Softball

Private coaching is becoming big business

Will Olvera, Sr. is one of a growing number of parents in the Coachella Valley who are investing in private coaching, training and mentoring for their children outside of high school sports programs.

Will Olvera, Sr. is one of a growing number of parents in the Coachella Valley who are investing in private coaching, training and mentoring for their children outside of high school sports programs.

Years of training his son to play the quarterback position eventually came to a head for Will Olvera.

The Palm Springs resident, who teaches math at Mt. San Jacinto High School, had taught his son about football, about hard work, accountability and leadership. But there came a point where he felt he needed the aid of someone with more technical expertise in the sport to help his son, William, reach his full potential as a player.

High school coaches have access to players for small increments from May to November. Then there’s offseason weight training, and travel teams and club 7-on-7 tournaments that provide additional repetitions. Now, those looking to play in college are also seeking position-specific tutelage; something Olvera believed his son needed from someone with more knowledge of the game than himself.

“You’ve got to have the one-on-one specific skill coach in your ear, telling you what to do in certain situations,” Olvera said. “And you want to get that year-round.”

Olvera’s conundrum is one that many parents across the country are currently grappling with. They want their children to excel in a particular sport, which could lead to an athletic scholarship to college and potentially more. Yet, they often need the assistance of others who are in a position to provide more detailed instruction.

Palm Springs quarterback William Olvera is one player in the valley who has benefited from private coaching.

Palm Springs quarterback William Olvera is one player in the valley who has benefited from private coaching.

With the monetary value of a scholarship on the rise with the soaring cost of higher education, some parents have invested in personal coaches to provide that guidance. The private coaching industry boom has opened the door for those parents, which has in turn provided full-time careers for thousands. For some, the business has become quite lucrative.

Though the going rate for private coaches varies, depending upon the expertise and demand of the instructor, some can demand a six-figure rate to work with a client for a period of years. Some feel it is worth the price if it can help them land a college scholarship, which are worth up to $75,000 a year when factoring tuition and room and board at some institutions. Less than eight percent of high school athletes will play in college, according to reports, and just two percent will play at the Division I level. Of that group, two percent will eventually play professionally.

After years of coaching his only son, Olvera invested in a private coach in December, not long after William led Palm Springs High to a California Interscholastic Federation Southern Section title as a junior. William also was the All-CIF selection at quarterback, but neither he nor his dad believed he had maxed out his potential on the field.

Through a mutual friend, Olvera eventually reached out to Dennis Gile, 34, a renowned Arizona-based quarterback coach who has worked with UCLA quarterback Brett Hundley, former Heisman Trophy winner Jameis Winston, and most recently Colin Kaepernick of the San Francisco 49ers.

Olvera would rather not disclose exactly how much he paid Gile to work with William over the next year, but he did take out a second mortgage on his house to complete the transaction. “We re-organized our entire life,” Olvera said. “That’s basically what we did. We re-organized our life, financially, to focus on William’s future and how to make it all happen.”

Palm Springs quarterback William Olvera meets with quarterback guru Dennis Gile several times a month.

Palm Springs quarterback William Olvera meets with quarterback guru Dennis Gile several times a month.

The path the Olveras have chosen is becoming more common among parents with top high school athletes, but it’s not new. Former Xavier Prep star Anthony Neyer only played quarterback for the Saints for one season, yet by employing a well-known private coach, Steve Clarkson, Neyer was able to earn a spot as a preferred walk-on at USC, where he just completed his senior season as a reserve quarterback.

“That never would have happened if it weren’t for the coaching I got from Steve,” Neyer said.

In addition to Gile, Clarkson and others, several companies have shot up across the country over the last five years to capitalize on the growing industry. Roughly 30 to 40 million kids play sports in the U.S., according to research, and competition to excel has never been more intense, coaches say.

Looking to capitalize on the growing demand for year-round coaching, Jordan Fliegel started his own business to manage a pool of coaches throughout the country. His Boston-based company, CoachUp, launched its website in the spring of 2012, and now has more than $10 million in funding and close to 12,000 coaches working for the company.

CoachUp is one of many companies offering private coaching in nearly every corner of the country, specializing in every major sport, and includes niche activities like martial arts and yoga, along with a variety of others. Coaches are often able to set their own rate, with CoachUp sessions usually running less than $100. More than 100,000 people now use the service Fliegel began just three years ago.

“There was nothing like it before,” Fliegel said. “Professional athletes get this kind of specific coaching and one-on-one mentoring, so why not younger kids? I just figured if this kind of coaching helped me, it could help others.”

One of Fliegel’s coaches in the Coachella Valley is Monica Fenton, who has coached softball for 17 years. Fenton was the top rated high school pitcher out of the San Diego area in high school, and has since coached some of the top pitchers in Southern California, splitting time between San Diego and Riverside counties. On average, she works with kids once a week for a period of four years, before they head off to college. Some drive more than an hour for sessions with her.

Like most private coaches, Fenton will assign her players homework between sessions, and mentors them in their personal affairs, offering advice about life, school or anything else they may be uncomfortable talking with their parents about. Fenton has witnessed how an athletic scholarship can unlock doors and propel the sports career of many young people.

“It’s not just about on the field,” Fenton said. “It’s about life. I can teach a girl to pitch, but we also teach about life skills. Some coaches, I think, miss that opportunity.”

Six years ago, Hundley, a Chandler, Ariz., native, approached Gile about being his personal quarterback coach. That led to other clients and Gile eventually gave up a promising playing career to coach full-time. Now Gile runs a year-round quarterback academy in Scottsdale, Ariz., and helps ESPN analysts run the Elite 11 quarterback academy each spring with the top high school quarterbacks in the country.

“It’s just the knowledge of how to properly throw a football,” Gile said. “I was always pretty talented, athletically, but once I learned the mechanics of how to throw a football properly, the game became much easier. Then it became a mind game, a game of chess.”

For his money, Olvera doesn’t have exclusive access to Gile, but is in touch with him almost daily. Multiple times per month, father and son jump in the car together to take the 556-mile round-trip trek from Palm Springs for one-on-one sessions that include fieldwork, cross training and film study.

For the longest time, Olvera worried his 5-foot-9 son wouldn’t pass the eye test of a college recruiter. He didn’t possess the size and elite athleticism so many of them covet.

But those fears have subsided. After leading Palm Springs High to a title as a junior, and working with Gile, Olvera was recognized earlier this month as the co-MVP of a 7-on-7 tournament national championship game, against nationally-ranked Bishop Gorman of Las Vegas.

His dad said he wouldn’t have been able to do that if it weren’t for the hours of personal tutelage he’s had over the last year.

He hopes this is just a glimpse of things to come.

“I’m just a firm believer that if you love the game, then do what you have to do to keep your dream alive,” Will Olvera said. “That was the ultimate factor for us.”