MLB – RACHEL BALKOVEC & HER SYMBIOTIC RELATIONSHIP WITH LATINO PLAYERS

The story of a female working as a strength & conditioning coach in MLB is a big deal.

Women working amongst men in a major sport doing jobs mostly occupied by men is very rare, even in 2016.

That’s why it’s important to acknowledge Rachel Balkovec and the barriers she’s already breaking down.

She was a catcher at the University of New Mexico and received her master’s degree in sports admin from LSU. While taking classes there, Balkovec worked as a grad assistant strength coach under the legendary Tommy Moffitt, considered to be the best in the nation.

In 2012, Balkovec interned with the Cardinals for their affiliate in Johnson City, Tenn and in 2014, became their Minor League strength & conditioning coordinator.

This season, she is working with the Houston Astros’ Gulf Coast league affiliate as their Latin American Strength and Conditioning Coordinator.

She is the 1st (and only) female ever to hold these types of positions in MLB.

Bill Firkus, the Astros’ director of sports medicine and performance has said that he hired Balkovec because “she fit the bill” for a certain type of person they were seeking: “open-minded, forward-thinking, incredibly skilled, and passionate to get better every day.”

Indeed, Balkovec’s reputation suggests that she is those things and more.

She is considered a consummate professional who knows her stuff and an athlete who could hold her own in the weight room. According to a May 30, 2014 MLB article, she can “power clean more than most of her players and bang out pull-ups with ease”.

But, the real story here to me isn’t so much the fact that Balkovec is a pioneer working in this male-dominated sport.

It’s the fact that she seems to have found a niche working with Latino players who need her just as much as she needs them.

When Balkovec was with St. Louis, she became frustrated when she realized that some Latin players who had been in America for years still couldn’t say basic words such as “arm”.  So, she took it upon herself to learn Spanish better and teach English to them, in addition to her duties as a strength coach.

Her goal was to help with these Latino players’ language skills and hopefully assimilate into the American culture better.  She came up with a curriculum, worksheets, tests and even coordinated games as a fun way to learn.

She said in a video about Balkovec from MLB.com: “My primary goal here is to teach.” She said she learned from Moffitt that: “Coaching is teaching and teaching is motivating others to learn.”

The players have said that previous coaches did not seem to “explain in detail” how to train like she could speaking in Spanish. And, her approach with incredible “patience” and guidance is something that has helped them to carry out training well enough to reach their higher goals.

According to her former manager at Johnson City, “Rachel cares about these guys as people, so they take an interest in learning the language and being able to communicate with her and do everything the right way. The effort she’s put in to teach them and to learn the language herself has been extraordinary.”

In turn, Balkovec has gained respect from the players and credibility within the organization and across the sport.

This perfect pairing, of a woman working together with Latino players, each trying to break down their own barriers in the minor-league system is the real story here.

I, for one, am rooting them on…

 



Source : Damsel in the Dugout

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