A Moment of Science

Head First Slide

Have you ever wondered why some baseball players slide feet first and some slide head-first? Does either way provide an advantage?

Head first slide into third base

Photo: Naked_Eyes (flickr)

Sliding head first like this baseball player during an All-American high school baseball game might be faster than sliding feet first

Have you ever wondered why some baseball players slide feet first and some slide head-first? Does either way provide an advantage?

It depends on what sort of advantage the player is looking for.  If he wants to be able to jump up quickly after sliding into a base, then feet-first is best.  But if speed is what he needs, then head-first might be better.

When a player slides, he’s basically rotating around his center of gravity, located somewhere near the hips and waist.  Slide feet first and the body rotates clockwise.  Slide head first and the body rotates counter-clockwise.

But because the arms are typically lighter than the legs, sliding head first creates a faster rotation, which should allow a runner to touch the base more quickly. Plus, sliding head-first allows the runner to push off with his feet, providing an extra bit of momentum.

The few studies to actually test this hypothesis have found no significant advantage to head-first sliding.  But the studies were small and don’t prove that the head-first technique isn’t faster.  It could have a lot to do with technique.  Because coaches fear that sliding head-first can lead to hand and finger injuries, many don’t teach young players the art of the head first slide.  Landing awkwardly before reaching base will slow you down. But when done properly, a head-first slide might be faster.

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