Does Your Child Need a Private Coach?

If you're considering a private coach, consider these pros and cons.

baseball player and coach
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Hiring a private coach for your youth athlete can be a big commitment. It costs money (often in the neighborhood of $50 an hour) and takes time, two precious commodities for sports families. Start the decision-making with those two factors, but it's also important to think about whether you and your child want a coach for the right reasons.

1. The sport requires it. As the parent of a figure skater, I have no choice but to hire a private coach for my daughter.

Once they've mastered the basic skills levels, all figure skaters who want to compete must work one-on-one with a coach. Private coaching is also prevalent in golf, tennis, and elite gymnastics.

2. Your child is trying to meet a goal. Your child may ask for private coaching if he wants to master a difficult new skill, try out for an elite team, or prepare for a challenging competition or season. The key here: Your child asks for help, rather than having to be dragged to lessons because you think he needs them.

3. Your child is trying to catch up to teammates or peers. Maybe she came to her sport later than usual, or had to take time off from training due to illness or injury. Maybe she just needs a little more conditioning and attention to be at the same skill level as her peers. A private coach can help give her a boost.

4. Your child has talent, but needs help to bring it out. Sometimes a private coach can act like a tutor would for academic performance: A coach can help your child see what he can do with a little one-on-one motivation and encouragement.

(In this case, it's extra important to find a coach whose teaching style is a good match for your child's personality.)

5. Your child is at risk for injury. For example, young baseball pitchers are prone to injury if they pitch too much or don't know the proper mechanics of throwing. They can benefit from some sessions with a private coach to work on their technique.

Kids in other specialty positions, like goalies in ice hockey, can also be good candidates for individual or small-group coaching.

6. Your child is anxious. Some athletes have sports anxiety that goes beyond pre-game butterflies, but still very much want to participate in their sport. If your child is facing this kind of fear, a private coach may be able to break through the paralysis and help your child find the confidence she needs to perform (and even enjoy doing it). Alternatively, a session or two with a sports psychologist could be useful.

The #1 Reason Not to Hire a Private Coach

Don't hire a private coach to guarantee that your child will get a lucrative college scholarship. That isn't something you can buy with one-on-one lessons, even with a highly skilled coach. Parents and coaches should support kids' talent by helping them compete to excel—a smarter way to value and motivate your athlete. If your child asks for help meeting a particular goal (see #2 above), make sure it's really her goal, and not yours (or her team coach's).

Finding a Private Coach

Word-of-mouth is your best bet. Talk to your child's team coach or instructor and ask for recommendations. Ask other sports parents about their experiences with private coaches.

You can also check the online referral site, CoachUp. Coaches listed there have undergone background checks, and you can read reviews from their former students, plus book sessions with the coaches right from the site or its app.