It seems a natural next step for anyone who has moved on from a certain career to share the expertise they gained with others who want to learn it. As you’ve probably noticed, this is especially true in travel baseball and softball.
Oh Lord, Is It EVER!!!
It’s a great thing for our kids to have veteran pro-ballers taking the time to teach them their craft. I mean, who better to learn from than someone who was among the best in their trade? But (and this is a big one) having major or minor league experience on your resume doesn’t automatically translate to being a good teacher or being able to motivate young ball players. Or even being remotely personable. These skill sets are completely separate from each other.
Eight years ago, I signed my older son Andrew up for a three night hitting camp run by a former pro who’d just opened a facility near Atlanta. Being new to the whole youth baseball scene and painfully naive, I was starstruck by his “former major leaguer” status.
Of course, we’d sign up for his camp! Could Andrew still get in? Surely it was already full! Was Andrew even good enough to be part of this “celebrity’s” camp? Without hesitation, I paid the slightly hefty price and got him in. Whew!!!
With a handful of other parents, I stayed each evening and watched as the kids robotically trodded from station to station. Hit off the tee here. Soft toss with a teammate at this one. Hit pitches from a volunteer behind an L-screen here. They repeated these stations over and over every night. There was no instruction, no correction, not really even adult oversight. Just repetition.
I’m not knocking repetition. It’s key for mastering anything. But repetition without instruction can be counterproductive if it’s reinforcing bad habits or poor mechanics.
Mr. Ex Pro-Baller sat at his desk up front, disengaged from the camp activity. He never greeted any of us or our kids and he didn’t interact with anyone other than his college level volunteers. Later, I learned that his individual lessons didn’t offer any more value than his camp did. This guy was trying to build a clientele with only his MLB affiliation. He honestly didn’t even seem to like kids. Or people in general, from what I could tell.
Looking back, it’s sort of funny how embarrassed I was that I had never heard of this guy. He was a Major Leaguer, for heaven’s sake! It never occurred to me how many thousands of people have played for MLB teams or franchises in some capacity whether for a day, a month or a decades-long career.
A couple years later, when Andrew started pitching, he was an emotional mess on the mound with way more arm strength than control. That’s when we met another former pro turned instructor. Damian Moss. You might remember the Australian south paw from his time with the Atlanta Braves or SF Giants. Andrew took lessons from Damian on and off for two years.
I can’t remember what we paid for those lessons, but they were worth every penny. Andrew, now a cool composed heat-throwing righty for the Cosby Titans, is being scouted by several universities. Without hesitation, he credits Damian for helping him master several key pitches, develop sound mechanics, control his emotions and mature as an athlete. Of all the instructors Andrew’s worked with, Damian will probably always be his favorite.
On the flip side, there are plenty of incredible instructors out there who never made it to the majors or minors. Many of them are dads of kids who play ball. (So don’t judge every dad-coach as a “daddy baller.”)
Last year, my younger son Jack took pitching lessons from a guy named Sergio. I don’t know Sergio’s background or even his last name.** But he came highly recommended by some of the best pitchers in our league.*** Jack’s delivery and confidence vastly improved thanks to Sergio. He’s personable, patient and really knows his stuff!
Whether you’re considering lessons from Mariano Rivera or from Toby’s dad, who helps coach Little League, perform the same due diligence on both. Talk to parents whose kids have worked with them. Ask if they’ll let you sit in on a lesson to see their style. Ask for references if you want. Whatever you do, don’t instantly trust someone simply because they were once in the majors. Because, like me, the longer you’re around the travel scene, the more ex-pro-ballers you’ll meet. They come with the territory.
*I have no idea what kind of instructor Mariano Rivera would be. Or if he ever gives lessons. He seems really likable, though. I’d probably pay for a lessons just to get to hang out with him for half an hour.
**I’m pretty sure my husband knows Sergio’s last name.
*** In my opinion this is the best way to find a quality instructor. Look at the players around who are stroking the ball each at-bat or the pitchers everyone dreads facing. Find their parents and ask who their kid takes lessons from. Some will gladly tell you. Others, the insecure ones, will feel threatened and not want to share that information. Just ignore them, but that’s a whole other blog post.
*****The featured image above isn’t directly related to this post and contains no one I’ve referenced in this post. It’s just stock photography.