The Benefits Of Private Lessons In Youth Sports
June 27, 2018
Even though American children are more tethered to technology than ever, interest in youth sports continues to be healthy. Participation rates have yo-yoed in recent years, but recreation leagues, club teams, travel teams and camps comprise a robust industry that is currently generating approximately $15 billion in annual revenue, according to Time Magazine.
Youth sports has no shortage of appealing offerings, but the crème de la crème for any athlete looking for a competitive edge is private lessons. For an organization, private lessons are typically the lowest cost offering – there is typically little-to-no overhead cost and turn the highest margin.
There is no industry formula for introducing private lessons into a business. Some organizations roll out private lessons at their inception, largely as an add-on to club teams. Some wait until they have established credibility and or a sizeable database of clients. Others, like former MILB catcher and manager John Massarelli of Massarelli Baseball, opt to focus solely on lessons.
The business of private lessons is on an upward trajectory as more and more parents consider $50 or $100 for a personalized session a small price to pay to unleash their child’s potential. If you have yet to incorporate individualized instruction into your youth sports organization, here are some tips on how to do so.
Quality and commitment is everything
If a parent is going to shell out big bucks, they want assurances that their child is getting top-flight instruction. Having the cachet of a former professional athlete like Massarelli inherently brings appeal but so does a demonstrated dedication to private instruction.
Ten to fifteen years ago, Massarelli ran camps but found it impossible to offer any kind of robust individual instruction. He was also discouraged by having to compete with colleges that ran one-off camps with glamorous facilities. Massarelli’s decision to go all in on lessons has paid dividends.
“We just felt like we should identify who we are and go after our clientele that way,” he says. “We’re passionate about what we do. If you’re paying that much for private lessons, do a little research on your instructors. That’s how we separate ourselves.”
Build a pipeline
Former professional athletes are intriguing to parents considering private options. But Paul Cusick, a former MLB draft pick who is now LeagueApps’ Director of Partnerships, knows a professional resume doesn’t automatically make you a better teacher. “Some of the best coaches I had didn’t make it past high school or college baseball,” he says.
Oftentimes the best way to build a pool of quality coaches is simply cyclical. All of Massarelli’s coaches are either former students or players he managed. “Once you develop that personal relationship with your player, they go off and play and they want to come back and work with you.”
— John Massarelli (@JohnnyMazz6) September 11, 2017
For any coach devoid of a pool, Cusick suggests reaching out to local colleges and trying to bring them into your system. As a bonus, many of these players will already have relationships in the local community.
Be able to articulate the benefits
Parents are much more receptive to enrolling in private lessons if a coach explains his or her philosophy and lays out the benefits. While no coach should be promising college scholarships, they should explain the tangible goals.
“We teach them how to self-correct. They learn how to get out of slumps. When a hitter is confident in his swing, success happens,” Massarelli says of his baseball lessons.
— John Massarelli (@JohnnyMazz6) March 14, 2017
As Cusick explains, lessons from any sport should offer a client the same advantages. The athlete receives much more feedback and personalized information. That quicker feedback and enhanced information should lead to an individualized routine the athlete can repeat outside of organized practice. “This is where you’re going to see yourself progressing faster than everyone else,” he says.
Emphasize the player-coach relationship for any level of player
“Developing relationships with our guys and developing trust, that’s the first element of teaching,” Massarelli says.
While many of Massarelli’s students excel in high school and go on to play in college and beyond, some of his most rewarding experiences have come from simply planting the seeds of success. One recent 10-year-old client was downtrodden because he didn’t get a single hit the previous season in Little League. Massarelli worked with him 6 or 7 times and tweaked his swing, which made a world of difference.
“You’re not going to make that kid a superstar, but what happens is they come back and the kid is happy and so are his parents because they can actually enjoy the game. They may not play in high school, but now they are going to their rec league games and having success.”
The kid’s enhanced love of the game came largely from the personalized attention and care provided by Massarelli.
Be flexible with offerings
Baseball is perhaps the most individualized of all the team sports. A hitter’s success will be based solely on his skill set. Same for pitching and fielding. A baseball athlete will unequivocally benefit from one-on-one instruction.
Athletes from other sports like lacrosse and basketball also benefit from private lessons, but may get just as much from small group training. Cusick says that while basketball players can use lessons to improve ball handling or footwork, he often sees comparable success with groups of two to three players. “This really allows teammates to hone in on their spacing, timing and overall chemistry,” he says.
From a parent standpoint, small group lessons are also more cost effective and serve as a low risk way to ease their child into individualized instruction and start the process of relationship building with the coach.
Keep your costs low
The private lessons business can be highly profitable given the lack of overhead costs. Coaches should be smart about spending wisely on administrative staff and marketing, especially given that the industry is typically driven by word of mouth.
According to Cusick, one area where coaches should consider spending is on leasing space at an indoor facility. Not only does it provide a static sanctuary and breed familiarity for the athlete, a dedicated space adds a level of prestige to a lessons business.
All coaches have the potential to be entrepreneurs. The majority of the industry is already coaching teams or camps and offer lessons as a value-add.
Massarelli took his entrepreneurship a step further when he purchased his own building 15 years ago. He now earns a healthy dose of extra income from renting space to other instructors. “Only two people are going to make a living. The person doing the lessons and the person who owns the building,” he says.
Be modern with marketing
Massarelli admits his website was very basic before partnering with LeagueApps. LeagueApps created a crisp, user-friendly home for Massarelli that flawlessly displays everything from his pricing to his successful alumni to his tips of mechanics. Beyond a sleeker look, Massarelli has strategically utilized younger instructors who understand how to use social media as an effective promotion tool. “That’s the front door of our business now,” he says.