How good will lessons make him/her?

Private Instruction

How can I tell good instruction vs. bad?


While many baseball related services are offered, private instruction is by far how most of my baseball time is spent. It was not unusual when I was at Grand Slam during the busy season to do 70 private lessons every week! Though I take on fewer students now, it remains the most popular service. It is popular because it is the most effective. There is no comparison between private instruction and clinics. Even with as few as six players in a clinic for an hour, it is not possible to spend the one-on-one time needed with each and every player. Just do the math.

The team environment is not much better for individual learning either. Even though I have the knowledge and ability to help most all of my players, think about how much time would be needed to give every player the 30-60 minutes of drills and repetitions needed to make mechanical changes.


As all coaches/instructors do, I believe that what I am teaching is what gives the player the best chance to succeed. The difference is that not all coaches/instructors believe the same things. After twenty-five years of coaching/teaching baseball, I have constantly modified my approach to teaching the skills needed for players to improve. From these years of experience comes a very polished, clear, and easy to understand breakdown of mechanics into bite-sized pieces that any player can understand.

I also have a genuine concern that every player improve and reach (or even exceed) their potential. The best interest of the player is ALWAYS the priority!


For the most part, the goal of any such program should be that the player improves and becomes as good as he/she can be. For a few that might mean a scholarship to a D-I school or using baseball to help get into the school of their choice... for a few it might mean just putting the ball in play and not striking out all the time... for most it will mean they go from average to good or good to "very good". The greatest successes come from players who have some athletic ability, but are being held back by poor mechanics.

You should NOT look to get any more out of it than as described above! If you are looking to buy a spot on some team, or if you think lessons will make your child go from average to superstar scholarship player then you are probably in for a disappointment. I once saw a colleague of mine give a player over 150 private lessons! The kid didn't make the JV team at a small private school. You can't buy athleticism or control the physical tools that a player will have; you can only take what you have and get the most out of it.

As I said above, the best interest of the player is ALWAYS the priority. I too have had a couple students over the years who I was just unable to help for whatever reason. I got other coaches involved and gave the lesson to someone else. Ego or money should never be a reason coach a player. I will simply do everything I can to give you the best chance to succeed.

Sometimes things don't progress well from a baseball standpoint with a player of marginal ability, but the parents like the activity, and the rapport between the coach and player. In such cases they get out of it just what they want; the child has fun and builds some self-confidence.


There are many variables in this equation. The biggest determining factor in the success of the player is the player. How athletic is he? Does he have good vision and depth perception? How quick are his reflexes? How big/strong is he for his age? What is the level of competition he is facing
.... and of course the ones we are concerned with... How well does he do things? and How hard does he work?

As you can see most of the factors we don't have any control over. The bottom line is this:

The more athletic, strong, and "gifted" a player is, the more he can do things incorrectly and still succeed or even (especially in Little League) excel!
The less athletic, strong, and "gifted" a player is, the more he MUST do things right in order to succeed or excel!

This is certainly no secret to most coaches. If you have been around the youth game much (maybe with a older child), I'm sure you've seen lots... and lots... and lots... of players who were superstars in Little League and by the time they were 14 they were barely average. Happens all the time. The reality of it is that in Little League, or maybe a little beyond, the bigger, stronger, more developed kids dominate (yes I know there are exceptions). Then, as the game progresses, the playing field levels and those who were riding on size and strength lose their advantage, while the players who do things right rise to the top.

The trouble is, the older the player is, the harder it is to change things. Over the years, by far the biggest mid-season request for help has come from the parents of 13-14 year olds who all have a similar story. "I don't know what happened... he was always one of the best hitters and now...". "My son must be in a slump and needs a little tune up cause he batted .617 last year and this year he's only got one hit...".

You can't tell how good a player is going to be while he is still in Little League. You can only tell how good he is then, but remember, how good he is in Little League is NOT an indication of how prepared he is to do well later on. Two of the best players I ever worked with were nothing until fifteen+. Tony Calabrese, who just finished up his baseball "career" with the Staten Island Yankees, came to one of my team tryouts for a 16-under team weighing maybe 115 soaking wet. He made the team entirely on hustle, and because I saw that he did things right, and knew if he ever grew he'd be good. Mike Abate, who played with the Seattle Mariners organization, didn't make his 13 year old All-star team. In both cases, when I met them they were far from the best players, but they worked, worked worked worked... and then when they were done working they worked some more!

Which brings me to the next thing which is? You guessed it; work!
No lesson program is going to work unless the player practices. There is no way you can show up and practice hitting for an hour a week, not pick up a bat till the next lesson, and expect to get better. If you took a piano lesson once a week and didn't practice at all, would you ever learn to play the piano?

At the end of every lesson the player is given a drill to do at home. If the player is not going to practice between lessons, it is a waste of everyone's time, and your money.


Baseball coaching is not like going out to eat. If you go to a restaurant and the food or service is bad you know it because you have something to compare it to. If I decided to take karate lessons how would I know if the place I went was good, great, or bad? I don't know anything about karate!

Here are some things to look for as you watch (and you should watch) your child take lessons:

  • If you are trying to play for a team who's coach gives private lessons, beware of the one who says "Ya I think he can play for me but he has to hit my way and has to take lessons from me". You should not have to fork over another $800 in lessons to play for any team. What he is saying is if you pay him for the lessons he won't cut your kid. I have in the past had to cut kids who have taken private lessons from me. Believe me it was not easy, but as anyone who has ever played for me knows, there is no politics on my baseball field!
  • If the instructor tells you what potential your child has and how far he could go if you would just sign up for the 15 week program. Maybe if your child is 14 or 16, but be suspicious if he/she is only 9.
  • Does it seem that every good hit is "good" and every bad hit the player did something wrong? It is entirely possible... in fact it happens a lot in baseball, where the player does everything right and just doesn't hit the ball well. Do you ever hear "ok that was nice contact but you're still..." or after a miss or foul ball "nice cut don't change it..."? This goes hand-in-hand with the next one...
  • False praise (along with the previous) is very bad. I see this way too often! The coach asks the player to make an adjustment - the player does NOT make the adjustment, but hits the ball well - the coach says "see, I told ya it would work". This re-enforces the flawed mechanics! It was not done right but the feedback from the coach says it was.
  • If after "ample" time things are not working and the coach/instructor just keeps treading water lesson after lesson, you should examine what's going on closely.

I hope I have given you some insight into what to look for in instruction. Much of this you can apply to many things other than baseball. And by all means, ask questions of the instructor. You are paying for a service, and paying a pretty fair amount too if you are taking privates; you are entitled to ask and know.

Yours in baseball,

Jim Bellantoni

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