The other day I was speaking with my friend James Clark (Coach James), a top-level pitching coach from Indiana. He is the owner and chief instructor at United Pitching Academy.
We were talking about some of the challenges of working with pitchers when he said something I thought was quite profound, and quite accurate.
James said, “Parents really shouldn’t be paying me to watch their daughter practice.”
I totally agree.
What he was talking about was the girl who comes in for a lesson, is given some homework to do to help her get better, then doesn’t pick up a ball again until her next lesson.
I always tell players and their parents that the time they spend with me is the least important part of the whole process. It’s the time they spend in-between visits to me that will determine their level of success.
The reason is they can really dig in and put in the quality reps, doing something specific over and over until they not only get it right, but can’t get it wrong. That’s not going to happen at a lesson.
Or at least it shouldn’t, which brings us back to today’s topic. If a player doesn’t work on whatever skill she’s supposed to work on in-between visits to the coach (and that includes team practice too, not just private lessons), she’s going to have to do it sometime.
So rather than mastering the skill on her own she’s going to have to try to learn it while she’s with the coach. Which (in the case of private lessons) the parents are essentially paying the coach to watch their daughter practice skills that already should have been acquired, or at least well on their way to being acquired.
That is a slow slog, and not a very efficient use of anyone’s time or the parents’ money.
So what should the coach be doing instead? Tweaking any little aspects of current skills that might not be where they should be then moving on to new concepts that will help a player continue to grow.
Let’s use the example of a beginning pitcher. The coach teaches her how to lead the upper arm down from the K position in a lesson, how to keep it relaxed, and how to let the ball go with a pronating motion (turning her hand inward) to maximize velocity.
At first she’s probably going to be a bit awkward with it. But as she goes she starts relaxing and getting better releases. Then the lesson is over.
There are two things that can happen from here. One is that she goes home, mindfully works on the things she learned in the lesson, and comes back to the next lesson with that motion looking pretty natural.
The other is she doesn’t work on it at all, or “pitches” during the week but doesn’t pay attention to HOW she’s doing, and then comes back to her lesson the following week with all the same issues she had at the start of the previous lesson. So the coach has to go over all the same material again, because what I described from the K position is pretty foundational to becoming a quality pitcher.
In the first case, where she has the K motion down pretty well, the coach moves her into full circles or other drills that will help her continue to advance her skills and get her ready to compete. In the second case, the coach is essentially paid to watch her practice to try to get that motion down.
Nothing new is introduced because you shouldn’t move on to part two until you can reliably execute part one.
Where it really becomes a problem is when the coach is being paid to watch the player practice the same things over and over. Every lesson (or in the case of a team every practice) that’s spent on going over the same thing is time that’s not being spent learning new or more advanced concepts.
It doesn’t take long until the player is pretty far behind where she ought to be. Then both player and parent are wondering why they’re spending all this time and money and not getting better.
It would be like a painter working on a painting all day. Then overnight someone covers it with white paint and she has to do it again. It won’t take long before she’s frustrated and wondering if it’s even worth doing.
Coach James is absolutely right. Don’t pay to have your coach watch your daughter practice.
Instead, make sure she’s practicing during the week so the coach can continue to help her move forward. It’s a far better investment for all involved.
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