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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The Corp, the Corp, the Corp

 

By: Frank Quido – Owner, BreakOut Athlete

 

The Corp, the Corp, the Corp. I’m borrowing a phrase used by our U.S. Marines and changing it slightly to the core, the core, the core. The translation is to emphasize that you cannot overstate the importance of the core when it comes to softball and athletics more generally.

 

Importantly, the core is more than just our abdominal muscles. The core is a large group of muscles that provide stability and support to the body. Because the core plays such a significant role in generating rotational power necessary for hitting, throwing and pitching it becomes evident that the stronger an athlete’s core is the more power they can produce.

 

The key to throwing hard is getting elastic energy to transfer from each player’s legs, through their hips, into the trunk, and finally out through the arm.

Hitting power isn’t much different.  If the upper body is dominant in a swing, only 25-30% of power potential is being used. When you teach your lower body and core to dominant your swing and work in conjunction with your upper body, the ball will fly off your bat like never before.

 

The body’s core is the powerhouse. Though, crunches and leg raises will help strengthen certain muscles in the core you shouldn’t rely solely on those two movements. Some excellent exercise include “V” ups – lying on a flat service with legs straight out and arms stretched out behind your head, raise your legs and shoulders off the ground having your hands and feet meet at the midway point. When returning to the starting position do not let your feet hit the ground. Repeat for about 6-8 reps and gradually increase that number as your core strengthens. Another great move – Russian Twists – sitting on a flat surface with your back angled at about 45 degrees and knees bent – rotate your shoulders from side to side. To further challenge yourself, add a medicine ball. For more advanced athletes perform with a medicine ball and feet off the ground.

 

Additionally, when you are working through your hitting routine, focus on using your core in your swing.  When you begin to recognize the energy your core generates, especially in your swing, you can work it out simply while hitting off a tee and soft toss.  This will also ensure that your entire body, upper and lower, is engaged in the swing to create a more powerful swing.  Your core is the connection between your upper body and lower body.  As your core strengthens and you become more aware of how it generates energy and power in your swing, you will also find there are “swing” specific exercises you can do for your core.

 

Ultimately, there are many exercises that can be done to develop the core strength needed to improve your softball throwing and hitting.  Remember, though, if you are not currently integrating core work in your training, take it slow and gradually build in more complex moves as you get stronger.  We want you to get stronger without any set back from preventable injuries.

 

Remember, it’s all about the CORE!

 

Frank is owner of BreakOut Athlete – which has been called CT’s Sports Performance Training Facility. Clients include D1 College players, High School Player of the year nominees and numerous All-State selections in various sports. Frank is SCC and YFT certified. Coaches High School Football, Basketball and AAU Baseball. Frank was formally the CIO of the Response Insurance Companies. Frank is married to Lori and has three children, Ashley, Felicia and Jason.

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The “safety school” – no college wants to be it, but all college bound players should have one.

By: Kim Gwydir – Founder FPOS and former D1 coach

 

Recently I was counseling a high school junior. She is a very good pitcher with great grades in school. She has been working on the college recruiting process and selecting her 20 schools to correspond with on a regular basis. I asked her “What is your safety school?” and I got a blank look back. I then explained that a safety school is a school you can clearly afford, can expect to be admitted to and you would be socially OK with going to. The safety school is not the dream school but it is a fallback position where you can get a degree and not go in the poor house.

 

All too often the “tail wags the dog” in the recruiting process. We think softball first and then academics and finances after. I am not saying a player should not dream and consider schools that are a reach for them financially, academically or athletically. What I am saying, though, is that there should be a balance in your list.

 

What is an example of a dream school? Often in the northeast players dream of going down south to Florida and playing in warm weather but the reality is if their travel team never goes to that area. The result is college coaches from the south will never get a chance to see them play and therefore the chance of getting recruited by those schools is minimal. If you want to play in a different area than you live then you need to get to recruiting opportunities in the area you want to go to school in – plain and simple.

 

The dream schools on your list need to be balanced with “safety” type schools. An example of a safety school could be a state school in your area where there is tuition breaks for in state students or special academic assistance programs, maybe a school you would consider walking on at. In Florida, parents have the opportunity to get “Florida prepaid” tuition for their children and pay into a college fund whereby tuition is extremely affordable by the time their children are ready to go. State schools in Florida are great safety schools for state residents. Other examples of safety schools can be Junior Colleges. I have written about considering Junior Colleges as an option for the first two years in past newsletter articles. The truth is committing to a Junior College does not preclude you from taking an award to a four year school if one comes available. That is one of the many difficulties facing JC coaches – they have a commitment from a good player but lose them when a four year school snaps them up late.

 

When I said “no college wants to be a safety school” I meant that most college coaches don’t want to think you settled for them. Coaches are competitive and have egos and don’t want to be considered your second choice but from the player perspective you need these fall back positions. Dream BIG and have your “reach” colleges on your list. Make every effort to make them happen financially, academically and athletically but when decision time comes that dream school may not fit your family financially or maybe they are not interested athletically. The old saying “Don’t put all your eggs in one basket” is very true in this case. Have options and make the best decision academically, athletically, financially and socially for your future.

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