Jeff Farris
Just as children bring home homework that is beyond what a parent can help with, so young athletes often progress beyond the abilities of a parent. If the problem is not addressed, young players' frustration at their own lack of progress may increase until the solution is to quit sports altogether. Fortunately, like in school, there are a variety of experts to help with almost every aspect of physical, skill and strategy development.

Teaching, whether in school or in sports, works best when parents respect the role of the educator but stay involved with monitoring progress and results. Though they may not be able to help directly, parents still have a large role to play in selecting and overseeing these experts. Whether a player is 5 or even 15 years old, parents should:

  1. Ask if their child wants help. Kids will apply themselves only if they are motivated to learn. Forcing instruction on a child with limited interest will have little benefit.

  2. Locate instructors who like instructing. Not all instructors have the same passion for teaching the same subject over and over. Only instructors who enjoy seeing another's progress can teach enthusiastically.

  3. Watch to determine if the instruction is organized. Spending time with a student is not the same as instructing. Parents should notice how the practice is organized and if the practice builds on previous lessons.

  4. Remain open to all areas of instruction. Sometimes, a problem is caused by a breakdown in a more fundamental area and won't improve until the fundamental issue is resolved.

  5. Expect results over time. One lesson is not going to make a major impact on a child's performance. If a child wants and enjoys the instruction and the instructor is enthusiastic and organized, then lessons will help over time though it may be weeks or months before results can be observed.

It is never too early or too late to consider expert help. Especially with younger children, lessons can improve a child's confidence and dramatically increase the enjoyment and love of the sport. Lessons give younger kids the opportunity to develop proper technique and good habits that allow them to develop faster than other kids who must unlearn self-taught approaches. Finding instructors who can teach fundamental skills in a fun way allows parents to increase the odds of their child playing longer in organized sports.

With older children, private instruction becomes essential for developing the specialization required to compete. Parents need to seek out instructors who have specific expertise in teaching a particular skill. It is not unusual for older athletes to have multiple instructors who focus on both sport specific and general athletic issues, such as strength or stamina.

Private instruction is not inexpensive and parents should be careful not to look at the associated costs as something that will have a payback in the sporting world. As with all youth sporting costs, parents should expect their investments to be repaid not in sports performance but in the life lessons that can be learned through sports activities. The time and costs of youth sports are ultimately investments in better kids, not in better athletes.
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