APEX, N.C. – A guided discovery approach is what Dan Kopitzke calls it.
Point the player in the right direction, help them understand where they need to go, teach them how to make changes and adjustments, and try to provide as much objective feedback as possible.
“Most instruction today is giving someone the answers so they can perform well during their lesson in front of their parents,” Kopitzke says from his home base of Apex, N.C. where he runs, owns and operates his training facility, K-Zone Academy. “But doing that doesn’t help a player get better.”
Kopitzke could be seen as an old dog wrapped in a new blanket. In the 70’s, he became the first left-handed catcher to play in the Little League World Series for Grosse Point Woods (Michigan), later becoming a four-year collegiate player at the University of Detroit as a pitcher and outfielder.
At 48 years of age he comes from a generation that, for years, has used a more qualitative approach of teaching, where such phrases as “the kid’s swing looks good” and “he has good range in the field” have been the measuring sticks for player evaluation.
These types of instructors (“most parents are used to a guy telling their child what to do and exactly how to do it – that’s not how we teach,” Kopitzke says) stand in stark contrast to the data-driven, quantitative methods of today which Kopitzke and his students at K-Zone have become very familiar with.
“We’ve always been big into collecting data and trying to understand how things work,” Kopitzke says. “But now we’re better at understanding what data to collect. There’s no shortage of information out there now, which was not always the case.”
Kopitzke’s guided discovery approach relies on objective feedback, data and “as little time possible on opinion” to evaluate and teach his students at K-Zone.
This is how Kopitzke has made K-Zone one of the top destinations for those in the Raleigh/Durham area – a baseball rich location that is home to USA Baseball and some of the best youth baseball in all the continental U.S.
He has turned K-Zone into a five-star experience for all of his students, setting the table each and every day for players ranging from elite to beginner.
Whether it’s a collegiate pitcher from a nearby program…
(“Dan has been highly effective in elevating my skills from a regular high school pitcher to an ACC pitcher. Through intense, explosive, dynamic full-body workouts and proper motivation I have been able to increase my max velocity by 24 mph in the past four and a half years.”)
An up-and-coming 17-year old who could turn into the next generation’s star player…
(“My hitting performance has gone up drastically from 70 mph to 91.5 mph ever since I went to K-Zone. The athletic training has physically developed me to be a stronger and better baseball player. K-Zone is my home away from home.”)
Or a 10-year old looking to grow and mature into an elite player as his teenage years approach…
(“The hitting lessons I took from you over the winter have really paid off. Last year I hit mostly singles and doubles. This season the first inning of the first game I hit a home run off the first pitch! In the second game I got a triple. And on Friday I hit a grand slam!!!! I was so happy. Being able to keep up my skills using the hitting club has really helped too.Thank you for helping me be a better baseball player!”)
Kopitzke tailors his teaching approach to fit the individual, with personalized goals and instructions for each player who comes to K-Zone.
“Every personality is different,” Kopitzke says. “How you treat each kid, how much you support each kid, how much you push each kid. We try to figure out what the personality and makeup is of each individual so we can respond appropriately to their reaction and training and keep them on the right track and move them in the right direction.”
Since K-Zone first began in 2007, Kopitzke has always taken a cerebral approach to the game. A lifelong native of Michigan, he moved his family to North Carolina in 2000 “to be in a place where we could be outside more often with a better climate, not five months of grey.”
But it wasn’t until a call from an old high school rival – that ultimately led to a trip to Puerto Rico – that stoked the fire enough for Kopitzke to get back into coaching.
“We grew up as friends back in Michigan. His dad was a teacher at my high school,” Kopitzke remembers. “He has a company that takes kids on baseball trips and he was looking for a coach to go on one of his trips. After going on those trips, I realized how much I missed the game. I got to work with all the different age groups, the smell of the fresh cut grass. Being around the game, I realized just how much I missed it.”
After discovering his raison d’être, Kopitzke decided to throw himself back into baseball full tilt.
Kopitzke spent the next three years researching, studying and analyzing how the current state of the game was. He figured, for him, the best way to get back into baseball would be to open a training academy based around his unique teaching methods that derive as much from his time spent as an engineer (Kopitzke holds a degree in engineering from the University of Detroit), as they do from the game itself. That led to K-Zone, which opened its doors in 2007.
“I’ve always been very much data-driven, analytical and always wanted to understand how things work and why they work the way they do,” Kopitzke said. “I tried to find out who was doing things the right way, tried to understand how players learn stuff, what is the best way to learn and the most efficient way. I just tried to get better at that throughout my process.”
Most importantly, Kopitzke made a point to emphasize, “I didn’t teach what I was taught.”
While this cerebral approach, could have been intimidating to some, it was the perfect fit at the perfect time for those who stepped foot into K-Zone. Rather than look at such ‘tried-and-true’ statistical measures as batting average as a means for student evaluation, Kopitzke created what he dubbed The Quality Hit Game to both challenge and evaluate his students at K-Zone.
Predicated upon such measurements as exit velocity and hard-hit average, Kopitzke found The Quality Hit Game to be a huge success with all his students.
“The biggest change in what we do, that’s had the biggest impact on what we do is technology,” Kopitzke explains. “The ability to access data and information is something we couldn’t do in the past, but we can do now.”
Such technologically advanced tools as HitTrax and SwingTracker are examples of what Kopitzke uses to keep his students ahead of the curve.
It’s allowed him to expand his teaching palette far beyond what was possible just a few years ago. When Kopitzke first started using HitTrax, his students wanted just to look at batting average as a way to see how much progress was being made.
But as Kopitzke made each student more aware of all the surrounding factors (different fields, umpires, defenders) that do not allow one to control their batting average, they realized that it was becoming less and less important as a means for evaluation and progress, instead turning their focus more toward contact, or more specifically hard-hit rate.
In The Quality Hit Game, Kopitzke’s scoring system gives value to every hit the student gets. The harder they hit the ball, the further it goes, the more points they get. The best combination of those characteristics gives the student more points.
MICHAEL RADONIS joins the 200 pt club with a hard line drive in his last at bat @kzoneacademy @drivelinebaseball A photo posted by Kzoneacademy (@kzoneacademy) on
“We’ve found a way to make training fun,” Kopitzke said. “We’ve heard over and over again from parents that their kids look forward to coming to training. These parents have never had that experience with their child. Normally, it’s like pulling teeth to get them to train, workout or do anything.”
“Better technology allows us to objectively find that sweet spot in the development process so we can keep the player challenged just beyond where they are capable, so that it’s not too easy and it’s not too hard.”
A guided discovery approach is what Dan Kopitzke calls it.