Your Kid’s Not Going Pro

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Hiring a private coach for your child athlete: not as bad an idea as you'd think

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Here is a topic that came courtesy of one of my fans. Well, Facebook fans on my Your Kid’s Not Going Pro Facebook fan site. (I’m working on being as shameless as ESPN in plugging myself across multiple platforms. So let me amend: A topic for Your Kid’s Not Going Pro was sent to the Your Kid’s Not Going Pro Facebook fan site by a Your Kid’s Not Going Pro fan, Your Kid’s Not Going Pro has learned.)

The topic: hiring a private coach for your young athlete. I’ll paraphrase his comments to protect the innocent and/or guilty. The specific subject here is the writer’s niece, who is involved in soccer, band and other activities, but is showing particular promise as a long-distance runner.

My sisters and I all ran through high school, so it’s not surprising my sister’s 13-year-old daughter has taken to running as well. She won a state junior championship. It’s safe to say she has a future in running as long as she doesn’t burn out, get hurt, or discover boys and booze.

So my sister has hired a running coach for three figures a month (not sure how much exactly). He’s one of the parents of a runner who’s beaten my niece a couple of times, and apparently has a decent track record coaching young runners (his daughter included). My niece seems to be on board with it, but I can’t help thinking this is going to grind her down. At her age I personally think she should be doing unstructured training when and how she wants, but the coach is giving her a week’s worth of workouts at a time. Furthermore, I don’t know if this guy’s training philosophy falls in line with the coach at the high school she’ll attend, and though my niece is damned smart I’m not sure she’ll know which messages to take to heart and which to discard.

More than even winning a state championship or getting a scholarship, I want my niece to be running when she’s my age, health permitting, and I feel like that’s what her parents want, too. I really wish there was a subtle way to tell them to back off and let their daughter be a 13-year-old for a while.

And here was my response on Facebook (Your Kid’s Not Going Pro personally responds to your notes on the Your Kid’s Not Going Pro Facebook fan page, reports Your Kid’s Not Going Pro.)

It seems like if your kid shows any ability, the pressure is on for a private coach. My 10-year-old daughter has been an all-star all three years in softball, and she’s pitched all three years, though in a lesser role when she moved up last summer. That’s because the team had two absolute flamethrowers who had been on a travel team and got a lot of private instruction. So after their last game, the coach who’s going to be managing her next year says that my daughter will be pitching a lot more (the flamethrowers are moving up), and he suggested the name of a private pitching coach.

The thing is, I don’t think he meant anything by it. He knows, as a parent volunteer, he doesn’t have the expertise to teach pitching, and he also knows that in the course of practice my daughter isn’t going to learn how to be a flamethrower (she can get it over the plate consistently, but the pitchers are hittable — a big problem at this level because you never quite know what your fielders will do).

A lot of how everything works seems to depend on the quality of coach and whether the child is on board. In a way, your niece might be better off with a coach providing structured workouts — not just in keeping up running, but knowing how much to run when. If your niece is really OK with this — excited about it — then there’s probably no harm done. But if the coach wants her to run an inordinate amount and isn’t cognizant of any pain or harm being done, and your niece isn’t terribly interested, then there’s a problem. If nothing else, you’re just wasting money. (The issue of the philosophy of the high school coach is a small one, to me. I ran cross country and track, and at a certain point running is running. All the high school coach wants at the start is someone who’s enthusiastic and hard-working, and he or she can work out any coaching conflicts from there.)

If I were you (and here comes my unsolicited advice), I would keep quiet unless your niece is telling you on the sly she hates this or seems to be breaking down in some way. It is entirely possible that if the coach is decent, she’ll learn some good long-term habits that will serve her well when she’s just running for pleasure.

Upon further review, there were a few things I left out in my original response.

One is that I indeed will be hiring a private pitching coach for my 10-year-old daughter. It won’t be an intense, one-on-one, seven-days-a-week kind of thing. My feeling is this. My daughter is planning on playing softball again in the spring, and she’s going to be put on the mound day after day. It behooves me to allow her a little instruction so, if nothing else, she feels more confident and comfortable, though if I might brag that’s never been a problem. (Me watching her pitch — now I need a little instruction so I feel less uncomfortable. If you want a hilarious show, watch parents, particularly dads, while their kids pitch.)

I’m not going to hook up my 10-year-old with a pitching coach with an eye toward that elusive softball scholarship. I don’t know how much longer she plans on playing softball, for one thing. She turned down playing fall ball this year, and she also has refused to try out for travel ball. (For that, I am eternally grateful.) All I — and she — are looking for is a few days’ instruction so she’s ready for the task assigned.

How would this apply to my reader’s niece? As long as she, her parents and her coach are all in agreement over very reasonable goals that keep her true best interests at heart, there should be no trouble.

The other thing I didn’t mention in my original response was one major caution for a private coach: that he’s a pervert. If you were to send Your Kid’s Not Going Pro a note on the Your Kid’s Not Going Pro Facebook fan page (eat your heart out, ESPN), I would say that if your private coaching includes one-on-one time, as a parent you might want to make sure that’s at least two-on-one, Your Kid’s Not Going Pro has learned.

private_lessons

Not what you’re looking for in a coach/player relationship.

Written by rkcookjr

December 10, 2009 at 1:35 am

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