Private baseball hitting lessons, like other forms of private coaching, are becoming increasingly popular among athletes of all ages. There is a strong need for quality individual instruction in baseball today. The current trend is for teams to play more games and practice less. This does not bode well for learning and developing a skill as specialized as hitting.
A great private instructor can make a huge positive impact on a kid’s impression of baseball, and on their future in the game. A bad private instructor…well see the video below from Domingo Ayala. As funny as the video is, it’s also sadly based in truth.
So how can you be sure that your child is truly benefiting from lessons? Working as a private hitting instructor for over a decade, I’ve learned a lot about the process throughout the years.
Here are some important things that parents who are considering starting or are currently taking their son or daughter to private lessons should think about.
What to consider BEFORE starting
Are you 100% sure that your child wants to take lessons? Unless the answer to that question is undoubtedly yes, it is best to hold off on beginning lessons. I’ve given lessons to kids who clearly did not want to be there, and it’s excruciating for everyone involved. If a kid is going to improve at this game it is going to take work, and they are only going to work if they love it. Forcing a kid to work at baseball will only push them farther away from developing a love for the game.
What is the best age to start taking private lessons? The answer to this question is going to be different for every child. The biggest factor in determining if a child is ready for a private lesson is attention span. Would he or she be able to focus and take direction for 30-60 minutes? In the past I’ve had 8 year old kids who come weekly and are mentally locked in for an entire hour lesson. Then, on the other hand, I’ve had kids a couple years older who had to have mental breaks every few minutes. This is really unique to each individual. A great option for younger kids who may have difficulty focusing for that length of time in a one-on-one setting would be group classes or group lessons.
What are you trying to accomplish with lessons? Before you answer that question, it is important to understand that improving as a hitter is a long-term process. One lesson, or a handful of lessons may provide a student with some tips and drills to use on their own, but it is not going to transform a bad hitter into a good hitter. There is a reason that the best players in the world still hit batting practice every single day and spend countless hours each week doing extra work in the cages. IT’S HARD, VERY HARD. So it’s important to understand that if you truly want to help your son or daughter become a competitive hitter, it’s best to consider taking lessons on a regular (weekly or bi-weekly), long-term basis.
How to decide if you’ve found the RIGHT INSTRUCTOR
Does the instructor attempt to make an authentic connection with your child? In order for a student to trust an instructor enough to take direction and implement changes, there must first be a measure of familiarity and comfort. A good instructor is going to immediately begin to build a relationship with a student. They’re going to be genuinely interested in getting to know the student. If your instructor seems to view a private lesson more like a business transaction than an opportunity to build a meaningful relationship with your child, it’s probably a good idea to look for lessons elsewhere.
Is the instructor building your child’s confidence, or breaking it down? It has been said that hitting a baseball is the hardest thing to do in all of sports. It takes serious belief in one’s self to be a successful hitter. As hitting instructors, part of the job is consistently instilling self-confidence in our hitters. Instructors should be communicating the potential that they see in their students; potential that the student themselves or their parents might not recognize. Instructors that are routinely negative, or who use harsh words with students should be a red flag for parents.
Is the instructor focusing strictly on swing mechanics? Hitting is much more than just mechanics. In fact, mechanics are just a small part. Things like rhythm, timing, mental preparation, mental approach, vision & tracking, pitch recognition, physical strength, balance and flexibility are all very important in becoming an elite hitter. If an instructor focuses solely on mechanics, your child is being done a disservice. Overly mechanical hitters often have great looking swings in the cage, and then struggle when game time comes and they have to compete against a pitcher.
Does the instructor’s communication style make sense for your child? Science and analytics are taking over baseball these days. While it’s great for instructors to know and understand the science behind exactly how and why hitters are successful or unsuccessful, scientific terminology is not always the best way to go about communicating with a 9 year old kid.
If you can’t explain it simply, you don’t understand it well enough.
Does the instructor ask your child questions and allow your child to ask questions? The best way for an instructor to make sure a student fully understands what they are teaching is by asking them questions. If the student has difficulty answering simple questions about what they are being taught, then the instructor needs to go back over those ideas or skills with the student. Another way to help a student increase their comprehension of what is being taught is to encourage them to ask questions frequently. An instructor who is comfortable and familiar with what they are teaching will be delighted when a student asks questions because it shows they are engaged in what is being taught. If an instructor discourages questions or gets defensive when being questioned, they most likely do not fully comprehend or have confidence in their teaching.
What you should SHARE with your instructor
- Goals: short-term and long-term – A short term goal may be something like hitting less balls off the end of the bat or to cut down on strike outs. Some examples o f common long-term goals for lessons would be to make a high school team or to play college baseball.
- Learning and personality style – You know your child best. Share with the instructor what type of learner they are. Does he or she take auditory directions well, or do they often need visual aids to help them understand? Do they respond well to being pushed hard, or do they prefer a laid back approach? A great instructor will eventually figure those things out, but sharing that information up front may help them build a connection faster.
- In game results/videos – It would be great if hitting instructors could come to every game their students play, but that’s obviously impossible. Results in the cage are often much different from the results that occur in games. You can try to relay what you are seeing to the instructor, but I believe the best results come from watching game film. There are small things that an experienced instructor can pick up on that you or your son or daughter may not see. Another advantage of recording some of their game at bats is that they will then have a visual aid to help them understand what they are actually doing vs. what the instructor is teaching.
- What your child’s coaches are saying – There are many different theories and methods in teaching hitting. Check out the comment section on any YouTube video about swing mechanics and you will be amazed at how fiery the debate often gets. So it’s not surprising that kids often hear different things from their coaches than they are hearing from their instructor. Contradiction and confusion can make it extremely difficult for a kid to gain confidence in what they are doing. However, many times this is more of a translation issue than anything else. Sometimes a coach will give a direction that a player does not fully understand. Then the player does what he or she thinks the coach is telling them to do, even though it does not exactly align with the coach’s intentions. It’s always best for the student to relay any information they are receiving or being taught that they feel is contradictory to what the instructor is teaching. Then his/her instructor can at least attempt to help clear up any confusion they may be experiencing.
- What your child is saying to you – Sometimes, especially when first starting out, a student may be reluctant to share what they are thinking or feeling with their instructor. Wanting to please the instructor, a kid may tell them what they think the instructor wants to hear, versus what is actually going on inside their head. Ask your child questions about their private lessons without their instructor present. They’ll usually open up to you about anything that may concern them, or if they don’t understand what is being taught.
- Your feedback: positive and/or negative – For me, the best part of doing what I do is seeing a kid’s enthusiasm for the game grow when things start to click at the plate. But I also love getting texts from excited parents telling me about how well their son or daughter did at the game that day. Or hearing how much better their kid’s swing is looking. But I also want to hear if things aren’t going well. If they are noticing a drop in their kid’s performance, I want to know. If they don’t feel like they are getting better, I want to know. I want to know those things so I can make an adjustment to how we are training. Be open and honest with your instructor, and offer your constructive feedback. They will appreciate the honesty, and also be able to learn and grow as an instructor from the information you give them.