Courtesy of Elizabeth Wickham.
I’ve read that private lessons for youth sports have become a multi-billion dollar industry. Do private lessons pay off? Are they necessary? Parents today are spending money on expensive equipment and private instructors to help their kids get an edge in their sports. Many dream of college scholarships and they believe private lessons will give their kids an advantage. In swimming, we already pay dues for club teams, fundraise and have travel expenses—not to mention the tech suits. Are private lessons another expense we need to pay—especially when we see other swimmers in private lessons?
According to Jeff Conwell, CEO and Head Coach of Piranha Swim Team in Southern California, he views private lessons the same as tutoring in school. “Some students get everything they need in class and don’t need the extra help. Others go to tutoring regularly as a preventive step and to review what’s been taught. There’s also the student that for whatever reason fell behind and is struggling in a class. Tutoring can give extra one-on-one attention that can help them catch up.”
Are lessons ever not in the best interest of a swimmer? “In most cases, getting extra help can’t be a bad thing. The only time it’s negative is if the lesson and practice are not in conjunction. Ideally, if your math teacher can be your math tutor, that would be the best case scenario for long term benefit. Occasionally, a fresh perspective or new way of explaining things can be good, as long as the overall objective of the lesson matches practice. This is where getting outside lessons without your coach’s knowledge can be a problem. It’s critical to communicate with your coach if you feel you need them. After the lesson, If your coach didn’t do the lesson, communicate the focal points. Ultimately, if the lesson doesn’t carry over into workout then it’s a waste of time and money,” Conwell explained.
“As a coach, I try not to recommend private lessons and I make efforts to give athletes who want extra help, that help in practice. But, there is no doubt that one-on-one time makes teaching and learning easier. I make sure to not teach anything in lessons we don’t cover in workout so that nobody feels lessons are necessary to have the advantage.”
Giving lessons can be mutually beneficial, Conwell said. “I credit private lessons with helping me develop as a coach. Being able to fine tune in a one-on-one setting can really help fine tune your own coaching methods and technique philosophies.”
Here are a few tips if you’re interested in private lessons for your swimmer:
Talk to your coach.
It’s ideal to have lessons reinforced in practice, so your child’s coach is usually who you want for private lessons. Also, the coach may be able to spend a few minutes after practice helping with a particular skill. If you decide to go to a coach outside your team, be sure to let your coach know what your swimmer is working on. They may have entirely different philosophies or ideas about technique and it may confuse your child to get conflicting messages.
Is your private lesson coach outstanding?
If you’re going to spend money on private lessons and make the time commitment to add one more thing to your family’s schedule, you’ll want to have a coach who is knowledgeable about technique and can communicate with your child. There are all levels and abilities of coaches and some are better at technique and instructing than others.
Lessons can help your child catch up or breakthrough.
If your swimmer is newer to the sport, learning proper technique in a one-on-one setting can definitely help them catch up to other swimmers their age. Or, if your child is in a plateau, working on specific skills may be the impetus to a breakthrough swim.
Lessons provide more time to connect with the coach.
Having one-on-one private lessons can help your child be more comfortable with their coach, especially if they are new to the team, the group or shy. Lessons can help coaches and swimmers build better working relationships.
What do you think about private lessons for your swimmers?
Elizabeth Wickham volunteered for 14 years on her kids’ club team as board member, fundraiser, newsletter editor and “Mrs. meet manager.” She’s a writer with a bachelor of arts degree in editorial journalism from the University of Washington with a long career in public relations, marketing and advertising. Her stories have appeared in newspapers and magazines including the Los Angeles Times, Orange County Parenting and Ladybug. You can read more parenting tips on her blog.