By Kody Acevedo
High school practice isn’t enough anymore. That’s what aspiring athletes are finding out these days.
Young players like Jared Zarate, a junior baseball player at Corona del Sol High School, are turning to outside experts to reach their goal of obtaining athletic scholarships.
Gone are the days of the tri-sport athlete. Today it’s all about specialization.
Zarate spent the last two seasons on the junior varsity squad. As a new year approaches, he is absorbing as much baseball knowledge as he can to prove he’s got what it takes to make the varsity team. He currently is getting hitting lessons from two different private coaches.
He said the only way for him to reach the varsity team is to practice every single day.
“I get overwhelmed sometimes, sure,” Zarate said. “If you have too many coaches, you’re going to think too much, but at the end of the day you just have to do the work in the [batter’s] box.”
One of Zarate’s private coaches is Jay Roundy, who owns, operates and coaches at Performance Plus in West Chandler. Performance plus is an organization that helps athletes improve their sports performance physically and mentally.
Jay, along with his son Joe, trains athletes who play in a variety of sports, including baseball, softball, football, volleyball and gymnastics. Their mental strength training is led by Roundy, who played minor league baseball in the Angels organization before beginning his coaching career. He has since gone on to receive a Masters Degree in Counseling Psychology and a Doctorate with a focus on performance behavior.
Zarate went to Roundy to help improve his hitting ability.
“In this day in age, if an athlete wants to get better, they need to do more than just what their team does at school, whether it’s on their own or with somebody,” Roundy said. “That’s just the way it is.”
But with that increase in training time comes a problem many athletes, mostly baseball players, face: who do I listen to? If my high school coach says one thing, but my private coach says another, what do I do?
“It’s kind of hard, but I try to take parts from every instructor I go with,” Zarate said.
Lately, that hasn’t panned out the way Zarate had hoped. His high school coaches began to voice their displeasure at Zarate for going against their philosophies.
“They didn’t like me going to an outside instructor because I was not going the way they wanted to,” Zarate said. “Their way of thinking was different from my hitting coach.”
Zarate admitted he was upset because he had worked so hard and was beginning to see results.
“I think they should be into different types of thinking instead of one core way of thinking,” Zarate said. “If you have everyone try a one-minded approach, some will benefit, but others will suffer because it’s not for them.”
Corona baseball coach Dave Webb said he and his staff have tried to do some research over the years to find private coaches that work best with the program.
“The parents usually come to me and ask who might be good to hit, pitch, or train with, so I can give them names and choices of great people,” Webb said. “I do encourage it. I basically told the players that I don’t have a right to tell you where to spend your money, but if you go to that pitching coach, we can’t fix you when things go wrong. As a coach, that might be a problem in whether we keep a kid or not.”
Webb said if he is dealing with a player changing a huge part of the teams “fundamental beliefs,” he will suggest they make a change.
“I did have issues a few years back with a specific pitching guy that was teaching kids to do something drastically different from anyone else,” Webb said. “If it would have worked I might have made a change in my thinking, but it took guys backwards in their progression.”
But Webb said he hasn’t had an issue with private coaches as of late.
“Most of the private coaches/trainers I deal with are very accommodating, understanding, and supportive.”
While dealing with stubborn high school coaches isn’t a major issue in the industry, Roundy said it’s a problem they run into occasionally.
“When it comes to the school part, I say this: Nobody here makes out the lineup card, if you want to play, you probably ought to do what they say,” Roundy said.
He admits it’s frustrating at times watching athletes try to balance the different lessons and philosophies they are learning.
“A lot of high school programs have rules that say, ‘My preference is you don’t go anywhere for private instruction,’” Roundy said. “We are not trying to replace the coach and we’re not trying to prove that we are better. Rather, we are trying to help that athlete get better as a player and also as a person.”
Zarate was relieved when he explained his dilemma to Roundy, who stopped preaching his own philosophies and worked with his high school coach’s teachings.
“Jay has been pretty good with it,” Zarate said. “He knew how to blend the two teachings.”
This growing trend seems to be a problem mostly with baseball coaches, according to Roundy. He has never really dealt with a football or basketball coach who didn’t want their players to work out independently during the off season.
Football coaches don’t care how their players get bigger, faster and stronger “as long as it’s legal,” Roundy said.
Neil MacDonald, the first-year coach of Corona del Sol’s basketball program, said he has never seen an issue with players getting private instruction.
“As a high school coach and teacher, I can only be available so much,” MacDonald said. “In the off season, there are rules as to when we can actually coach our players. If a player is a basketball only athlete, then it would natural for them to seek out more individualized coaching.”
Hailey Harward echoes MacDonald’s stance. The senior volleyball player at Desert Vista also trains with Roundy and recently wrapped up her final season with the Thunder as part of the back-to-back state championship team.
Harward started playing volleyball in the third grade. Since 2011, she has trained with the USA volleyball team every summer to improve her physical skills. Two years ago, she turned to Roundy to help her improve her mental strength as well.
“I wanted to learn to prepare for different situations,” Harward said. “There’s no other mental strength training anywhere else.”
While she credits her high school coach Molly West for guiding her team to two state championships, she said there are limits to West’s teaching abilities.
“She doesn’t do mental training, but it’s really easy to blend her lessons and Jay’s,” Harward said.”
Harward’s hard work has paid off. She signed a letter of intent to play at Long Beach State next fall.
But it’s not the same story for baseball players. Roundy believes it’s simply superstition that causes high school coaches to be more uptight about outside coaching.
“It’s a weird situation, but if I were the coach and I knew that some of my players were going somewhere else, I would ask them, ‘What are you working on?’” Roundy said. “If I’ve got a player that’s trying to get better, why would I want to get in the way of that?”
Especially since it’s expensive to learn from a coach like Roundy. One session alone costs $65. An athlete can pay up to $800 in a month for 16 private, one-on-one lessons at Performance Plus.
“We did a little research and found two separate sources that estimated four to five billion dollars are spent annually in the United States on athletic performance improvement,” Roundy said. “That’s from elite athletes to amateur and everything in between, but still, that’s a lot of money.”
Zarate said he embraces the different coaching styles he learns from.
“I get some knowledge and form it into me,” Zarate said. “I take what [both coaches] said and find something in the middle.”
Harward said the benefits of her athletic success outweigh the cost of private coaching.
“For me, it’s been beneficial [working with Jay], for others I think it’s important, but it depends on how much you love the sport and how much you want to be the best at it.”
That’s the mentality of a true champion.