If you Google “youth pitching instruction” you’d return a couple million hits in about 0.63 seconds. There’s no question that privatized instruction in youth sports is a massive industry and it will be even bigger tomorrow. With that — just like any other industry — there will be some bad that comes with the good. But, this is not about “what it used to be like back when I was a kid” for fear of sounding like an old man. Rather, this is about the process parents should go through when trying to find a pitching coach for their kid.
There are three questions you should ask the prospective pitching coach:
(hint: the questions become harder as you go.)
- What’s your approach for player development?
- How do you track progress?
- What’s your exit strategy?
Let me explain why I think these three questions are critical.
What’s your approach for player development?
This should be a fairly straightforward question for the pitching coach to answer. If it isn’t, don’t bother asking the other two questions. This question is important because you need to understand if the coach has a strategy for developing the pitchers they work with. Here are some things to listen and look for:
- Pitchers will go through a pre-assessment before a development plan is established.
- Development plans will have articulated goals the pitcher is striving for.
- The plans are tailored to the specific needs of the pitcher.
As I mentioned earlier, this question should be straightforward and simple for the coach to answer. At this point, you should be interested in getting the conversation going.
How do you track progress?
Pay close attention to this answer. It should align with the answer to the first question and give you insight into how progress is measured. Someone really smart named Anonymous once said, “What you can’t measure you can’t improve.” Here are some things to listen and look for:
- Performance measures are established relative to the goals set for the pitcher.
- Each session is tracked and the player has access to the data after it’s recorded.
- The coach analyzes the data with the player to see what it’s telling them. If it isn’t showing improvement, adjustments are made to the approach.
Documented progress is important. Make sure there is a system in place to gather the results from a bullpen session, etc. so it can be analyzed after the fact. Simply reflecting on a session right after it’s done isn’t good enough. Both the coach and the player will forget the specifics of how it went once the player has left.
What’s your exit strategy?
Don’t be surprised if the answer to this questions is: “What do you mean?” The majority of instructors are looking to have your son see them each week. They probably won’t have an exit strategy or think an exit strategy is important. The answer to this question will reveal their core belief around development (remember question #1?).
Let me explain what I mean. The privatized model of instruction can create an environment where a player becomes dependent on the instructor if you’re not careful. What you typically see in a private lesson is a coach giving a player verbal cues before, during, and after a drill, pitch, etc. While this may yield immediate results in the training session, it rarely translates to success outside of the training session. The player becomes dependent on the verbal cues rather than internalizing why a certain movement is important, what the movement looks like, and how to make it repeatable.
Going back to question #1, the best coaches ask questions to their players rather than giving them commands. This forces players to think — not only about what they are doing, but why they are doing it. Once a player can articulate answers to these types of questions, true progress is being made. I refer to this as “becoming their own pitching coach.”
The answer to the exit strategy should be centered around having the player move on once they can independently understand how to build a training plan and stay accountable to it.
In summary, privatized instruction is an industry that is going to be bigger tomorrow than it is today. More and more coaches are going to want you to let them get your kid to the next level. I hope these questions will help you understand how exactly they plan to do it.