength and conditioning coach (Astros) and strength and conditioning consultant (Rangers). He is Professor Emeritus in the Exercise and Health Sciences Program at the University of Houston – Clear Lake and Website Education Manager baseballstrength.org.