PEORIA, AZ — It's springtime in the Valley and the only thing heating up more than the temperatures is the competition on the fields for young athletes involved in spring sports. While athletes are competing in their team sports now that COVID-19 restrictions are easing and vaccinations are up, some parents might be thinking about getting their young athletes some one-on-one time with a private instructor -- but how can parents be sure when their athlete is ready?
“I really wanted to get down to the nitty-gritty and the details making sure that each athlete is better prepared for their career than I was,” said Coach Sierra Steimel of D-Bat in Peoria. She is a personal instructor, providing coaching in all aspects of the game to her athletes. She uses her experience from a successful college career at Phoenix College and Texas State University, seeking that one "illuminating" moment with players.
“The lightbulb moment for me is when you’re explaining something to an athlete and they’re kind of trying to understand, they paint that mental picture in their head of what that skill is supposed to look like."
Private instruction is increasing in popularity across a large age group and has bounced back quickly after leagues across the state and facilities like D-Bat were forced to shut down temporarily due to the coronavirus pandemic.
Steven Delcegno, the general manager and instructor at D-Bat Mesa, says the most popular ages they're seeing for private instruction right now are as young as six to as old as 14 or 15.
Jonathan Hahka says his 12-year-old daughter is in her second season of recreational softball. She tried a few sports before finding her spark, but they didn't start with private lessons right away.
“One thing that kind of got us to say, 'OK, we need private lessons,' is the fact that this season she brought up, 'I want to play for a college team.' Last season that was not even a thought."
Another one of Coach Sierra's athletes, 10-year-old Kenzie Ellis, already knows what school she wants to play for when she gets older.
"I wanna go to U W, like Sis Bates actually, who is my idol," Ellis said.
Coach Sierra says getting involved in private instruction at an early age gives athletes an edge over competitors who don't, but stressed to parents that listening to feedback from their child is important to make sure they're getting the most out of their experience.
“Private training is not necessarily for everybody. Not every kid has ambitions to go on and play in college. You know they play because they have fun and they have their friends, which is great... So I tell parents all the time if your kid doesn’t want to be in private training, don’t make them come, because they’re not going to get anything out of it. But if they’re here to get better, and they’re here to challenge themselves and learn new skills, or they even just want to see slight improvement no matter what age you are. They want to feel more confident. Private training is the place to help increase that confidence."
Hahka says his daughter's confidence has "gone way up," and "she’s excited to go bat, she’s excited to go play, and that leads off to the other players as well."
Coach Sierra says she doesn't limit her coaching to the cage. She stresses the importance of starting early, training the whole athlete skills and techniques to use from the muscles to the brain.
"There’s a huge encompassing factor when it comes to performance and it starts with how you fuel your body and your brain and how you prepare and I just want to make sure that kids have access to that when they can still apply it. It’s cool when you have young athletes come in and they are excited to learn and they look up to you because you got to go where they want to go. But I tell them all the time I want them to surpass me, and the only way they are going to surpass me is if they have access to the knowledge that I didn’t get before it was too late, and so that’s kind of become my passion and my mission is, you know, giving my athletes access to more than what I had."
There are hundreds of private coaches here in Arizona for about every sport young athletes might find their spark in.