Jess Racz is the Owner of JR Performance, LLC, in Maryland. She is a WNBA, NBA, college, high school, and youth basketball performance trainer. Jess is a Certified Strength and Conditioning Coach and holds a B.S. in Health Promotion & Exercise Science.
Freelap USA: You had the incredibly tall task of opening your facility at the beginning of the pandemic. What were some of the struggles you faced, and how did you manage to stay the course during this time? What were some of the lessons you took from this moment, and were you able to apply those to your training philosophy?
Jess Racz: In all honesty, I got a very unrealistic view of how my business was ultimately going to run during the pandemic. In a way, it ended up benefiting me more financially because:
- Kids were off school with no sports.
- Parents now had more time to drive their kids or the kids themselves had more time to drive.
- Athletes needed some place to work out and keep in shape, and I was a very small gym that was still able to operate, unlike bigger gyms with a larger capacity.
Although the opening of my facility was delayed, I took all the equipment I bought (all bought a week before the world shut down, thank gosh), and I was able to have a pretty decent setup in my parent’s garage from March 2020 until July 2020. When the world started to go back to normal, unfortunately with some athletes and parents, I was the first thing to go—so I definitely had to adapt there.
Before I opened my facility, I started working with kids outside with limited equipment. So, when the pandemic hit, it wasn’t anything new for me, and I was able to adapt fairly quickly. That is one of the biggest lessons I learned: start with less than you need. Realistically, you don’t need the fancy, up-and-coming equipment to have a successful workout and get results.Start with less than you need. Realistically, you don’t need fancy, up-and-coming equipment to have a successful workout and get results, says @jr7performance. Click To Tweet
The other lesson I learned because of the pandemic—and the repercussions that came with it—is to always have a safety net of money in case things go south. Entrepreneurship in any fashion is never stable at first. There are peaks and valleys, good times and hard times, and you must be prepared financially and mentally for those tough times and valleys. I always make sure I have a six-month safety net, so that if no one comes into the facility, and I’m not making any money, I will be okay.
Freelap USA: One of the biggest parts of your training philosophy is building athlete trust and confidence. What are some of the tools you use to help develop that athlete/coach relationship? Why do you believe it is so important, especially for younger female athletes?
Jess Racz: Buy-in is everything. This industry is not only who you know, but who knows you, and RELATIONSHIPS. Opportunities come from relationships and word of mouth, but buy-in and trust come from RESULTS: providing the athlete in front of you with the results they are looking for to be successful on and off the court or field.
The second part of building buy-in and trust is authenticity: Be your unapologetic, authentic self at all times. No one can be better at being you than you.
The third part of building buy-in and trust is conversation. What I mean by this is you don’t need to be an extrovert (trust me, I am one of the biggest introverts and homebodies out there), but you do need to have the ability to talk to people and communicate in a way that your athletes understand and relates to their goals. This takes practice, so don’t worry. The more athletes you get, the more opportunities you have to step outside your comfort zone, and the more you practice talking to people, the better you will get!
When working with female athletes especially, building their confidence and self-esteem is key. You can’t help them build their confidence if you’re not authentically yourself and you don’t know them. It has to be more than just working out.
What are their goals? What are their likes and dislikes? What do they need? What do they want? What are their strengths? What are their struggles? What type of person do they need in their corner? Get to know who they are as a person, build them as a human being first, then build them as an athlete.
Freelap USA: What do you believe is one of the biggest benefits to fascial training? Why do you believe it transfers to basketball so well, and do you place more of a priority on this based on the athlete’s training age?
Jess Racz: Basketball is 3D movement. We’re operating in all planes of motion and in a variety of angles and positions. Therefore, I believe our training needs to reflect those demands, movements, angles, and positions in order to fully prepare athletes for the game of basketball (and life). Fascial training is a perfect way to accomplish this and train the lines of the body that best transfer to athletic endeavor.
We still lift, don’t get me wrong. You can’t forget the big rock of strength, but fascial training is a huge part of my training philosophy and programming with my athletes. It is usually included in the warm-up or as part of my movement prep, and those movements themselves usually reflect the theme of the rest of the workout. And I typically use fascial training or “fascial loading” no matter the training age.
Especially for my non-multisport athletes, it is important to use variability in my methods and expose them to different planes of motions and precarious positions and increase their bandwidth of movement to reduce the risk of injury while improving performance at the same time.
Freelap USA: What are some of the benefits you’ve noticed with your athletes when you have them train barefoot?
Jess Racz: The feet are the first thing to contact the floor and the last to leave the floor—our feet have to be mobile, durable, and awake, or we lose potential energy and power for explosiveness and increase our risk of injury! Plus, if my feet and ankles aren’t mobile, I won’t be able to get into the low positions basketball and sport require, which in turn puts more stress on my shins, knees, and hips.
One of the biggest benefits of barefoot training and low-hanging fruit for performance is a term called “proprioception,” which is the foundation of motor control and our ability to control our body in space and time. We have these sensors in our joints that are constantly sending signals back and forth between the joints and the brain.
In athletes, these signals in the feet are underdeveloped specifically because we’re in these big, clunky basketball shoes all the time, which means those signals or that conversation is slower. Slower “conversation” means less time for my body to adjust if I find myself in a compromised position or in an unpredictable movement pattern. No wonder we see basketball athletes spraining their ankles over and over again.Getting athletes out of their socks and shoes and challenging their body control strengthens the signals between their joints and brains and helps them build more efficient movement patterns. Click To Tweet
By building athletes’ proprioception through getting them out of their socks and shoes and challenging their body control, body awareness, and balance through various exercises and modalities, we can start to strengthen this communication signal. This will reduce their risk of lower-extremity injuries and improve the ability for their joints and muscles to fire at the right time for more efficient movement patterns.
Freelap USA: As a strength coach and a sport performance coach, do you try to find ways to blend both elements of S&C and sport skills into one training session? Or do you prefer to differentiate the two and focus on each as their own priority on a given training day?
Jess Racz: I believe the training we do in the weight room should reflect what we see on the court or field and in life. And the training we do should PREPARE our athletes for what they will see. Sport is chaotic and unpredictable. At the end of the day, the number one job as a strength and conditioning coach is longevity. The best ability is availability. If athletes are able to play more and play longer without suffering through injury and setbacks, we’ve done our job successfully.
When it comes to blending performance and skill, it doesn’t mean take a sport move and make it sport-specific in the weight room (or take other crazy exercises we see on social media). But everything we do in the weight room should have a specific purpose and transfer to their sport. It is important to communicate that to our athletes as well, since that is a huge part of the buy-in process and building a positive relationship between performance training and sport. When athletes believe in something, that is when results can skyrocket to unlock their athletic and genetic potential.
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