There is an opinion held by some coaches, parents, and players in amateur baseball and softball. That opinion is, private hitting lessons are not worth the time and expense.
One line of thought is essential techniques, fundamentals, and mechanics will develop naturally by the hitter simply by seeing lots of live pitching.
Another line of thought is seasonal team hitting practices will sufficiently develop skills, allowing the young hitter to move up in levels of play, make the high school varsity team, and “open the door” for college level competition.
In both ways of thinking, private lessons are not necessary.
As a private hitting instructor with over 6,000 lessons given, I would like to submit a few thoughts for consideration on the question of the value of private hitting lessons.
Let’s start with the naturally gifted athlete, who adapts quickly, and has been having hitting success. Maybe they even lead their team in slugging or batting average. Their swing is typically smooth and fluid with above average bat speed. The gifted athlete usually does not over-think during practice or games, instead relying on an external focus on what they are trying to accomplish and letting their movements adapt (more on “Self Organizing Movements” in an upcoming post). The natural hitter’s level of ability can be surprising, especially considering hitting well at any level of play is an incredibly complex task. Parents come to believe the young hitter has no need for private lessons.
I hold there are crevasses in this way of thinking. To begin with, there are hitting fundamentals, which add power and/or increase batting average, that do not come naturally. One prime example is opposite field hitting (see my article “The What, Why, and How of Opposite Field Hitting”). To become a great hitter, these integrated movements must be deliberately practiced and habit created. Creating brain patterns for unlearned movements, so the hitter can automatically respond in game situations, takes hard work and desire. There is no other path. “Great hitters are made, not born” is a quote from a great hitter named Roger Hornsby. I believe it to be true.
In addition, confidence and performance can fall dramatically when the level of pitching improves. Even the gifted athlete should be deliberately preparing for the next level. A good instructor will challenge the hitter beyond their current abilities, forcing them to adapt to movement, speed changes, and locations. Just as important, concepts such as how to prepare a plan at the plate (to beat good pitching) must be learned and practiced.
Now for the chasm. Natural athletes are few and far between. Take a look at recent players who have received college baseball and softball scholarships and you are certain to find a group of athletes who have relied heavily on instruction outside team practices to attain their current skill level.
The quintessential private lesson student is the player who is 1) not in the starting lineup, or 2) a player who would like to move up in levels of play within their age group. They are highly motivated to improve. In fact, they have something to prove. While not as naturally gifted, they can be great hitters just the same.
How a hitter executes fundamentals, often results in a certain aspect of hitting increasing in performance, while another aspect decreases in performance. Hitting for both power and average is a matter of striking the appropriate balance between these objectives, a balance which is a good fit for the type of hitter they are. A good instructor can guide the hitter, through experimentation, to find the style of hitting which is the best fit for them. Each player has different strengths and weaknesses, physically and mentally. Some swing styles are more natural and a better “fit” for some hitters.
A primary goal of Salem Diamond Sports hitting lessons is to show players when and how to adjust techniques to be a good fit. I believe the real “art” of coaching hitters is know when to let things be, when to experiment with a change, and when to insist on a change.
Additionally, a good instructor can guide the hitter by helping them accurately identify what expert performers do that makes them so good. Then, come up with a step by step training program that allows them to do it too. Training in any complex endeavor requires putting a bunch of “baby steps” together to reach a longer-term goal. Every young baseball or fast pitch player can benefit from starting with the basics, then gradually adding refinement to their skills.
In sum, fundamentals, timing, and mental and strategic approach must be developed through deliberate, deep, and purposeful training. Salem Diamond Sports can guide the hitter through each small step as they “climb the mountain” to becoming a high level hitter.
So, to answer the question, are private hitting lessons worth it? The best answer I can think of is maybe. Is the naturally gifted hitter willing to deliberately and purposefully practice all the pieces of what is takes to be a great hitter (see my article, “Three Skills of Successful Hitters”)? Are they willing to make the most of their gifts? Does the inexperienced player want to open doors to their future in sports? Do they want to learn what it takes to succeed? If the answer is yes to any of these questions, then private hitting lessons with a proven instructor is worth the time and expense.