After over 30 years of coaching, I have ventured into the world of professional softball instruction. For me, this has been an amazing transformation which I have thoroughly enjoyed.
I think I was the exception to the rule in that I never really cared about playing games. The real fun of coaching for me was the opportunity work with players every day and to see them grow and develop. So what could be better than to have the opportunity to work with about 50 kids a week and see them become better players.
What makes a great instructor? This is a question that will have hundreds of responses and hundreds of opinions. All I can do is tell you what I think are important qualities that good instructors have:
1. A long term plan for your player’s development.
A great instructor is working with a plan in mind to help a player fulfill their long range potential. Instruction should not feel ike applying a new band aid every week to whatever the latest problem is.
2. Enough knowledge to adjust their instruction to the strengths and weaknesses of each player.
The cookie-cutter approach doesn’t really work. Teaching one style of hitting or pitching to every player is flawed thinking. Just because something worked for one person doesn’t guarantee that it will work for others. I think you see this flaw most with former great players who want to clone themselves. Not every kid has the gene pool to allow them to use the same techniques that a Division I All-American might have used.
3. Ability to adjust their instructional style to match the personality of each player.
Some kids are strong-willed players who respond to being pushed, hard! Others are a little less confident and need to be gently persuaded to attempt new skills. No one style is right for all kids. Just as their are different players, so must there be different approaches to each of them. The old saying about how some respond to the carrot while others respond to the whip rings true here. Does your instructor know which to use and when to use it?
4. Willingness to continue to learn more about their craft and continually stay up to date on new ideas and techniques.
When I think back to what I thought was great hitting 15 or 20 years ago to what I think now, it is shocking to me to see the changes. Why does that happen? I like to think that I am a student of the game and always want to learn more about how to teach hitting well. The science of hitting or pitching will always be evolving. A great instructor keeps evolving too.
5. A good listener who has the ability to hear what a player is saying and translate that information into a plan to address issues.
The hardest thing about instructing versus coaching is that you don’t get to see the results of your efforts on the field of play very often. You aren’t going to be able to see all the kids you work with play a lot of the games they play. You need to be able to hear what they are saying, what they are feeling and translate that information into your instruction. Great instructors hear what is happening and have tools in mind to help make the connection between what happens in the lesson and what is happening on the field.
If you look at your instructor through this filter I think it will go a long ways in helping you find a good person to work with your player. Always remember to follow the old saying of, Caveat Emptor, buyer beware!
About the Author: Tory Acheson brings a wealth of knowledge to the Fastpitch Prep staff. He has coached at all levels of the game, including the last 25 years at the college level at the University of Wisconsin – Parkside, Tennessee Tech and Kennesaw State. He began his coaching career at the high school level spending 9 years Whitnall High School in Greenfield, Wis. and is now working as a professional softball instructor.