May 27, 2019  

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Southern Miss Professor Visits MLB Spring Training for Research Project

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Dr. Brian Gearity

Right off the bat, football comes to mind when the words “strength and conditioning” are mentioned. But baseball players also benefit from regimens of that nature provided by coaches who specialize in fitness training.

Dr. Brian Gearity, assistant professor in the Department of Human Performance and Recreation at The University of Southern Mississippi, hopes to shed more light on the intricacy of strength and conditioning in Major League Baseball as part of a current research project. Gearity spent five days during his “spring break” observing the workout routines of the Texas Rangers and San Diego Padres at their spring training facilities in Phoenix, Ariz.

“For novices or would-be coaches, I think they could benefit from the rich description of the report I intend to publish,” said Gearity. “Hopefully, they will recognize that coaching is likely to involve much more than they previously imagined, thus expanding their understanding of coaching in general.

“Later on the data I collected could be reanalyzed to examine specific topics with more detail such as coach-athlete relationships, staff and coaching development and how power/politics affects coaches.”

Gearity’s spring training visit included days that began at 7:30 a.m. and lasted until 5 p.m. or beyond. During that time he observed players working out on their own, discussed training protocols with strength and conditioning coaches and even sat in the dugout for exhibition games. The unique access also allowed him to conduct formal and informal interviews, take numerous photos and shoot extensive video.

Gearity did an internship with the Cleveland Indians from 1999-2001 and, in the process, became acquainted with several strength and conditioning coaches. And while he probably pulls for the Indians more than any other Major League team, Gearity is not an ardent baseball fan.

“I’m more a fan of sports, coaches and athletes than any particular game itself,” he said. “Nowadays I root more for the former players I have coached and for coaches who provide me with access to conduct my research.”

Working in close proximity with professional athletes and coaches might seem a bit intimidating to some outsiders, but Gearity found the experience quite normal in many respects.

“They are like other people really,” he said. “There are about 40 major leaguers and nearly 200 minor leaguers involved and that’s a lot of human variation. Some work harder, some are more outgoing and some ask more questions.”

And what did he ascertain immediately from spending a week with two different Major League Baseball teams?

“The thing I learned is that the coaches really individualize their programs and try to develop a relationship with each athlete. Most strength coaches can write exercise programs to gain strength and lose body fat, whatever the goals may be. The real issue, the social problem is exactly the context in which all this fits.

“That’s why coaches and futures coaches, such as the Southern Miss students today, need to develop an understanding of all the factors that are barriers or facilitators to performance such as time, space, power, resources, identities, relationships, etc.”