The Yankees’ First Female Hitting Coach, Sabbaticals, and the Utility of Being a Generalist
Rachel Balkovec is in her second year as a minor league hitting coach with the New York Yankees. She is the first woman (alongside Rachel Folden of the Chicago Cubs) to hold that title in the history of professional baseball. She is one of 4 women that are in uniform in 2021 in various roles with Major League clubs. Rachel joined the Yankees in 2019 after completing her second master’s degree in biomechanics in the Netherlands where she served as an apprentice hitting coach for the national softball and baseball programs. She completed her research for this degree in eye tracking at Driveline Baseball.
Previous to crossing over to being a hitting coach, she spent 7 seasons in professional baseball as a strength and conditioning coach in various roles with the Houston Astros and St. Louis Cardinals. In addition to her more recent groundbreaking role with the Yankees, she was also the first woman to be hired full time as a strength and conditioning coach in MLB.
Before entering professional baseball in 2012, she served in various apprentice roles for Louisiana State University, Los Tigres Del Licey Beisbol, The Chicago Whitesox, Arizona State University and EXOS. The Omaha native is a former NCAA Division I softball catcher and has special interest in organizational culture and behavioral psychology. She has an undergraduate degree in Exercise Science, and a master’s degree in Sport Administration from LSU.
Coaches, Mentors, and Dune Quotes mentioned in the episode:
04:50 Rachel is joining us from Santa Barbara as it is the baseball off-season which is the start of her “Sabbatical Season”
05:16 Rachel’s sabbaticals are legendary, but anomalous in the greater strength and conditioning community
05:45 Rachel is currently writing a book, Seasons and Sabbaticals
08:09 Most people could benefit from taking regular sabbaticals – for instance in European culture everyone takes holiday and truly disconnects from work life
13:00 In coaching today there is a real problem with burnout
15:40 Rachel launched a mentorship program for women in the field
18:10 Rather than “what do you want to do when you grow up?”, think in terms of “what do you want your life to look like?”
20:02 Rachel’s sabbaticals are not vacation, they are very intentional
20:49 Rachel just flew to North Carolina to spend time with the UNC Women’s Soccer Team and Anson Dorrance and just by making herself and available she was able to get so much out of hanging out with (and even playing pickleball) with Anson
22:45 Juliet learned from her mother Janet (a journalist) that you should pick up the phone and call (or show up), people will answer and you will gain access
23:35 Rachel just shows up ready to participate and says you wouldn’t believe the access you have if you just show up
27:35 Rachel is pretty passionate about organizational culture
28:30 Rachel’s goal is to be a General Manager
31:35 Rachel uses Anson Dorrance’s “competitive cauldron” methodology with her players – maximizing human behavior and making practice matter
39:50 The competitive cauldron teaches people to be better teammates
40:19 Rachel describes herself as a generalist; Exos; LSU Olympic Weightlifting
43:50 Why baseball?
45:08 Rachel set out to move major league baseball forward
46:17 Rachel faced heavy discrimination as a female trying to get into baseball
47:57 Being a hitting coach is so much more fun than being a strength and conditioning coach
48:38 Rachel’s mentor, Dillon Lawson, got her interested in hitting by introducing her to eye tracking science
51:01 What’s next for Rachel?
54:58 Change is incremental; “The slow blade penetrates the shield” – gratuitous Dune quote
56:06 Rachel’s Socials
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