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Game Plan: Sign System
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Developing a signing system that works.

Signs are an exciting part of coaching strategy
- essential as ballplayers get older and their ability to produce runs gets more sophisticated. The time to start the learning process is now.

The requests...
Hi, I need to know if you can help me? I need a sign book or something to help me send signs out to my players like steal a base or hit and run, etc.
And...
Can you share with me some simple signs used to relay information (base stealing, take a pitch, hit and run) to players on the field?
But when two requests for help arrived on the same topic within hours of each, it suggested a need, but also defined the problem - what happens if every coach started to use the same signs?

So this page developed instead - how to create a 3rd-base coaching system that's easy for your players to follow, and easy for novice coaches to deliver, yet give each team something uniquely theirs.

 
Why sign?

The goal is simple: generate offense while you keep the defense guessing.
It's about run production.
And the idea is to coordinate the batters and baseruners. Especially so the batters support/protect/advance those on base ahead of them.
 
Called Plays
A sign should get the batter and baserunner(s) to execute a called play that catches the defense by surprise and generates runs - or at least advances lead base runner(s).
Real Results
Start young and be realistic. You don't need a sign for a delayed double steal unless your baserunners can execute it. Also signs need to be based on what's achievable at that moment - calling for the runner at second to steal third with two out - not a good idea.
Take Your Chances
Remember, if the play doesn't work - don't blame the ballplayers - at least not as long as they read the sign, understood it and executed it properly.

How & When

All The Time
Signs only work if you sign all the time. If you only give signs when you want a special play on, then you're giving it away.
All Eyes On You
Signs only work if everyone pays attention - both batter and runners must know to check for signs before every pitch. And they never ever turn away until the sequence is complete (even though the actual sign may have been given in mid-sequence, followed by meaningless misdirection. - we don't want the other team to know that!)
Just Right
Sequence speed is also important - too fast and your own offense can't read it, too slow and you may overemphasize the actual sign with an unintentional give-away (raised eyebrows, or smile or frown).
Confirmation
Coaches expect players to acknowledge the sign - especially at younger ages. So batter/runners must touch peak of helmet (e.g.) to say "I got it"  or spin their hands together to say "please repeat". (Coaches hate repeating - because it gives the other team a second chance to read the play.)

What's Needed

Misdirection
What most coaches do is a sequence to mislead the other team - perhaps combining elements of your team's real signs but in the wrong order or using the wrong hand or without an indicator.
Smooth Delivery.
Remember the motion must be obvious enough to be seen by the batter at the plate and the runners too. But blended into a rhythm so as not to be read by the opposition.
Indicators
Say your steal sign is a leg-touch (as in leg = run). You might mix this in a sequence of touching arms, face, belt, chest, whatever. But unless you give an indicator, the sign is not "on". What kind of indicator? Maybe touch cap or neck. Then next body part touched is for the called play. More subtle indicators - which hand you sign with (right hand to chest = hit and run but left hand to chest means nothing.) Or whether your hat is on or off.
Specials
A second indicator after the sign, or after the sequence might be used to call an alternate play. So, for instance, if one sign is 'hit', then that same sign followed by a special cue might mean 'hit - and run' 
Call-Off
What if you make a mistake in signing or realize the other team has read (or may have read) the intention. A call-off sign even after a proper indicator and sign cancels the play. (Don't expect this to work with younger kids.) Common call-offs: hand on crotch (sad but true) or wiping forehead or neck or removing cap.

And the signs themselves...

The body parts you touch and the way you touch them can be whatever you want them to be. But for young teams most sign systems fall into one of two styles that players (and coaches) can learn quickly - and remember, especially when games may be several days apart.

Mnemonic Recall is important, so memory aids work well.

Signs could be based on the body part touched: hand on leg = steal, hand across chest = take, on nose = hit it on the nose. (Obvious without misdirection and indicators.) Or the mnemonic could be alphabetical:  hand on belt = bunt, or on shoulder = steal, or on hat = hit.

Sequence
Most common sequence signing is probably up the arm : hand on wrist = 1st position = hit , or hand on forearm = 2 = steal, on elbow = 3 = hit&run (for instance), or an up (or down) the body sequence.
Numeric
Perhaps the simplest is a contact-count system. One body part is selected - say the elbow - and each possible standard play is given a numeric value, perhaps alphabetical. So bunt = 1, hit&run = 2, steal = 3, and such. If the elbow is touched 2 times during the sequence and the call-off sign is not given then the hit&run has been called.
Advanced
More advance sequences and systems could combine position counts and body parts, or arm angles, or whatever. Then again, there are probably some coaches out there who simply make the sign of the cross and pray for the best!

For a more complete explanation of signs for both offense and defense, and for drills to practice them, check out one of the most underrated books ever written for baseball... Stu Southworth's Complete Book of Baseball Signs and Plays.

Also check for other pages covering pitching/defensive signs, and a new survey results posting on our recent 3-0 count poll.

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