Internship Reflection

Having just completed my first semester as a senior at Longwood University, it was finally time to complete my internship as a part of my overall development as  a soon to graduate citizen scholar. As a student athlete my journey through college has been a unique one. Growing up I have cherished the goal of one day playing professional baseball. This dream is what ultimately led me to Longwood and made me a Lancer. With two remaining seasons of college baseball left to play thanks to being a freshman during the covid shortened 2020 season, that dream is still very much alive. I have spent every summer in my college years playing in competitive wooden bat collegiate leagues, honing my craft. I chose to be a sociology major because I felt more compelled by the study of this subject than any other during high school. I discovered that sociology dove deep into societal issues that aligned with my political views and particularly gave me a foundation to understand inequality. I had to make a decision this winter on how to satisfy my internship requirement, which predictably led me to baseball. With that being said, my studies at Longwood University have granted me a sociological lens through which I will see the world forever. This internship allowed me to gain coaching experience, while simultaneously searching for a way to move forward in my career in a way that combines my expertise in baseball, and the knowledge I have amassed in my sociology studies. In this reflection I will explain my experience as it relates to my future as a coach and participant of the game of baseball, but in discussing my key takeaways I will detail how my studies in sociology will alter this path. 

My job duties during this internship were twofold, first, to assist the college and high school players in baseball related skill work, then second, for the majority of the day, assist the coaches in the weightroom running the strength and conditioning program. The beginning of the day working with the players on baseball specific training was where I was most comfortable. I have never been the biggest or strongest player on any team I have ever been on, so using learning as a tool to gain an advantage has always been my key to success. Particularly on the offensive side of the game. Hitters have their own language for how to discuss the kinematic sensations that lead to an efficient swing. I have studied thousands of hours of swings over the course of my career, which gave me the knowledge base to communicate effectively with hitters. On a daily basis I would feed them flips, throw them batting practice, and feed the pitching machine, while encouraging them to record their own swings for analysis during the practice session. The hitting coach and I spent the majority of our time watching and discussing, as he believes good hitters can explain their mechanics and approach, rather than mindlessly going through the motions. The college hitters had a good understanding of this concept, however many of the high schoolers had never been taught how to think deeply about the swing. My main focus with the younger players was showing them how to use video to their advantage, and trying to encourage them to record swings from every session. My brain is already a database full of hitting drills, however I learned new ones from the hitting coach and we would have the high schoolers try them to unlock their best movements. 

On the pitching side I was more of a shadower than an assistant. I personally have not pitched in a competitive game since I was in the 8th grade. I was a sponge to the head pitching coach and soaked up as much knowledge as I could about pitching mechanics and arm health when I was not working with the hitters. I learned progressions that started with plyometric exercises, led to weighted ball routines, flat ground throwing, and eventually throwing on the mound. In many ways the mechanism that powers the swing is quite similar to the mechanics of the throw. To assist this coach I would chart data captured by the Rapsodo Pitch Tracker on a few occasions to give the players a database to see how their pitch velocity, spin rate, and spin axis can be improved. 

In the weightroom I was certainly out of my element at first. I had to learn how to hold a position of authority in an area that I felt less qualified. I have been doing baseball specific lifts for close to 10 years, however I had a bit of “imposter syndrome,” at first wondering if my lack of credibility would cause athletes to not trust me. This was certainly not the case, and I quickly became comfortable leading and assisting athletes through the lifting programs. On a few occasions the coach had me lead a group by myself, demonstrating the movements and correcting their form. As the intern, I also was given the honor of vacuuming, cleaning the bathrooms, and resetting the dumbbell racks everyday. 

The main skill takeaways from this experience were based in communication. I have never had to communicate as a coach, nor speak from any real position of authority. There is a point when teaching or coaching where what you are explaining is not getting through to the pupil. A bad coach will blame the player, get frustrated, and raise their voice or change their tone. I found myself in a number of these situations and learned to understand that it is my responsibility to present new information in a way each individual player can understand it. I even witnessed some of my assistant coaches quickly escalating to a shout when a kid did not understand the form for an exercise. Typically the kid would wind up looking like a deer in the headlights and learn nothing from the interaction. I learned how to communicate through demonstration, and prompting a player to mirror my movements. Positive words of encouragement seemed to make the players try harder and stay more focused. There are old-school thought processes about being a tough coach who is hard on their players to make them better, however I noticed players responding more favorably to an approach that builds them up. These players would more often seek out positive approval by exerting extra effort, or pushing themselves a level harder than the players around them. Another factor of communication that I learned with the youngest players (10-11 years old), was that lowering myself to meet their eye level seemed to create more calming interactions. One of my assistant coaches recommended this technique to me, and it seemed as though players would respond more if I’m on one knee than if I’m above them looking down. This experience taught me far more about communication and positive encouragement than it did about any skill directly related to baseball. 

It would be impossible for me to have gone through this experience without using the lens of sociology to observe my daily surroundings. Constantly it was on my mind just specifically how I can create value using my sociology studies while still being involved in the game that I love. I had two major sociological takeaways during this experience. The first was the glaring lack of racial diversity with the teams I coached. Club baseball has serious cost barriers that can limit the participation of socioeconomically disadvantaged kids. I’ve learned through my studies that race in our country can often be used as a marker for SES. Additionally, students who have the opportunity to participate in extracurricular activities like club baseball, have notably higher high school graduation rates. The sociologist in me could not help but observe this disparity and wonder how more children from diverse socioeconomic backgrounds can be involved in extracurricular sports activities.  My interest in sociology is derived from my curiosity and desire to seek out equitable solutions to these types of problems. How can money be raised and organized so players from lower SES backgrounds can be sponsored and gain the benefits of extracurricular activities? I believe somewhere in this space my basis of knowledge can flourish. 

An additional takeaway came more from a symbolic interactionist perspective on coaching. I noticed that I generally disagreed with some of the coaching tactics in the weightroom, and wondered what type of research has been done on the effectiveness of different coaching styles. Is there any truth to the idea that the toughest coaches actually bring out the best in players? An area or field that conducts this type of research as it relates to sports and coaching also sincerely peaks my interest. 

This internship granted me valuable coaching experience and glimpse at what life could look like for me after my career is over. I was able to enjoy being around the game of baseball while trying to identify a path that allows me to hybridize my interests as an athlete and as a sociologist. On one hand I feel drawn to a masters degree in public policy, where I feel that I can finally feel involved in the solutions to the problems sociologists identify in our society. On the other hand, I am an expert in the game of baseball, and currently have marketable skills that I can use to excel as a coach. My internship this winter has allowed me to realize that I must seek out a path that can involve me in both.