9 Tips for Choosing a Great Softball Private Instructor

Guest post by Ken Krause,

Life in the Fastpitch Lane

So, you’ve decided your softball player could use a little extra help to reach her goals, and have decided to bring her to a private instructor. That’s the good news. Now comes the hard part – choosing the right one.

You’re about to make a significant investment of time and money. You want to make sure that it’s time and money well-spent, which means you want her to learn the best way to do things for the long term rather than techniques that may work for a while rather than ending up in a dead end. But how do you know what’s best, especially when different instructors are telling you different or conflicting things?

As a private instructor with more than 15 years of experience teaching pitching, hitting and catching, and nearly 20 years as a softball coach, I know how difficult this decision can be. Following are a few tips to help you make the right choice

1. Before you start talking to instructors, learn as much as you can. You don’t have to become an expert, but try to find out at least some basics about the skill you want to hire the instructor to teach. Take pitching for example. A popular instruction for teaching pitching is to tell the pitcher to snap her hand up and touch her shoulder when she throws the pitch. Another is to finish with her elbow pointed at the catcher (aka the Hello Elbow). Neither of those are what elite pitchers do, and neither will help your daughter become all she can be. But how will you know that unless you do your homework? Do your best to discover the latest thinking about the skill and compare that to what the instructor teaches. If the two don’t match, that instructor isn’t the right choice.

2. Ask to observe a lesson. Observing a lesson serves two purposes. It allows you to see what the instructor is teaching, and it serves as a “chemistry test” to see how the instructor interacts with his/her students. The second part is just as important as the first. You know your daughter best, and know how she responds to different stimuli. A coach may be the most knowledgeable person in the world, but if he/she is harsh and your daughter doesn’t respond well to a harsh style of coaching, lesson time could end up being a miserable experience. On the other hand, if the instructor is “soft” and your daughter responds best to a strong personality, it’s probably not going to work either. Look for a good match between your daughter and the instructor.

3. Compare what’s being taught to what the best players in the world do. This point goes along with the first two. While you’re talking to or observing an instructor, pay attention to what’s being taught. Then go out to the Internet and compare that instruction to video of what the best players in the world do to see if it matches. For example, if your daughter is going to take hitting instruction, compare what the instructor says to top college hitters, pro softball players, and Major League Baseball hitters. Let’s say she’s being told to swing down on the ball to get backspin so it “carries out of the park.” Then look to see if that’s what good hitters really do (it’s not). Again, if the instruction doesn’t match what you see, it’s time to find another instructor before you spend too much time going down the wrong path. This is something you should do on a continuing basis, by the way. Some instructors are good about the basics, but may not know the more advanced techniques as well.

4. Look for enthusiasm. Is the instructor energetic and interacting actively with his/her students, or just going through the motions for the money? According to the book

The Talent Code, one of the key factors in a player becoming a high achiever is a coach/teacher who lights a spark in the student. That’s hard to do if the instructor seems only vaguely present. You want your daughter to love what she’s doing. It starts with an instructor who loves what he/she is doing.

5. Don’t get fooled by how good the instructor was as a player. This is an easy mistake to make. Just because someone was a great player doesn’t mean he/she will be an even adequate instructor. Not everyone can teach. You’re not hiring that instructor to play for your team. You’re hiring him/her to teach your daughter. Some great former players have no idea what they did as players – they just repeat whatever they might have been told when they were younger – instructions they may have actually overcome in their career. Others may not know how to break down instruction. It came easily to them, so they don’t know how to help a student who is having trouble learning. You want a knowledgeable teacher first. If he/she happens to have been a great player too so much the better. But remember it doesn’t matter how much the instructor knows – only how much of it he/she can teach.

6. Don’t get fooled by the success of an instructor’s marquee students. It’s easy to go on a website, see the instructor has helped X number of students get scholarships to top schools, or has a couple of “name” students, and assume that means it transfers to everyone. It doesn’t. I have had outstanding students who have gone far, and I have had students who didn’t do particularly well even locally. This despite the fact that I teach the same things to every student. The reality is success is 90 percent the student, how hard she works, how much she listens, and how genetically predisposed to athletic excellence she is. The instructor merely points the way. There are no miracle coaches out there who can turn anyone into a sought-after college prospect. The coach is more like a fishing guiding. He/she can take you to the right spot on the lake, but you still have to drop your line in the water and reel the fish in. Try to look at a larger sample of the instructor’s students, and pay special attention to the kids who don’t look like stud athletes. If those students are performing at a higher level than their general athleticism suggests, the instructor will likely have more of an impact on your daughter, no matter what her core abilities are.

7. See who the top performers are in your area and ask who they go to. This might seem obvious but parents often forget this step. Most players and parents will happily share who their daughter’s instructor is because they’re happy with the results. They’ll also give you an insider’s perspective of what working with the instructor is like.

8. Look for who’s gotten better on your own team. Let’s say your daughter is playing on a travel team, and somehow between fall and spring one of her teammates has gotten considerably better. That probably didn’t happen organically; it’s likely someone helped her. If you’re impressed by the improvement, find out who helped her get there. He/she can probably do the same for your daughter.

9. Avoid long-term contracts. Any reputable instructor will let you sign up for lessons without having to make a long-term commitment. Anyone who doesn’t is probably more interested in your money than teaching your daughter. They may have packages that allow you to purchase several lessons at once for less than a per-lesson cost, but it shouldn’t be a requirement.

Remember that getting good at anything takes time – and effort.

I always say that if I could just touch a player on the head and make her a great pitcher, hitter, etc. that lessons would cost $1,000 each and there would be a line a mile long to get in. But it doesn’t work that way. Just like learning to play the guitar or dance the mambo, or to read for that matter, it generally takes a long series of little gains. That can be difficult for players and their parents to accept in our instant coffee, microwave popcorn world. But it’s the truth. You’re in it for the long haul. But if your daughter works diligently at it, the success will come. Good luck, and remember to have fun!

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