My son goes to private baseball and soccer lessons. He goes once a week for an hour in each sport. He does it in the offseason, basically for two months in the winter. I tried softball lessons for my daughter too, but she wasn’t into them. I think the lessons are great. So I was more than a bit surprised at the palpable condescension when the subject came up at a coaches meeting as part of a discussion on making our travel program “more competitive.” The inference being our program needed to be more like the gazillion, dime-a-dozen, full-time, full-year programs already out there.
When my son started with baseball lessons I felt like an idiotic, overzealous parent for taking an eight-year-old to a private coach. I must have said a million times, “I know he’s not going pro” only to find out the coach worked with just about every kid in town. His client list included at least ten other eight-year-olds. The knowledge somewhat lessened my bemusement at the nine page program for a show my daughter participated in a few weeks later with her ice skating class. The participating classes, including my daughter’s, took up half-a-page as did the credits. The other eight pages were needed to accommodate the names of the private coaches (sometimes two or three of them) employed by each individual skater who performed in the actual show. Seems I’m not alone in employing private coaches.
I had a private baseball coach growing up. We just didn’t pay for him because his name was Dad. Unfortunately that dynamic doesn’t work for my son, so he goes to a private coach because sometimes he needs a different voice to teach him (even if many times his coach and I say the same things.) And he goes because though he doesn’t often want to have a catch, he lights up when he plays and he comes out of the lessons energized. He goes to a soccer coach, which he does want to play always, because it’s an opportunity for focused technical skill development (table stakes in soccer much like skating is in hockey if you ask me) with more touches than he gets at his travel team practice. And he goes because he wants to play goalie so we found a coach who dedicates half the lesson to goalie skills. I have him go to both because they provide an environment for development and repetition from which comes the consistency which will help him improve which I want because I want both my kids to play team sports in high school because of the profound effect playing in high school had on me. I am afraid if he doesn’t pick up a baseball during the winter and he doesn’t develop his technical soccer skills he won’t have that chance.
When I sat down to write this I was sure I would find some profound insight or reason why he has a private coach. The truth is never black and white and the reasons are a mix of wants, needs and fears, some his and some mine. Toss me into the pool of crazy, sports parents if you like, but I really have no aspirations of a pro in the family and I’m not hoping for a college scholarship, though it would be nice as I’d like retirement to be more than the ten seconds in will take for my head to land on my desk when I die of old age in my office.
Have I lost the plot on youth sports? Maybe. I’m not really sure. Do I think private lessons are his ticket to the pros? Absolutely not. But just as I wouldn’t hesitate to get him an academic tutor if he needs help or a gentle nudge, I didn’t hesitate to get him a private sports coach (why is it we never tell our kids they won’t be President but we’re quick to tell them they won’t be a pro athlete?) I think I’m a good baseball coach, but I am a CTO by trade, and it would a bit foolish and arrogant to think a full-time baseball coach isn’t better no matter how great I know I am. If nothing else, the lessons give my son a chance to play once a week and give me a chance to pick up on some drills and techniques I can put to good use come the summer.