Having coached baseball since 1988, Pete Falcon knows what it takes to work with young players. He’s helped out kids all the way from T-ball, to Little League, to high school, to American Legion. Currently, Falcon is a Legion coach for a team in Lincoln, Kansas.
Over the years, Falcon implemented a number of drills, but his favorite is one he started using about a decade ago. He calls it 21.
“You need to be quick with drills, because kids get bored,” Falcon said. “They focus with this drill.”
Falcon runs the drill – or game, as he calls it, because the players don’t think it is work – at the end of each practice. He separates the players into two teams and those teams are different every day to help build camaraderie.
The team that scores 21 points or the team with the most points after seven innings wins, whichever comes first. The players from the losing team have to pick everything up after practice.
The first team up to bat is instructed to only hit balls on either the right or left side of second base to earn points. If the players have to hit on the right side of the diamond the first inning, they hit on the left side the second, and that continues to switch every inning.
If the team is aiming only to hit the ball on the right side of second base and a player hits it to the left side, it counts as an out. Each team has three outs to work with per half inning and then the other team gets its chance to hit.
There are three different tiers set up to earn points. The first tier is behind the arc of the infield in the green. If a player hits it past that area and the ball is not caught, it’s one point. The second tier can be placed about 15 to 20 feet farther, and that’s worth two points for a hit. The third tier is a home run that counts for three points.
“It works well, because then they try to place the ball,” Falcon said. “They try to hit it in the gap because they’ve got to get it past the outfielders. They don’t realize they’re working on their foot movement, they’re working on everything.”
The team on offense makes up its own lineup and one of the teammates throws soft toss to the hitters.
The group in the field sets up its defense to best stop the hitting team. Infielders aren’t needed in the drill, so if the defense has seven players, it might have three players spread out in a line in the shallow part of the outfield with the rest of the guys playing deeper in the outfield. The kids are only defending one half of the outfield, so they can cover a lot of ground, noted Falcon.
“I don’t want them to all bunch up to an area,” Falcon said. “But they know they can’t bunch up to the front line, because if they hit it over their head it’s a point. They stagger it, and they’re pretty smart. They think of it on their own how to get the other team out.”
Falcon said the drill teaches many different facets of the game, including catching, hitting, hand-eye coordination for the batter, and how to position a player’s feet at the plate when hitting to a certain side of the field.
The drill works well for players of all ages, but it can take longer for younger kids. Falcon used to also utilize the drill when he coached 12- to 15-year-olds.
“It would be a good drill, they just have to move in their tiers if they can’t hit it that far,” Falcon said.
When Falcon runs the drill for his Legion guys, who are 16 to 19 years old, the drill can take around 30 minutes. However, it can greatly differ if one team is hitting well or a team isn’t fielding too well.
“It’s quicker than you think,” Falcon said. “They’re highly competitive -- they dive and they run. They work harder in the drill than they do in practice. They don’t want to pick up the bases and they don’t want to rake the field.”