This Time, It’s Personal: Is Private Instruction a Good Choice for Your Sport Specialized Child?

Aug 29, 2019 7:11:33 PM / by Wayne G. McDonnell, Jr., M.B.A.



Highlight reel:  Some personal coaches are exceptional in every sense of the word, but some are toxic and untrained. Keeping the right perspective and setting realistic expectations are critical when choosing the right instruction. Follow these tips to find the person or group who will enhance -- not destroy -- your child's love of a sport.


All across America, kids —and their parents — have been caught up in a new world of youth sports, one where kids’ teams look more like professional programs than they do the games parents played growing up. In some areas, private club teams have all but replaced local leagues, taking top talent and interested kids with them.

baseball coach one on one

I’ve seen it first-hand. Throughout my 15 years as a baseball coach, I confronted two nearly universal realities that impact youth sports: over involved and highly opinionated parents, and the positive and negative realities of early sports specialization. Parents with children who clearly demonstrate an aptitude and passion for a sport at an early age face many difficult decisions, not the least being how to nurture their child’s talent without burning them out. In our desire to open every door for our future all-stars, it's tempting to throw our kids on as many travel teams and showcases as possible. In this scenario, everyone's life is consumed with the sport. The next step for many talented and driven players is getting a personal coach.

Thanks to the perils and pressures of early specialization, private instruction and personal coaches have suffered from a “guilt by association” problem. While certain aspects of private instruction and personal coaches have clearly added to the problem, there are still positive experiences for young athletes in this complicated area. You just need to know where to look and how to properly manage expectations. 


Choosing a personal coach

football coach one on one

Some personal coaches are exceptional in every sense of the word, but some are toxic and untrained. How can parents find private instruction and personal coaches who will enhance their child's love of a sport?

Based on my experience as a coach, here is what I believe parents should keep in mind when searching for a personal coach and/or private instruction for their young athletes:

  • Schedule time with your child's current coach and ask if they think your athlete would be a good candidate for private instruction and personal coaching. It is important to receive feedback, both positive and negative, before considering this kind of commitment.
  • If the coach believes it would be worthwhile to pursue, ask for recommendations. Don't just jump online and look for a coach or use the same coach everyone in the neighborhood using. 
  • Ask to speak with parents of children who have worked with the coach. It’s important to obtain testimonials from parents and learn about their experiences working with the coach. Character references are very important!  
  • See if you and your child can sit in on a session as a prospective student or if there is a probationary period to see if the coach-athlete relationship is a good match.            
  •  Look carefully at a coach's credentials — an accomplished teaching background and certifications are extremely important! Make sure everything is up-to-date and the coach is in good standing with professional coaching organizations.
  • Even if someone has played a particular sport at an Olympic or professional level that doesn't mean they are qualified to coach young children. The idea of having your child coached by a former Olympic athlete can be very alluring, but it takes more than a medal to successfully coach kids. 
  • Don't be seduced by a slick sales pitch, charismatic personality, fancy website, or strong social media presence. Some might say, "I have coached three ball players who made it to the major leagues and the next one could be your child!" Look for signs of a teacher instead of a sales person at all times.
  • Always ask yourself, "What makes this person an expert?" Don't be afraid to ask the coach to explain their teaching philosophies and approach. You need to hear as much as you can about the process and not just the end result.

Open and honest conversation is important in your initial conversations with the coach, too. You’ll want to hear about their curriculum, learning outcomes, skills assessment, practice structure, and expectations. A coach should be willing to present you with a "syllabus" of sorts.  


Priorities and perspective 

Keeping the right perspective and setting realistic expectations are critical in all of this. From the beginning, make sure your child understands what it means to have private instruction and a personal coach. Present all aspects of what it would mean in terms of the impact on free time, scheduling, and playing other sports. It’s their life, so it must be their decision to make.

soccer coach one on one

Make sure your expectations are being managed, too. There may be no single factor driving the growing world of private coaching more than the dream of college scholarships. But don’t forget that only about 2 percent of NCAA level athletes win sports scholarships. And if your child's goal really is a college athletic scholarship, don’t underestimate the value of multi-sport participation over single sport specialization.

The truth is, for the overwhelming majority of young athletes the investment in private instruction and personal coaches will not result in a path to sports glory at the collegiate, Olympic, or professional level. But, when done properly by highly educated and experienced people, private instruction and personal coaching can be an enlightening experience. Your child can benefit from skill-specific improvement, an increase in self-confidence, a stronger work ethic, improved time management skills, and a positive athlete-coach relationship. Plus, they will have the invaluable influence of a wonderful new mentor in their life.   


Learn more. inCourage delivers research-based solutions for improving the culture of youth sports. Our engaging videos and informative educational resources are available for free to anyone who wants to create better communications and outcomes to keep kids happy, healthy and in the game.

We provide these tools for free because we believe there should be no barriers to accessing the tools we need to improve the culture of youth sports and keep more kids in the game. 


Be the first to get all of our new articles, videos and other resources, delivered straight to your inbox. Sign up now!

New call-to-action


Topics: Insider, coaches, athletic directors, athletes, parents, personal coach, personal trainer

Wayne G. McDonnell, Jr., M.B.A.

Written by Wayne G. McDonnell, Jr., M.B.A.

For nearly two decades, Wayne G. McDonnell, Jr., M.B.A. has been intimately involved in sports management education, sports media, and coaching. He achieved the rank of Clinical Professor of Sports Management and served as an Academic Chair. McDonnell was a Co-Director, Program Development and Special Initiatives for New York University’s Sports and Society. McDonnell is a Forbes Sports Money contributor with a focus on the business of baseball. He has also written for other baseball-related periodicals such as Maple Street Press’ Yankees Annual 2010, Yankees Yearly 2012, 2013, and Bleacher Report. He was awarded the NYU School of Professional Studies Award for Teaching Excellence in 2011 as well as an Award for Outstanding Service in 2008. McDonnell’s research on the game of baseball has been consistently featured at the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum’s Cooperstown Symposium on Baseball and American Culture.