About Jennifer Hapanowicz

USA Elite Training LLC Virtual Softball Academy Coach Jennifer Hapanowicz – owner and founder of USA Elite Training LLC – has been instructing youth softball players of all ages throughout the New England region ( including CT, NH, NY. NJ. ME, RI) for the past 16 years. A highly accomplished collegiate player herself, Hapanowicz attended the University Of Rhode Island on a full athletic scholarship as a pitcher and first baseman. Utilizing over 16 years of experience in the softball and recruiting industry, Coach Hapanowicz has assisted in placing her clients in leading college athletic programs across the country including LSU, UMass, UConn, Stanford, Univ. Of Florida, Quinnipiac, Sacred Heart, Bryant Univ., Cornell Univ., Univ. of Central Florida, to name a few. COACH HAPANOWICZ GETS RESULTS: An amazing 90% of her students go on to play at the collegiate level Numerous players under USA Elite’s tutelage have gone on to play on TOP 25 Collegiate Softball teams and have helped to lead their teams to NCAA Regionals. Coach Hapanowicz has trained CT Gatorade Player of the Year Award Winners ( 2003,2005,2007,2008,2009) Her student have dominated the Connecticut State top ranks: Trained winning State Championship pitchers ( 2003-2010) Trained 2007 CIAC Player of the Year Trained numerous All –State, All – Area, and All League Players Coach Hapanowicz has sent pitchers to the prestigious Gold Coast FL Hurricanes Junior Olympic Travel Team Winner of the 2008 18U ASA Gold National Championship Coach Hapanowicz is a top level consultant Jen has been a consultant to college softball programs including Wesleyan University and the University of Hartford Jen has been the featured speaker at the 2010 CT High School Coaches Association’s Coaches Clinic Jen has been the featured speaker 2011 World Softball Coaches’ Convention at Mohegan Sun Convention Center She has hosted coaches’ clinics throughout the New England area over the years to train local programs skills to excel in area of softball

Stop the chop- the proper hand path in hitting.

In teaching hitting, I often find young players developing an improper hand path where they hit down on the ball. This path results in many ground balls and not as many line drives.  I believe there is a misconception as to what the correct hand path should be. I also believe many coaches have a misguided hitting philosophy.  Let me explain.

 

It is a fact that the top hitters in the world do not chop down on the ball. Actually what you will see is not the hands starting the bat but instead the back elbow starting down and the front elbow initially starting upward. The hands are the last thing to be delivered to the ball. Good hitters do not commit their hands until the last possible second so that they can take a pitch if it breaks out of the strike zone. Many young hitters make the mistake of starting the bat improperly with either their hands going down and/or their front shoulder opening.

The second issue I see is that many coaches believe that hitting ground balls is the correct goal. While it is true that at the younger levels, a team that hits a lot of ground balls will probably win a lot of games I just cannot agree with limiting a player to being a ground ball hitter. College coaches want players who have swings that can drive the ball into the outfield (unless of course they are fast kids who are on the left side). By teaching a young player a downward hand path you are creating a muscle memory that will be hard to change in the future. What gets the player more excited – a ground ball or a homerun over the fence? I think we know the answer.

 

In short, teach players to hit the ball hard up the middle. Promote swing mechanics that lead to line drives off the batting T in practice. Remember, ground balls do not go out of the park.

 

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Friends don’t let friends “squish the bug!”

In teaching hitting, one of the most common teaching cues I hear coaches of young players using is, “squash the bug”.  What the instructor wants is the young hitter to rotate on their back foot during the swing in a motion similar to how you would squash a bug under the ball of your foot. I want to, once and for all, state that “squashing the bug” is NOT a good hitting mechanic.

 

I understand why it works at the younger age levels – young hitters are usually weak in the upper body and coaches see this technique as a way to increase strength (and bat speed) especially off the hitting tee.  When a player squishes the bug their hips get involved in the swing and generate more power. The problem is that this method of early hip turn can happen before the front foot is completely planted and the full stride is taken.  This can be limiting for their development long term.  In fact – if you are “squishing the bug” it means you still have a substantial amount of weight (and energy) on the back foot before your hips are used.  In “squashing the bug” usually the player lands their front toe, turns their hips and then lands the heel of their front foot. Do you know what this causes? It causes a player’s front shoulder to open prematurely and then we yell at our hitters, “Don’t pull your front shoulder out”, which is exactly what the result of “squashing the bug” is – just try it. Get in a batting stance – take a stride but don’t transfer your weight – now squish the bug with your back foot and low and behold your front shoulder must come out early and we all know that is bad mechanics!

 

See the pictures below, and I can find hundreds more, of major league ball players and high level softball players and you will not see one hitter “squashing the bug”.

 

So if the concept of “squashing the bug” with the back foot is incorrect, then what should you teach? Think front shoulder to the pitcher longer and have your hitters land their front heel before they get aggressively engage their hips. Have players focus on hitting balls back up the middle of the field rather than pulling everything.   We will cover more of the correct mechanics to teach in future blogs.

 

There are a lot of hitting philosophies out there and I have seen a lot of hitters with “bad mechanics” get hits.  But, as the competition gets better the best possible mechanics are my goal. Do you teach your players to be average, or do you want them to be the best? Strive for mechanics that give your player the best chance of success at the highest level.  Remember, we want to take the bugs out of our hitter’s mechanics not bring them in.

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“Speed Kills – slow speed that is” – The Most Under Used Pitch in Softball is the Change-up!

The Change-up is the most under used pitch in softball.  I am not disagreeing that speed is important. The focus at USA Elite Training LLC is getting our young pitchers (13 and under) to throw 50 mph with command as soon as possible.  As much as speed is used as a benchmark for developing our pitchers so is the development of an effective change-up.  Before our pitchers learn any movement pitches we require that they have an effective change-up, which they can throw in pressure situations.   Based on my experience, it is more difficult for an older pitcher (high school age) to develop the change-up later in their pitching career.

 

Unfortunately, many of our younger pitcher lack experience in throwing change-ups, as the pitch is not called frequently enough for them to develop consistency or confidence in the change-up.  Too often, the coaches will not call the change-up after it gets hit once.  My question to them is, “Does the fastball ever get hit?”  When the only pitch the young pitcher has is the fastball coaches are forced to throw it. Coaches love speed at the youth level as it does dominate.   But in order for the pitcher to develop confidence the change-up must be used.  My focus on the change-up is toward the future development of the pitchers.

 

With the use of pitching machines, batters are able to practice hitting speed and become less intimidated by speed.   Ask the great hitters, at any level, even the professionals, what pitch they fear most, it’s the change-up!  The change –up throws the batters timing off.  In addition, speed differential, the appearance that speed is extremely different, occurs once the pitcher throws the change-up.  On the next explosion pitch following the change-up, it appears to be 3-4 mph faster than it normally would be to the batters eyes.  My favorite saying during the game is when the coaches on the opposing team start telling their players, “watch out for the change-up.” This is music to my ears, as the pitcher has now mentally placed a question in every batter’s plan.  For the hitter, their focus has shifted from concentrating on the positives of hitting the ball to the negatives of don’t get suckered into swinging at the change-up, or not to be paralyzed by the pitch and let if float over the plate for a strike. The batter is now becoming a defensive hitter verses an offensive hitter.

 

I encourage coaches to utilize the change-up more in their pitch calling.  The change-up should not be called only when the pitcher is a head. Call the change-up when it is least expected.  On a full count, as a first pitch, or when the pitcher is behind in the count in my opinion are great times to throw the change-up. Too often, the calling of the change-up is very predictable, used only when a pitcher is a head of the count and then it gets hit.  A pitcher also gains confidence in the pitch when it is called earlier in the count, or when least expected, because they know they can throw it for a strike.  If your pitchers can develop the confidence in an effective, deceptive change-up at an early age you have developed a lethal weapon for years to come.

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Bring The Heat First

By: Jennifer Hapanowicz – Founder USA Elite Training LLC & Virtual Softball Academy

 

The fastball is the foundation of the pitcher’s arsenal.  Too often pitchers and their parents overlook the importance of a fastball.  The fastball mechanics must be developed correctly into proper muscle memory.   And that means a lot of work, maybe 8000-10,000 proper repetitions to create.  Over the past 18 years of coaching softball pitchers, my favorite comment from a parent during an evaluation of a new pitching student, who I must add was only 11, “my daughter throws a curve, drop curve, curve rise, screwball, drop, rise in, and three change-ups.”  In my experience, no advanced level pitcher would have enough time to properly command this many pitches.   Also, there is no way any pitcher under the age of 13 could have enough physical strength to use the proper mechanics of these pitches.

 

Pitching is a skill, which requires time to develop.  The learning process and development of correct muscle memory for the fastball and change-up could take two to three years depending on the age of the athlete.  Based on my coaching experience, the pitcher who has focused on the mechanics and developing the speed of their fastball, change-up, and hitting their locations at the start of the their career has experienced more success.  In addition, a player who has learned and developed the proper fastball mechanics has experienced less injury and can sustain a longer pitching career.

 

Players all want to learn the movement pitches.  Players and parents need to understand that the fastball mechanics are the foundation that all of your movement pitches will be built off of.   It is not uncommon to see a pitcher loose their fastball mechanics as they learn movement pitches, especially if they don’t’ continue to spend time working on their fastball.   At USA Elite Training, a pitcher’s first goal is to command their fastball and change-up.

 

The first benchmark that we use to ensure that a pitcher is commanding the fastball is we test their speed.  The pitcher needs to be consistently throwing the fastball at 50mph to the four quadrants (inside low, inside high, outside low , outside high) 8 out of 10 times.  In addition, they need to have a change-up that can be thrown to low locations at a speed 10- 12mph slower, but not lower than 15mph, than their fastball speed.  Once these goals have been achieved the pitcher has developed a solid foundation and are now prepared to learn a movement pitch.  Notice I said, “a movement pitch”.   Just like fastballs and change-ups, learning the movement pitches will also take time to throw it properly and build the muscle memory necessary to throw it consistently and with command.  Because of that we focus on learning and commanding one new movement pitch per year.

 

The fastball can be used very successful at all levels to set up pitches.  In addition, after throwing a change-up, the speed differential will make the fastball inside look 3-4 mph faster.   For those players who think they will never throw a fastball at the collegiate level, you are incorrect.  Our college pitchers, including pitchers playing for top 25-college programs in the country still work their fastball in the bullpen everyday.  At the college level, many coaches do use the fastball, especially if their pitcher is throwing above 60mph.  So for those players who think the fastball will not be used at the higher levels they are mistaken.

 

The fastball is the foundation of your pitching house.  If your mechanics are off in one of your movement pitches, then there is often a mechanical issue in your fastball.  Therefore, no matter what your pitching level is, part of your daily-pitching- routine should include drills that will reinforce and maintain proper fastball mechanics.  If you would like to see our top foundation drill taught at USA Elite Training LLC down load our Virtual Softball Academy Silver iPhone app which contains our foundation pitching series.  If you don’t have an iPhone you can down load a copy to your computer from our web site www.virutalsoftballacdemy.com

If you have any questions, I can be reached via email at jen@usaelitetraining.com

 

 

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