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Private Lesson Primer: A How-To for Coaches

Private_Lessons_PrimerTori Benavidez is a former softball player at Sam Houston State. Benavidez, who obtained her master's degree in sport management and is now an associate softball coach for the Bearkats. She is a freelance reporter for GameChanger via Red Line Editorial, Inc.

Many coaches at one point or another have given private lessons and many times those privatelessons might in fact be our first coaching experience. 

Whether you regularly provide private instruction or are just getting started, here are a few “Dos and Don’ts” to consider.

Do Be Approachable
To begin as a private instructor, you must first be approachable. Most parents want someone who they are able to walk up to and talk with ease to about their child. This allows parents to ensure that their child is in good hands and in the long run this helps you as an instructor because it will give you insight into what the athlete needs out of you.

Do Build Trust by Being Personable
Being a private instructor requires you to be personable with your athlete. Find similarities you have with your athlete, and build strong relationships off of those. Off the bat, you know you at least have one thing in common: the sport you are giving instructions for. By being personable it allows you to build trust with your athlete, and in the end allows your athlete to grow further both as a player and an individual. Once trust is formed, you, as an instructor, have so much room to work with because you will be able to get your athlete to buy in. This allows you to try out new drills or mechanics with that athlete, because his or her trust in you will enhance their ability.

Do Not Compare Your Athlete’s Skill Level to Someone Else’s
Most athletes you work with will know the other athletes you work with as well. The worst thing you could do as a private instructor is to compare one athlete’s skill level to somebody else’s. For example, you should never tell your athlete that he or she should be more like their teammate just because the teammate’s skill level is higher. That is something the athlete might not be able to obtain. However, it is okay to compare athletes if you make it a learning tool, such as: “This softball athlete has a tendency to drop her hands when she begins her swing. Do you see what that looks like?” Comparing for a learning benefit is always a positive, but comparing skill levels will only be more hurtful than helpful.

Do Be Reliable
As an instructor you must be reliable. This means you need to show up on time, each and every day. Be consistent with your scheduling, which means do not cancel, especially on the day of. We all understand that events or circumstances may arise, but be sure that you regularly attend lessons that you have set up in advance. Just by showing up each and every week, it demonstrates to your athlete that you care and demonstrates to your athlete how to be accountable.

Do Make It Individualized
As a private instructor, your highest priority is making your lessons individualized. This includes both your communication and the drills. For example, one athlete might be carefree and only learn through drills he or she finds enjoyable, while another athlete might take the game seriously and need drills that will keep him or her concentrated and focused. Those individuals see the sport in a different light; therefore, different drills will keep the athletes intrigued while at the same time helping them improve in their own individual ways.

Do Not Overload Them with Information All At Once
Be careful not to over-coach an athlete. When first getting to know new students, it’s tempting to try to correct them on each element all at once, but this will overload them with too much information. If the student becomes overwhelmed, he or she might overthink the skill or task. This could have a negative impact if the student becomes too concerned with each correction rather than looking at the skill as a whole. For example, in softball an athlete who is overloaded with information might struggle to do a simple task, such as hitting the ball, because she is instead focused on details such as not dropping her hands, not being out on her front foot and not having too tight of a grip on the bat. Try to focus on correcting one aspect at a time. Once it has improved, then move on to another aspect. This allows your athlete to continue to progress at their correct pace without the overload, allowing the student to feel confident in moving on and growing as an athlete.

Do Not Give Up On Your Athlete
Most athletes will have individual teaching cues that work for them. If one of your athletes is not catching on or understanding what you want from them, then try to re-word it or find another word that will trigger the correction. Continue to try to find a solution for your athlete rather than giving up. Remember, as aggravating as it might be, continue to repeat yourself. It can take up to a minimum of seven times for someone to hear something before they start believing it is true. Be sure to find ways to help the athlete understand what you want from them, or the corrections you want them to make. This has a lot to do with being individualistic with each of your athletes. Finding what works for the individual will benefit the both of you and have a more positive result.