Finding the ‘Right’ Instructor

I’m a big fan of Domingo Ayala and his videos on various baseball topics.  One of my all-time favorites is his How to Give a Hitting Lesson.  I have watched it at least a dozen times and laugh hysterically each time I watch it.  The thing that I find so funny is the fact that I have seen instructors do many of the things Ayala mocks in his video.  I’ve seen instructors taking phone calls; telling kids to “watch me do it, ok now you do it”; and  have no idea what he worked on with the kid the last time they met.

Lessons can be very expensive.  And if you’re working with the “right” instructor, then the price is justified.  The right instructor will give a player the tools they need to make significant strides in their game.  But what makes someone the “right” instructor?  We help you define that individual below.

They Encourage Parents to Stick Around

This is especially true for the younger players.  It always amazes me to see a parent drop their kid off for a lesson, then leave.  When the session is over, the child will leave the facility, and over time, forget much of what he just learned (unless put into immediate practice or written down).  Instructors should always encourage the parents to stick around.  And the instructors should always speak loud enough so that the parent can hear what you are teaching.  The hope is that the parent can remember what the child does not.  And it doesn’t matter if the parent has no background in baseball.  As long as they can understand what the instructor is teaching, they can communicate it to their child.  Furthermore, the parent that sticks around has the ability to video, or write down information during the session. If they leave, well, this opportunity then gets lost.  So, any instructor that truly cares about seeing players get better will indeed encourage parents to stick around.

They take Notes after the Lesson

During Domingo Ayala’s video, he makes reference to the point that we (instructors) should ask the player what we worked on the last time because “I don’t remember.”  After each lesson, every instructor should take notes on what they worked on and what are the player’s weaknesses.  Unless you are working with this player in the coming days, you will likely forget most of what you worked on the next time you see them.  Jotting down a few notes on the lesson does not take long.  And in fact, taking notes will make your job easier in the long run.  Say for example, you work with a kid on February 1st.  After the session, you take notes.  The Spring season starts and the same player books a session for May 1st because he has started struggling at the plate.  Because you did so many lessons February – April, you remember the name, but not the content of the lesson.  For the first several minutes of the lesson, you now try to find the issue.  However, if you had taken notes, you could have started the session off by looking at the issues you found during the February 1st session.  Are these still issues?  Stating it simply, taking notes allows you to develop a better plan for the next lesson; and it also helps you build upon the player’s skill sets, ensuring that you’re not constantly teaching the same thing lesson after lesson.

They can Explain not only WHAT the player needs to work on, but WHY

If you want a player to truly buy into what you are teaching them, you need to make sure you help them understand why you are teaching them what you are teaching.  When people know the “why” behind what they are doing, they are more likely to stick with it.  I constantly see players abandoning one technique for another.  And I believe this occurs because they may have an 0-10 stretch; or they don’t get instant results.  A good instructor will clearly explain what is wrong, why it is wrong, what needs to be done to fix it, and how what you are teaching will fix the issue.  Without clearly explaining your intentions, the player may never buy into it; and will be more likely to abandon what you’ve taught them when they do encounter obstacles.

They have a Plan

I briefly touched on planning in the “taking notes” section above.  Every good instructor develops a plan for their players.  For kids that do a single lesson, the plan is communicated to the player/parent for what they need to do at home in order to see progress.  They should be given simple drills that can be done with little or no extra equipment; and a recommended frequency for how often the drills should be done.  It’s important to give them drills to do without requiring the parents to purchase equipment, cage time, etc.  Many times, we simply request the player do mirror work.  The goal is to eliminate excuses.  “Well, I’d love to work on these things, but I don’t have a tee or a net.”  For players that sign up for packages, a good instructor will lay out the plan for subsequent sessions after the initial session.  “Here is where we are today, and this is where we want to be in 3 weeks.”  After each session, the coach should give the player homework.  Homework will be the drills we mentioned earlier that can be done at home with little or no extra equipment.  At each subsequent session, the coach will expand on the previous week; but only if the player has done their homework so that an advancement can be made.  Parents sign their child up for lessons for a reason.  Their child’s skill set is currently at a certain level; but their goal is to get to a higher level.  The only way to achieve the goal is by setting a plan for the player/parent that will help them achieve that goal.

They how how to Effectively Communicate to your Child

A coach may be able to explain the What, Why and How (as described earlier); but can they effectively get the message across to the player?  One of the most challenging aspects of being a coach is to be an effective communicator, given the various personalities they have to deal with.  A coach may be working with a player for an hour that has an outgoing, attentive personality.  Then, in the next hour, they are scheduled to work with a player that is reserved, and their eyes wander.  Good coaches will know how to best communicate with each player.  Good coaches know to push players and how players respond to certain styles of communication.  In the end, it doesn’t matter how much a coach knows if they can’t effectively communicate that knowledge to whom they are teaching.

With parents spending more and more each year on youth sports, training facilities appear to be popping up all around us.  The opportunity to advance your child’s skill sets could be at your fingertips.  However, you need to make sure you’re selecting the right instructor for your child.  Seek out references from those that have had experience with an instructor.  Talk to the instructor prior to signing up for a lesson.  Get a feel for how they work and WHY they are an instructor.  If it’s solely for the money, you should look elsewhere.  And do NOT buy a package of lessons until after the first session.

I get incredibly frustrated when I see instructors wasting a player’s time and a parent’s money.  Whether it’s talking too much about non-baseball related topics or taking too much time to pick up balls, there are many instructors out there that are in it for the wrong reasons.  Hopefully the points above can help point you in the right direction.