Assistant Professor of Physical Education and Exercise Science Dr. Jeff Barfield, the newest winner of Lander University's Young Faculty Scholar Award, was a pitcher in college. As he puts it, "I was able to take my interest from playing and carry that into academia."
As a pitcher, Barfield was interested in what he could do to improve his performance on the mound, and after suffering two elbow injuries, he developed an interest in injury avoidance, too, leading ultimately to his career as a specialist in upper extremity biomechanics.
Barfield's pitching career took off after a strong season at Lake City Community College, in Lake City, Fla., when he was offered a scholarship to study biology and play baseball for the University of Florida. He was a member of the Florida baseball team that won the Southeastern Conference East Division title in 2009. Following his senior campaign in 2010, when the Gators won the SEC championship and played in the College World Series, he was offered a contract by the Detroit Tigers. He pitched for two years in the minor leagues before being released by the Tigers during spring training in 2012.
During his minor league career, Barfield also earned a master's degree in exercise science and health promotion from California University of Pennsylvania. When his playing days were over, he returned to his hometown, Perry, Ga., to teach biology, anatomy and physiology at Westfield High School, serving also as a baseball and football coach.
After leaving Westfield in 2013, he coached baseball, with stops at Abraham Baldwin Agricultural College, in Tifton, Ga.; The Galloway School, in Atlanta, Ga.; and Stratford Academy, in Macon, Ga. He served in various capacities during his coaching career, including pitching coach, strength and conditioning coach, and recruiting coordinator.
For a year, beginning in 2015, he worked at Athletic Republic in Albany, Ga., directing the CrossFit training program and also managing the facility itself, after which he accepted a graduate assistantship at Auburn University, where he taught courses such as Wellness, Training and Conditioning, and Biomechanical Analysis of Human Movement. In August 2019, he graduated with a Ph.D. in kinesiology with a concentration in biomechanics, and started work at Lander the same month.
Barfield was hired, in part, to establish a biomechanics lab at Lander, and that's what he's been busy doing.
"It's come a long way from when I got here," he said. "Now it's fully equipped, and it's able to collect data. I've already had conversations with the baseball team here, and the softball team, and they're both interested in coming into the lab starting in the fall to get research done on their pitchers. I'm really excited to get that started, both to help them but also to give the undergraduates here that are in the program an opportunity to work in the research field and get to look at motion from an analytical standpoint."
The focus of the lab, like his research, is "to help prevent injury, and improve performance."
To win Lander's Young Faculty Scholar Award, a faculty member has to have an impressive record of publications, and Barfield does. In the past two years, he has published 11 articles in peer reviewed journals, and two additional articles have been accepted for publication. The most recent example is "Energy Generation, Transfer, and Absorption at the Shoulder and Elbow in Youth Baseball Pitchers," which has just been accepted by the journal "Sports Biomechanics."
Barfield teaches some of the same courses at Lander that he has taught elsewhere, along with classes like Exercise Biomechanics and Motor Learning. He said he enjoys "the interaction with students - being able to see someone light up and get it. That's what thrills me about it."
Education is not "memorization of facts, but teaching a student how to think. I try to get students to think about motion - about anatomy and physiology - on a deeper level, and how it all works together," he said.
His professional goal is to keep growing students' interest in his field. "I want to help them understand what movement is and help them understand that it is complicated, but it's also very cool. I want them to grow a passion about it, so that when they leave here, they can make a difference," he said.
Barfield said that his three-year-old has developed a passion for hitting balls off a tee in his yard. He was asked if that means he is raising a hitter, rather than a pitcher.
"We will see," he said.