The year was 2018. I’d graduated from college a year earlier and had just gotten my first head strength and conditioning job for the football team at the University of St. Thomas, my alma mater. Set on making my mark and “moving the needle,” I focused on all the small details because “how you do one thing is how you do everything,” right? 🙂
I remember spending weeks mapping out that first program—the sets, the reps, the words I would say, the speech I would give, the clothes I would wear—and it all started with the legendary warm-up! If I wanted to be THE COACH and EARN THEIR RESPECT, it was all going to be systemized—purposeful—neat—clean and straight! After lining them up like soldiers, we went through every RAMP movement you could think of, from the feet to the head, from the skips to the high knees! If we didn’t touch a line or got out of one, we did it again. If we talked or goofed off, we ran it back. What a WELL-OILED MACHINE—I remember the praise from the athletic directors and sport coaches at that time for “how good they looked.” MAN, WHAT A GOOD COACH I WAS MAKING OUT TO BE!
All was great—until about a month later, when I walked past a group of athletes mumbling about “going to go do the stupid warm-up circle jerk” and how “it was the longest part of their day.” The mobility started turning to groans, and the skips and “sprint prep” to disgust—my clipboard was full, and my brain was empty.
“I just wish the warm-ups didn’t have to suck,” an athlete said.
And that’s when it hit me—they don’t.Stuck spending time appeasing the athletic trainers, directors & head coaches, I had forgotten about the athletes right in front of my eyes…Our sessions were dead, stale, boring, says @AustinJochum. Click To Tweet
Stuck spending time appeasing the athletic trainers, directors, and head coaches, I had forgotten about the athletes right in front of my eyes. Our sessions were safe and clean, so I could never be challenged. They were dead—stale—boring, and by the book. JUST LIKE ME.
Is this really what I had worked so hard to do? Was it all so I could get a pat on the head and a “good boy” from some other lost ape higher up on some imaginary totem pole? Or was there something more there?
This was the catalyst to start my exploration into what a session really could be. To re-embrace the beauty and joy that comes with movement…and embrace it, I did.
It’s Bigger Than Your Clipboard
So many times, we make movement a chore and then wonder why the athletes treat it like one. We program it like a task to do, a bucket to fill—a list of things to check off. Always “building up” for some imaginary future, never being in the very real present. You have athletes right in front of you, looking, listening, and embracing this very moment—maybe the reason they don’t want to be there is because you give them no reason to be.
Whether you like it or not, you will have a lifelong impact on how they see movement—working out and their bodies and what they are capable of.
So many times, we make movement a chore and then wonder why the athletes treat it like one. Whether you like it or not, you’ll have a lifelong impact on how they see movement, says @AustinJochum. Click To Tweet
FOR THE REST OF THEIR LIVES.
I can’t tell you how many athletes, clients, and family members I have heard spout some nonsense some coach told them 5–20 years ago that still affects their relationship with movement here in the present day.
From “You shouldn’t squat; it’s bad for your knees” to “You need to foam roll for 30 minutes a day, or you’ll be stiff and immobile,” your words, your philosophies, and your methods matter way more than you know. It’s so much bigger than what’s on your clipboard. You have the ability to create a playground for athletes to express themselves physically, mentally, and spiritually—a playground many of them never had as kids and one they will play on for the rest of their lives if done correctly.
Embracing the Mess
One of the biggest things that broke me out of the old indoctrination of the “neat and orderly” was watching the chaos that is sport. As a movement problem-solving master, you will face a multitude of movement problem-solving masters who, in turn, create more movement problems for you to solve in a multitude of environments that, in turn, create even more movement problems…no two ever being the same.
How does that compare to your typical warm-up or agility and movement sessions? How often do these movement problems actually change for the athletes? How often are you actually challenging them in ways they need to be challenged? A paradox of straight lines—pretty pictures and uniformity we never see in sport or life. If it’s clean and gets cleaner, it’s probably for you, not them.
Video 2. This setup is much faster and can be done with two foam boxes as well!
It’s this simple to set up a game of Jochum ball:
You place two nets on each side of the court, with a “three-point arc” a good distance away from the nets, and create two teams.
- Dribble to move.
- Passes allowed.
- Call your own fouls on basketball defense.
- Shots from outside of the three-point arc and alley-oops/trick shots are worth two points; dunks and lay-ups are worth one.
- Fouls give you two shots from the top of the key.
If playing with a spikeball net, the ball must land directly in the center for the point to count—any touching of the rim is a miss. If going for a dunk, you must take off from outside the three-point arc and have your shot off before you land inside!
This game has been a crowd favorite for the basketball junkies working on:
- Basic defensive and offensive strategies and creativity.
- Lots of contact prep.
- Jumping and landing under context and small space cuts.
We love this one before we go to a more open field representative type SSG or longer sprints.
Make it messy, then embrace it.
Stimulus Is Stimulus
I think another thing that goes unbelievably under the radar with coaches when it comes to “games” is just how much stimulus you can get in in such a short period. Whether sprints – jumps – cuts – throws – mobility – positions—if you watch and track, the game-based model will expose your athletes to more positions at greater ranges of motions at higher speeds for way longer periods of time than you could ever possibly program.The game-based model will expose your athletes to more positions at greater ranges of motions at higher speeds for way longer periods of time than you could ever possibly program, says @AustinJochum. Click To Tweet
I first had this realization when I started bouldering. Within three months, my hip mobility was the best it had ever been—without ever doing a singular “mobility drill” or stretch. I slowed down the videos and just watched what was happening: hours on hours of “mobility work” disguised as play. Now that’s what we’re looking for!
Spikeball by itself is a super simple game that, along with the multitude of other benefits, can just expose your body to more positions in 10 minutes than an entire warm-up could ever dream to.
Video 3. “Sapien ball” floor ball game.
Another one I really like is Sapien ball. In this game, we use a slightly bigger bouncy ball (an exercise ball works as well), and the objective is to score a goal. Usually, we play teams of four or five to a score of three, often running a “best of three” series.
The ball must stay on the ground unless you are punting/passing with basketball defensive rules in place. You must shoot the ball on net from outside the crease, and typically, we play no goalies! I have seen athletes stay in close to a 10-minute squat position, all while solving movement problems on the fly, working with their teammates, and having a ton of fun! This one is a keeper.
Give Them a Reason To
If you want your athletes to run faster – jump higher – lift more – be quicker – score more – play better defense—give them a reason to. If you want your athletes to athlete—let them. So many times, we get in our own way and our athlete’s way instead of just letting them do what they do best, which is solve movement problems at a high level for the sake of enjoyment.So often, we get in our own way and our athlete’s way instead of letting them do what they do best, which is solve movement problems at a high level for the sake of enjoyment, says @AustinJochum. Click To Tweet
If your athletes aren’t doing this, the movement problems you’re giving them probably suck—that’s on you, not them. Build an environment where they feel challenged, pushed, and driven to do these things, and I bet it happens pretty organically.
From simple things like:
Gamification should not be stuck to strictly “games and agility.”
By far, the biggest question I get when it comes to the process of “Game On” is, “But how do you create these games?” And the answer is, annoyingly, “Just create.” You get better at things by doing them, and the act of creation is no different.
Here are a couple of ways I challenge coaches to do so:
So many coaches are “stuck in their box” because they literally stuff themselves in that box: the same racks, machines, tools, and clipboards you have always had access to, turning into your comfort blankets and binkies. Leave the weight room—just start in a different location—the farther away, the better. But even just getting to the field or wrestling room or basketball arena can do a lot for coaches.
- Pick a Tool and Use It
Another great method is to pick objects and force yourself to create a game out of them—a box and a ball, a stick and a wall—it doesn’t matter what it is; we are in this for the creation process.
Video 4. PVC pipe spikeball rally warm-up game.
- One Unplanned Day a Week (I went to the kids section at Target an hour before our session and found these hockey sticks—made for an elite day).
I firmly believe that some of your program needs to be unplanned. I just shattered the “two years in advance” periodization folks’ brains, I know, but so many coaches run the same program for 10 years and pretend they have any growth. Time of service alone does not make a soldier—pick one day in your schedule when you don’t plan your warm-up/agility or maybe even the full workout for the day until you get to the session. Talk to your athletes and create something on the spot—the growth from this for you AND your athletes will be immense.
- One New Game a Week
Another challenge I give myself is that I have to create a new game every single week. I started to catch myself falling into the trap of using the same games over and over because I knew they worked and “hit,” but then I started to lose some of the magic of this creation process. So now, every Thursday, I force myself to come up with a brand-new game and see where it goes. Doing this will force you as a coach to continually work on your communication and teaching skills
Video 5. Footnet was a combination of, like, six terrible games we played, and it turned out epic!
- Let the Athletes Create (PVC pipe golf was created by an athlete, and it turned out pretty fun!)
Another thing I enjoy is letting the athletes create the warm-up and games. I do this as days where I walk in and tell them on the spot that they have it today, and also as homework, where I tell them the day before they have to come up with the game for tomorrow! Each of those gives the athlete a great sense of leadership and autonomy, and it really tests your ability to embrace the mess as a coach—because I promise it won’t be as pretty as you hope it will be.
- Embrace the Mess—You have to dig for the gold.
Rehashing this point, in the process of creation, there will be so much garbage, and that’s okay! You’ll have to change rules, equipment, and objectives on the fly! Sometimes, you will even have to throw the entire game out altogether halfway through! The number of games I’ve created that were trash far outweighs the number we’ve kept. But the process of learning and embracing this mess—both as an athlete and as a coach—greatly outweighs the negative of a sloppy game. And sometimes the worst games lead to the best sessions!
In conclusion—let’s make PE great again! Give these kids, athletes, and clients a reason to show up for nothing more than just wanting to be there. Embrace the session for the session itself! Let’s play first and worry about “training” second… I bet you still get a lot of work done if you just watch.
Keep Chopping Wood.
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