Baseball Lessons For Hire:
Good or Bad?
Does hiring instructors for baseball lessons help the skill progression of young players? We’ll let’s look a little closer to find the answer.
Things have certainly changed in youth and high school baseball in recent years. When I first started coaching baseball none of our players hired outside hitting or pitching instruction. Today it seems like everyone hires someone to instruct their child and it starts in youth leagues. Most towns have baseball/softball facilities that offer baseball lessons. It has certainly changed the way things work, but does it help?
It’s not unusual to receive calls asking if I offer paid instruction or requesting a good reference to someone that might offer lessons. Good instruction is not cheap. The top instructors offer 30 to 45 minute lessons that range from $35-65. Many instructors at facilities require monthly contracts to be signed and payment made up front.
Over the past several years I have been able to evaluate this trend of paid instruction. In my research I have found both good and bad. I realize our players need instruction and if parents are willing to pay I would encourage it, especially in the off season. The off season is the best time to improve skill development. This is a time when hitters/pitchers can be free from the everyday worries of competing for a position or excelling in a game.
I don’t mind instruction during the season for younger players, but for older varsity players I would prefer they work hard in practices and then work individually on their own time after practices. There can be a distraction when players hear terminology each day at practice and go to an instructor at night/weekend that might use different teaching terms. It can be confusing for players. Hitting is reaction and good hitters need to be free of thoughts about mechanics when they are in a game. For pitchers we need to know their pitch load during the week to protect their arms. Outside instruction during the season for a varsity player adds to the wear and tear on the pitching arm. Also, after a 2 ½ to 3 hour practice another 45 minutes for instruction after practicet would be overloading the player. It would be better for them to hit for 20-25 minutes on their own before or practice free from distractions. Hitting at home off a tee or doing toss drills can be a lot of help. During the week players need to get home after practices to eat, do their homework, and rest.
I remember a story one of my former players told me several years ago. He was playing professional baseball and had a great year in AA ball hitting .296 with 18 HR. At spring training the next year he was hoping to make the AAA team or maybe even the big league team. He was trying too hard to impress the coaches and the results were not good. One of his coaches set up a session for him to hit with the big league hitting instructor at the cages. He was excited about the session and curious to find out what advice he would receive. When he showed up at the cages the instructor loaded up the automatic pitching machine with 100 baseballs and told him to hit everyone hard right back up the middle. For the next 45 minutes it was him and those 100 balls in the cage. (the hitting instructor actually left and came back) The next day he went 4-5 with two doubles. He had been taking plenty of practice swings each day but what he really needed was to get alone for about 45 minutes and clear his head.
Many parents today feel the only way their child will improve is if they pay someone. It amazes me to see someone spend $45 on a weekly lesson then do nothing until their next lesson. It would be better if the player spent 30 minutes 4-5 days a week working on their skills with no paid instruction. If a player doesn’t have the desire to work to improve, especially at the high school level, they are not going to improve regardless of what you are paying for instruction.
Young players today do not grow up playing sandlot games during the summer or competing each afternoon with other neighborhood kids. Paid instruction is taking the place of pick up games and many are getting bored with the instruction. Good instruction
2-3 times a month is plenty during the season and 4-5 times a month during the off season is fine. Spend the rest of the time practicing to improve. Nothing takes the place of a hundred ground balls or a hundred swings, if they are done properly.
So what does a parent look for if they desire to pay an instructor? First, look for someone that gives you your money’s worth. Talking for 30 minutes and not doing repetitive drill work is a waste of time. With a good hitting instructor the student should be taking a lot of swings. That’s the only way to improve. You’re paying that person to be a coach and oversee the practice time to hold your child accountable. Changes are not needed every lesson. Some instructors feel the need to give customers “something for their money” and to encourage them to keep coming back each week. These types of instructors are a waste of time and money.
Hitting instruction should not be wasted on changes in style (or approach), but on improving the mechanics of the swing. Styles should only be changed when it is getting in the way of the hitter's mechanics. Make sure you hire someone that really knows the mechanics of the baseball swing.
A good pitching instructor will spend time working on the basic throwing motion before working on pitching mechanics, especially with younger players. Regardless of the player’s position, proper throwing mechanics are important and young players can not improve as pitchers without good easy throwing motions. The most important thing for pitchers is control and velocity. Control is learning how to repeat good mechanics every pitch. This takes time and practice regardless of who you pay for instruction. Mechanics often change as young players go through growing spurts, especially young tall pitchers that may be growing through stages that don’t allow complete body control.
Developing velocity also takes time, there is no magic formula and some of it is just plain genetics. As players get older they can be taught a proper off-season long-toss program to improve their arm strength and begin learning good exercise programs for the arm and shoulder, in addition to an overall strength and conditioning program. This should wait until the player is mentally and physically ready to handle an exercise program. Youth players can start out with fun conditioning drills at practices or a couple of shoulder/arm exercises using their glove as the weight. Make it fun as well as a learning time.
Youth league players need to spend time practicing (and throwing) the fast ball to develop good arm strength. When control of the fastball has been accomplished they can then learn a good change up. The curveball should not be taught until they are at least 14-15 years old depending on their physical development.
With video technology today, more parents need to take advantage of video. Players need to see themselves to develop a mental image of what they are doing during the activity. Take video during the lesson and also during some games. Then spend some time looking at the videos and making comparisons. It’s also good to use the DVR to video some good professional or college players on TV. Slow down the video to study their motions and compare them. This is a great way to learn and improve.
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