My “Quitting Energy Drinks” Experiment

I love energy drinks. There, I said it. I tell people, “I’ve never been drunk in my life, never did drugs, never smoked a cigarette, so this is my only vice”. While all of that is true, I’ve always prided myself on being “in control” and not being addicted to anything.  I remember as a kid, watching my parents trying to quit smoking.  They did, but it was hard for them.  I never wanted to lose control like that. But now I really am addicted to energy drinks and I have to write about it to set goals and stop the madness!

I remember how it started: I live in Florida now, but when my wife and I were living near Charlotte, N.C., we went back to my hometown of Buffalo, New York to visit family and friends (this had to be around 2008 or 2009). My friend Jack, who works for a beer manufacturer, said they just started carrying Monster Energy Drinks. At the time, I was probably an 80% water, 10% milk, and 10% Gatorade drinker. I rarely, if ever drank soda, and never drank alcohol. Jack offered me a large Monster “import” drink with a sweet sliding opener/closer that added to the experience.  It was game on after that!

So back in NC, I began “rewarding” myself twice a week after going to the gym by drinking a Monster or Xyience that my brother brought up from Florida which we started selling at our family store.  That continued until I moved back to Florida in 2010 to teach and work part-time at the store.  It was pretty subtle: I would have 2 per week, then maybe 3-4, then it became one a day in a matter of about a year!  For awhile, I was holding the “one per day” rule, but I found myself every now and then breaking that (I still have never done more than 2 in a day!).  The problem was on the days I was working a “double”, teaching PE in the morning at school then going to our grocery store, I would have one in the morning, and couldn’t wait to go get another one working at night.  So the “one-a-day” became “2-a-days” twice a week.

My wife hated this (and still does).  She’d text me links to stories of kids and adults who died from energy drinks.  I’d tell her they usually had alcohol mixed with them or bad hearts to begin with, or they drank like 5 of them in a row (which often was true), but I would be okay.  I’ve always prided myself on my health, being a personal trainer and physical education teacher, and enjoying going to the gym and working out, so I just told myself I could “work it out of my system”.  As I’m writing this, I can’t believe all my excuses!

Our store closed about a month ago after 22 years, which has been really hard for me.  I miss the people and the grocery business as a whole, and that was a big part of me.  I could write a whole book on the store, but I’ll save that for later.  What we did get from the store was a lot of leftovers that no one bought.  We donated a lot, but kept some things, along with a bunch of energy drinks!  So for the past month, it’s been about 2 per day plus some soda whenever.  I’ve noticed being tired a lot at 7 or 8 pm, and I really believe it’s the “crashing” of my body from the highs and lows of the drinks.  This has to end!

Now that my “supply” has dwindled, I think this summer is the perfect time to stop the madness and end my addiction (that word was difficult for me to type)!  I’ve thought about a few ways to do this, but I’m not sure…

  1. Have a “farewell” week, where I drink what’s left (about 10 cans of soda), then stop for good.
  2. Stop now and throw everything out.
  3. Buy a 4-pack per week for 2 weeks and slowly cut down to 2 per week, then 1 then none.

I know I’ve tried to stop “cold-turkey” before and it didn’t work.  Without as much access to it (our grocery store), I’ll keep it out of the house and not have to look at it while I work.  I’m wondering if #3, while it’s not the best option, might be the best for me- Zero soda, but 4 a week for 2 weeks, followed by 2 weeks of 2 cans per week, then 2 weeks of 1 can a week, then done!  

I like this option the best for me, even though I’m scared I might grab one at the gas station or something.  I’m going to add to my plan with more help:

  1. My wife said she’d give something up (she’s not sure yet what it is).
  2. We’re going to work with our 6 year old daughter to break her habit of sucking her thumb.
  3. My son needs more IPAD boundaries.
  4. I’ll put the $$$ I normally spend on the drinks into savings and we’ll go to Universal Studios next year with it.  I figure about $1.50-$2.00 per day so I’ll put $50 aside per month.  If I need to, I’ll pull a “Tim Ferriss” and give the money to a cause I dislike!  I’d rather not, but it’s a thought.

I’ll keep referring back to this post, but to remind myself of why I’m doing this:

  1. My health: I need this “liquid poison” out of my system!  It’s bad for my heart, my teeth and there’s just too many unknowns and not enough long-term studies done so far.
  2. My energy levels: I get a jolt in the mornings, but crash way too early at night and I think it’s because of them.  After this experiment, I’ll find out if it’s true.
  3. My family: This should be first, but as an obvious side-effect of not great health and energy, I’ll lose time with my kids because I don’t have the stamina to spend quality time with them and my wife.  What could be more important?
  4. The loss of control: I don’t like anything “owning” me.  This is no exception.

So I need some alternatives.  I love water, but I’ll need something else to substitute for the drinks.  Here’s my ideas:

  1. Flavored water: I like Mio and Crystal Light mixed in my water bottles, along with lemons.
  2. Gatorade: A lot of sugar, but an option.
  3. Club soda with limes or lemons: I really like the taste and it has that fizz I need.  This might be the winner!

I think all 3 might come into play.  I’m starting Monday.  I need this and need to write about it.  I’m putting it out there for others to follow along and keep me accountable.  Maybe this will help someone else quit a tough habit.  I’d love to hear about it and your thoughts regarding this difficult journey.  Thanks and wish me luck and discipline!  As former Navy Seal Jocko Willink put bluntly: “Discipline equals freedom”.  Well said.




Dance In PE class?

I admit I secretly want to be Justin Timberlake.  I mean he acts, sings, produces, but boy can he dance!  I can’t dance even close to how he does but that doesn’t stop me.  When I put on my headset at PE class in front of 120 students (grades K-5), I become JT, N’Sync, Backstreet Boys and New Kids on the Block all in one!  If you could see my students jumping up and down and doing all the moves with me, you’d be amazed.  How does this happen?

When students come into my class, they immediately go to a “dot’, a painted circle on the cement under the pavilion.  I or one of my paras will tell the class to go to a certain color and sit or stand if it’s time to start.  I want my class to start with high-energy!  I use my Bluetooth Steambot Mini that plugs into my stereo system so my phone now controls the music.  I like to mix things up, so I use one of options: Apple Music, Fit Radio, Garage Band, or Tempo Magic Pro.

The easiest and most used app we use is Apple Music sharing.  For a monthly fee, I can access any song without owning it outright.  We stream the music, choreograph the songs, or just make moves up as we go.  Most of the time it’s Kidz Bop, but often I’ll play my favorites like TobyMac, Newsboys and even some 80’s hits I grew up with!

Fit Radio I use for the older students (3-5) when I want pure exercise and not a lot of dance.  Some of the 5th graders especially would rather not dance so I’ll often give them a choice of dance or a lap or two around the track.  With Fit Radio, continuous mixes are created for you using popular songs with high-energy beats.  You can choose from different DJ’s, tempos and genres depending on the mood and the atmosphere you’d like to create.

Garage Band is for the mixes I make, which I call my “Music Montages”.  These songs I have to own, which I put into Garage Band, take pieces of the best portions of the songs, and put it together with a buffer sound (usually a crashing-type sound called a “boomer”) in between.  Check this out on my YouTube channel for an example-

Tempo Magic Pro is awesome!  I first learned about this app from Naomi Hartl.  If you own a song, you can download it in the app and, using a sliding scale, can change the tempo of the song (fast or slow) without it sounding like “Alvin and the Chipmunks”!  The younger students absolutely love it!  We go slow-motion to warp-speed in a few seconds! Here’s a sample of our class using it-

So what are you waiting for?  Dance in PE class is a great way to get students active and to start off your class with high-energy movement.  Check out my YouTube Channel for some dances and montages to follow along with  If you’d like my montages from my dropbox, please email me at  Happy dancing!



Connecting Disney and Education


My family spent Thanksgiving break at Disney as we have the past few years.  We live about 3 and 1/2 hours away, and we like to go when it’s a bit cooler, even though the crowds are bigger (or at least it feels that way!).  There’s something about the magic and atmosphere there that has to be experienced.  Our first day there we went to Animal Kingdom for the first time, then spent a couple of hours at Disney Springs (formerly Downtown Disney), taking in the shops, restaurants and people.  As it was Black Friday, it was almost impossible to park and harder still to walk around!  We did our best, then decided to come back Sunday morning to shop (and get our Wetzel Bitz-I love soft pretzels!).  Saturday was spent entirely at the Magic Kingdom.  My son and daughter had a blast!  We were there for over 10 hours and didn’t even scratch the surface of all the things we wanted to ride and do.

As always, I try to be a keen observer of my environment and how I can connect incredible experiences and ideas to physical education.  Last year when we were at Disney Springs, a DJ had the crowd (including myself) dancing and chanting along to a bunch of hits from the 60’s to today, using small samples of each song.  I took that idea back with me and began making “music montages” that now serve as some of our warm-up songs in class.  The kids, especially K-3 love them!!!  The older students are a little more hit or miss with them, but watching 100-120 students singing, dancing and moving to my mixes is amazing to watch!

So what were my findings this trip?  Here’s a few that I noticed:

  1. Amazing Customer Service: One of the things that separates Disney from most companies is their friendliness, professionalism, and all-round customer service.  We were late getting into the Magic Kingdom on Saturday morning, missing our fast pass time for a ride.  My wife went to their office and the kind “Castmember” gave us a fast pass for that ride good for any time the rest of the day.  The workers are always friendly, always present (not playing with their phones!), and always striving to help customers like myself have magical Disney experiences.  PE application:  It’s not always easy, but we need to talk to the students as they arrive, asking them how their day has been, commenting/complimenting them on their clothes, hair, or something they did that was positive.  I’m not perfect with this, having 100+ students per class, but I try to greet the classes with a smile, help tie shoelaces, give high-fives, and accommodate them as best as I can.  Also, learn the student’s names.  It’s really difficult to learn 1000 or so names, and I don’t have them all memorized (especially the kinders!), but I work hard to remember names, as it’s extremely important to the children to know you care. All students deserve a quality PE experience, and you never know what some of them go home to.  We need to be their light and structure because quite often they don’t have that after 3 pm.
  2. Focus on niches: You won’t believe this, but at Disney Springs there’s a shop for left-handed people!  My son went over to the outdoor store and wanted something there, but I told him he was a righty so we needed to move on.  Now that’s a niche!  Why would a store do that?  I think with millions of people going there each year, it’s probably a good bet that either left handed people or their relatives find some unique gifts to buy from them.  PE application:  Find your “Niche”.  I can’t do every cool thing or use every new app that’s out there, and trust me I want to, but I have to focus and play to my strengths.  I can complain all day long about having 120 students in 95 degree Florida weather outside, but I’ve come to embrace it and do the best I can for them.  My niche is getting a lot of kids moving, learning and having fun at the same time!  I love SOLO Taxonomy, cooperative learning portfolios (sportfolios), TGFU, sport education units and many other teaching methods, but I can’t do it all, and I don’t have enough devices (or Wifi available) to make all these things happen.  So instead, I blend them and mix them into my program.  For instance, every spring we have a sport ed. tchoukball tournament with our 5th graders.  It’s an incredible experience, and our final game is held inside our cafeteria, which we turn into a stadium complete with loud music and capacity seating! I wish we had the time, smaller groups and resources to do this all year with 3rd and 4th graders as well, but it’s just too difficult.  But we make it work and it’s an experience the 5th graders cherish and the 4th graders can’t wait until it’s their turn!

  3. Cleanliness: It’s rare to see garbage on the ground at any Disney park.  Not only do castmembers constantly walk around picking things up, but I’ve read that touch-up painting occurs nightly on Main Street and other places in the parks. PE applicationMake sure the students have a nice, clean, organized PE environment.  I will sweep the pavilion or ask our custodians to use their leaf blower to get the debris off our cement where the students come in and sit.  Also, organize stations and equipment so the class can easily flow from one station to another.  It’s the little things that make a big difference sometimes.

  4. Something for everyone: So I know #2 contradicts this, but at Disney Springs, along with the left-handed store, there was music playing at every corner on that Friday night.  There were rap-battles, country music singers, djs, jazz, pop singers…you name it, it was covered!  If you liked music, you could find your style.  PE application: Give the students choices.  Have something for everyone.  I don’t always give 6 classes choices every day, but on Fun Friday, students are given a lot of choices, ranging from Pillow Polo (a cross between hockey and soccer), jump roping, hula hooping, basketball, paddle ball, 4 square, and many others.  Let them explore new things, but give them a chance to do what they enjoy.

All in all, my time at Disney was fantastic! We had a lot of fun as a family, but I’m always looking for ways to improve our PE class for my students.  They deserve the best, so let’s give it to them!

Be Like Robert Plant


I love Led Zeppelin!!! The loud anthems.  The mystique.  Jimmy Page’s guitar solos.  John Bonham’s pounding drums.  And, of course, Robert Plant’s high pitch squeals.  I didn’t start to enjoy their music until after 1980 when Bonham tragically died, so I never saw them in concert or experienced their magic.  To make up for it, I’ve watched every video and documentary I could find, devoured at least 5 books about them, and listened to every song they’ve ever played (to my knowledge).  My favorite song is “Going to California”, in case you were wondering.

The band reunited for Live Aid, and sounded as good as they could for not practicing much and the size of the stadium (and quality of my rabbit-eared television!).  Then that was it for a long time except for little projects here and there.  Even though there were always rumors of them getting back together, Plant had moved on.  His solo career had begun.

Then in 2007, they played the O2 in London for a one day event with Bonham’s son, Jason taking his dad’s place on the drums, and the magic was back!  Sure Robert Plant’s voice had matured a lot and he didn’t even try his signature high pitch notes, but they looked like they were making a comeback.  The show sold out in a minute.  Millions of people tried to get tickets to their show that held thousands of people.  I was hopeful.

But it was not to be.  I read an article in a magazine a while back.  In it, Plant said he was in Led Zeppelin from when he was 19-32 years of age.  Then, as a 32 year old, he wanted to move on to something else.  He said that the band was only a small part of his early life….Are you kidding me??  A small part??  They were one of the greatest bands ever and he thought Led Zeppelin was a mere stopping point on his full journey as an artist?  So, as promised, he moved on.  He was and still is a successful solo artist, as well as heading up the Band Of Joy and collaborating with Allison Krauss.  He even won a Grammy.  But he said that Led Zep was just another part of his life, when he was younger, and he didn’t want to be like the Rolling Stones: 65 years old and running around on stage like when he was in his 20’s.  To him, LZ was in the past.  His bandmates tried to get him to do one more tour, one last time for the fans (and a lot of $$$!).  They reportedly were offered $200 million!!!  How could he turn that down? I told my wife, who doesn’t like them at all, that I would pay anything and go anywhere to see them one time.  Lucky for her and our bank account, this probably won’t happen!

This got me thinking and rereading some of Plant’s reasons for not putting one of the greatest rock bands ever back together.  He said things like ,”I’ve got to keep moving”, and “You have to be creative and imaginative and move on”, to “I don’t know the guy who sang in Led Zeppelin (anymore)”.

What am I getting at?  Integrity. Passion.  Keep moving.  Keep innovating.  Change and evolve.  These ideas are not just words on paper.  They are anthems as big as “Stairway to Heaven”.

How does this apply to a physical education teacher?  First I’d say stick to your guns.  If you’re doing what is best for students, keep doing it.  There have been many times I’ve been questioned as to my methods and wacky ideas, but I knew it was right.  I knew my kids better than anyone if it was the best game, idea, project, or guest speaker for them.

Next, keep moving forward.  I actually feel bad for Jimmy Page of Zeppelin.  He never let go of the Led Zeppelin legacy.  As successful as he’s been, he is constantly remastering and changing the Zeppelin songs.  It doesn’t seem like he does much else.  It’s all he’s ever quoted about in interviews. He’s over 70 years old and holding on to his past. Plant has a new CD out and is going back on tour this year. Don’t teach the same thing for 20 years and call it a career.  This is my 7th year teaching PE and I’ll admit years 1 and 2 weren’t great.  Then I got on Twitter and Voxer and started having amazing conversations with educators all over the world!  Research new ideas, games and methods.  Put in the work and be honest with yourself.  Are you doing the best you can for your students?  I’ve always said being a PE teacher is easy; being a great PE teacher isn’t.

Finally, Go Big!  Led Zeppelin entered the rock scene and showed the world a sound that had never been heard before.  No one sounded louder, put on a more sensational show, and changed music the way they had.  Be different.  Be creative.  Keep innovating.  And stay the course, no matter what the critics say.  Robert would approve.



The Reality Distortion Field in Physical Education

In the Walter Isaacson’s book, “Steve Jobs”, Bud Tribble at Apple claimed that Jobs created a “reality distortion field”.  This was how Jobs would bend reality to convince himself and his team that the idea he had that seemed impossible, was in fact, possible and would be incredible.  People thought he was crazy, that deadlines couldn’t be met, that the budget wouldn’t work, but if Steve said it would happen, people got on board and made it a reality.

I will admit that I feel that way sometimes.  I see an idea online, read about something in a book, or hear it on Voxer, and I just know that I can tweek it, own it, and make it happen at my school.  It’s often a tough sell with the other 3 coaches on my team, with other teachers and even my administration, but I do my best to rally the troops and do something so different and outside the box that it blows everyone (including myself) away!  I don’t do this for my own glory, but for my students, who learn something new, something unforgettable, and something that will make them think that anything is possible!

Every day and year I try and improve my craft.  I want to bring new and exciting games and ideas to my K-5 students.  Here’s how my 6 years as a PE teacher has gone so far and the things I’ve added each year:

Year 1: I barely knew what was going on and was simply treading water the entire year.  If it wasn’t for Mark Manross and his @PE Central website full of fantastic ideas, I might not have survived!

Year 2: I added some new twists, got my routines down and had a lot of fun!  It was my first and only all-guy PE crew (me and 3 paras).  We had a great time with the kids, playing all types of games with them from dodgeball to capture the flag.  We also played a lot of pickleball, tennis and basketball, just the 4 of us after school. Our principal allowed us to grill out on Fridays which was great, but in hindsight, I don’t feel like I was pushing my teaching abilities to the limit.  But that was all I knew, to make a poor excuse.  There was (and still is) virtually no professional development for PE teachers in my district.  I didn’t realize there was an entire P.E. World out there waiting on me to discover it…yet!

Year 3: Breakthrough!  Actually, 2 of my paras left to teach elsewhere, so I got 2 new ones…females.  We added more dance to our warm-ups, started bringing in some guest speakers and new units (a semi-pro football team, bike trailer, less standing in lines and more movement-based games).  At the end of the school year, I started reading It’s Now Possible, by Jarrod Robinson (@mrrobo), the “PE Geek” and quickly realized this was only the beginning of what my program could be.  I was energized and couldn’t wait to start a fresh year 4!

Summertime between years 3 and 4: I ran a sports camp with one of my paras and was able to purchase an Ipad mini with an adapter that could plug into our projector in the media center or cafeteria on rainy days.  I started purchasing apps and became a PE Geek member, receiving advice and free apps on a monthly basis.  My head was exploding with possibilities for the new year.  I also joined Twitter and then Voxer which changed the game for me.  I began speaking to PE teachers from all over the world about best practices in education.  This was incredible to me: speaking directly to so many amazing and inspiring teachers like @andyvasily, @joeyfeith, @SchleiderJustin, @NicholasEndlich, @PhysedNow (Jorge Rodriguez), and @LovePhyEd (Jo Bailey), to name a few. No more dodgeball, elimination games or standing around for my students!  I wanted to start my own PE revolution no matter what everyone else thought.  I couldn’t wait until the school year started!

Year 4: This was the first and only time, thus far that I began the year with the entire team I had ended the previous year with. We jumped right back into making our program the best that it could be. I attended a seminar that was hosted by the Foundation for Education in my county regarding grant opportunities and knew that it could be done at my school in my department. I sat down with one of my paras and she and I began to outline and draft several ideas we had then sifted through our options and developed 2 grant plans, wrote the proposal and waited. We eventually found out that both of the grants were awarded to our school and the merchandise would be headed our way very soon! This meant my students would be able to utilize heart rate monitors, funky cones, and Dance Dance Revolution with additional training pads and pedometers.  We really pushed our technology limits that year.  We also incorporated a tchoukball sports education unit for our 5th graders.  Tchoukball is a fantastic invasion game that requires a lot of communication and cooperation.  We turned tchoukball into our big 5th grade project for the year, with a round-robin style tournament and final game in the cafeteria that resembled an arena filled with fans going crazy for their teams!  We’ve now done this for 3 years since then, as our “annual” tournament.

Years 5 and 6: I’m still learning, revising and adding to our program, such as a martial arts unit for our 2nd graders taught by a local school, a nearby college comes in to teach basketball and baseball for a day, and we’ve added even more dance into our warm-ups.  It’s amazing that inspiration is everywhere!  Our family goes to Disney World once a year, and this past November we were walking around Disney Springs (formerly Downtown Disney).  There was a DJ playing music on a stage, and everyone was singing and dancing along to bits and pieces of famous songs.  As soon as we got home I began creating these “montages” to play at PE.  The kids absolutely love it! Songs that I formerly couldn’t play because of inappropriate words are now ok because I just play the parts that are acceptable for the students (like “Everybody” by the Backstreet Boys- 1 “bad” word!).  My goal is to keep incorporating new and exciting ideas, games and concepts to enhance my student’s knowledge and keep them engaged and moving, and to become physically active for a lifetime.  Create your own “Reality Distortion Field”!  Year 7, here I come!

Empowering Students to Run an Ed Camp


“What if I do this, what could happen?” These are the words that echoed in my mind this past summer after leaving the National P.E. Institute in Asheville, North Carolina. My mind was flooded with outstanding ideas that I was anxious and excited to share with my team, some that I knew would benefit our program and others I wanted to try, but wasn’t quite sure how. I knew with the help of the other Coaches I work alongside, we would be able to take the vision I created in my mind and turn it into a reality. I will admit, I had a feeling that some of these ideas might take some convincing, but could be extraordinary if we just gave them a try!

One of these said ideas was a P.E. Ed Camp. This concept was presented by a group called The Physedagogy team; this group was comprised of Collin Brooks, Sarah G-H (her real name is really long!), Naomi Hartl, Matt Pomeroy, Jonathan Jones, Adam Howell, and Bill Bode. The notion behind an Ed Camp is simple: a person or group of people come together to teach something they are interested in, skilled in or is important to them. The beauty of an Ed Camp is that you by no means have to be an expert, you just need foundational knowledge.  If someone attends your session and has something positive to add they may do so in a respectful manner which will in return create a state of collaboration and teamwork.

Adam explained that one of the key aspects of this is to remember you “vote with your feet”; meaning if something appears to interest you, but you find that it really is not for you then you simply remove yourself from that session and try something else. The idea of moving from one station to another is not meant to be an insult to the presenter or the topic but rather an opportunity for people to gain knowledge in an area that is interesting to them. Being the type of person I am, this was a bit of a struggle for me. I attended a session and realized that it was not exactly what I thought it would be, however, out of fear of appearing to be rude, I stayed planted in my seat. I found myself wondering if maybe there was some other session going on that I would receive a greater benefit from.

Here is the problem for me! I live in Fort Myers, Florida where no one in my county had ever heard of an Ed Camp. My solution was simple, in theory at least… I would create my own. My Ed Camp would look very different than most simply because I see more than 100 students in a specific grade level on any given day. I knew that if I attempted to do this on a Saturday or after school the turn out wouldn’t be great. My thought was I could do this with 4th and 5th graders during their P.E. class. To understand why this would work, you first have to understand what my schedule looks like. Our school is on an 8 day rotational schedule for specials- Art, Music and P.E., therefore we see our students, on average, 4 times a week. As a result of this schedule, I realized that if I spent 2 days putting this crazy idea into action, it would not be a complete loss even if it did not go well. This crazy idea would also be an opportunity for me to demonstrate more than 1 of the Florida P.E. Standards rather than simply talking about them.

  • 4.R.6.1: Discuss how physical activity can be a positive opportunity for social interaction
  • 5.R.6.1: Describe how participation in physical activity is a source of self- expression and meaning.
  • 4.R.5.2 List ways to encourage others while refraining from insulting/negative.

To set the stage for this idea I first created a Google Form that provided students with the opportunity to sign up to be teachers for any given sport or fitness technique that was of interest to them.ed camp sign up

The response at first was slow, however, I did not lose faith that this would be a success! Each day students were given the opportunity to sign up and encouraged to do so for 2 weeks. By this point in the game the 3 other P.E. Coaches had caught my vision for this and together we reinforced how amazing it would be to see students sharing knowledge with one another. Little by little the list grew of students looking to share their passion with classmates as individuals or in pairs. With each day that passed we became more and more excited to see how this would all play out.

My team and I reviewed the list of students who signed up and what they wanted to teach. The list had variety- gymnastics, dance, soccer drills, football throws, hockey stick handling, hula hooping, and juggling to name a few.  I can’t disregard the fact that a few of the proposed lessons scared me but one of my teammates continued to tell me it would all be okay. All I could do was pray she was right! The idea of a 9 year old teaching anything about Tae Kwon Do or a 10 year old showing off skateboard skills was a bit terrifying to me.

As show time approached I took time to explain the role of students who were going to be learning while one of the other coaches, Coach B, explained the role of those who would be teaching to that specific group of students. She reminded them to follow the expectations of our school: Be Respectful, Be Responsible and Be Safe. It was required that they respect the students decisions to come and go from station to station and not be judgmental of any questions that were asked. The “teachers” were responsible for bringing in and or collecting from our storage room the supplies they would need to present their session. Some of them were required to bring in safety gear such as helmets and knee pads but all of them had to be aware if we felt that they were not being safe we would stop their session immediately.

The students were not allowed to simply show up and “wing it”.  We wanted them to put some thought into what they were going to be teaching, therefore a simple lesson plan was required. These student teachers were able to turn in a paragraph or a thinking map of some sort to explain and illustrate what they were planning on highlighting. I was very pleased to see they were excited and willing to do whatever we asked of them in preparation for the big day!

In the days leading up to our main event I passed the reins over to Coach B to plan and coordinate who would be teaching which sessions on which day based off of the classes that would be present on that particular Thursday and Friday. We wanted to make sure that the days had an equal number of stations (or close to it) and not an overabundance of one specific skill or sport. She sorted the lessons and the classes and prepared a schedule and then met with all the student teachers to inform them of their day. Each one of them walked away looking slightly nervous but very excited to teach.schedule

The 1st day arrived and I will confess, I was very nervous that the day would not go smoothly and that we would end up having some kind of an issue. I was very excited to see what my students had to offer one another because I see on a daily basis how remarkable they all are. While I gave a brief overview of the day the teachers were gathering their materials, setting up and getting their bearings about them. The whistle blew and the fun began. Myself, alongside the other 3 coaches walked around monitoring the stations and student progress. The students were seen smiling and laughing as many of them courageously tried new things. As a result of this experimental Ed Camp we had children walk away from school having learned how to actually do a cartwheel for the first time. Time flew by and day 1 was over in the blink of an eye.

As we prepared for the second and final day I realized that while things did not go exactly the way I thought it would, it had been a success. I discovered a few things that needed to be tweaked and modified; On day 2 students were told that they could interject positive information into the lessons being presented, but, they could not take over the station. They also Students were shown a list of the station options and given a moment to think about what they wanted to do. The students who were returning to P.E. for the second day were excited and anxious to begin their day and as a result of that the students new to concept of P.E Ed Camp fed off of that positive energy. The whistle blew and the children scattered to different stations. At one point I looked over and saw our principal learning how to juggle!  I saw a group of girls practicing a cheer basket toss with spotters and the biggest smile you could imagine. On the basketball court I saw a student strapping his safety gear on classmates and helping them bravely climb on a skateboard to work on balance.

My students were given the opportunity to evaluate themselves and their experience. The overall consensus was positive. While some of them did not enjoy this unit, the vast majority did. I opened the floor to discussion and feedback from both 4th and 5th grade groups. For the most part, the students enjoyed learning from one another and not from the coaches, they felt like they were playing an active role in their own learning and not just going through the necessary and required motions. I had children smiling as they explained how fun it was to be allowed to offer their experiences to fellow classmates and others who were willing to try something new because the teacher was someone their age which meant to them that the task at hand was possible. Those who did not enjoy it came into the experience with a negative attitude. They were not interested in anything that a child had to say to them regardless of the level of experience and or knowledge being brought to the table.

This trial run taught me several lessons about myself, my team, my students and my ability to visualize an idea then make it a reality. I realized that I have big dreams for my program and genuinely believe they can happen. My team reminded me that they are willing to do whatever it takes to get the kids ready to try something new even if they have their own doubts. This Sports Ed Camp was something totally new and different and I knew how I wanted it to look, but not how to get there. I was playing a chess game backwards and it worked; it really worked!



Are You a Knuckleballer?

One of my favorite  books is Show Your Work, by Austin Kleon, who also wrote Steal Like an Artist (a great short read as well).  In it he discusses Toronto Blue Jay’s pitcher R.A. Dickey, a knuckleball pitcher.  The thing about knuckleballers is that there have only been a few successful ones throughout baseball history.  It’s such a difficult pitch to master, hit and catch that the teams with that pitcher often have a special catcher for him.

So in that book, as well as the documentary “Knuckleball” on Netflix, some themes played out.  The biggest one I saw, and that Kleon pointed out in his book is that although most pitchers are secretive of the “how-to’s” of their pitches, knuckleballers work together and share their secrets with each other.  In fact, a good portion of the movie showed Dickey meeting and talking shop with fellow knuckleball greats Tim Wakefield (who retired a few years ago), and the Niekro brothers, who were legendary pitchers when I was growing up in the late 70’s and 80’s, along with Charlie Hough, another fraternity member from the 80’s and early 90’s.  It’s such a rare pitch that in 2014, Dickey was the only knuckleballer in the major leagues!  This brotherhood is so tight that they teach their craft so that their legacy doesn’t fade out entirely.  Wakefield said in his retirement speech that R.A. Dickey now has to carry the torch for their art.

What does this mean for our PE community?  I have to admit that when I first started teaching PE 5 years ago, I didn’t really share my ideas with anyone.  The reason?  I wasn’t connected to any social media outlet and I didn’t know the other teachers in my county.  Then, when I first started using Twitter and then Voxer for professional development, I was more of a lurker because I wanted to see what other educators were doing. I was nervous that my ideas weren’t like theirs, and therefore didn’t have value.  What I eventually realized was that our PE community is made up of “knuckleballers” that are willing to share and help their fellow professionals, even from across the globe!  Within moments, a tweet or a “vox” can formulate ideas and answers from any country in the world.  This made me more comfortable to share my work online without fear of being ridiculed, and also connected me with amazing educators from all over.  How great is it that a teacher from Ft. Myers, FL (me) can speak to an awesome and intelligent innovator from Australia (Jarrod Robinson @mrrobo) and have an answer to my question in seconds?!  And through Voxer, collaborating with Jorge Rodriguez (@physednow)from Texas, he helped me change and refine a game we now play called “Hunger Games”. It started off as a small idea for a game, but talking back and forth with him, and getting feedback so quickly, it became a brand new game.  That is the power of sharing and helping each other!

What about the people who charge money for lesson ideas?  I’m not very fond of this practice.  Ideas need to be shared, tweaked, and  built upon.  If we want to grow as a PE community, we have to be willing to give ideas freely and neither hide them nor sell them.  My exceptions to this are when educators build apps or programs, or if they write a book.  The reason for this is that the time and resources put into creating these are much greater than someone who has a lesson idea.  I understand the compensation for this, and I don’t mind paying something for the content.

So the big question is this: are you in or out?  Are you a “knuckleballer” who is eager to grow our craft or do you want to hide your talent from the world?  Everyone has something unique and creative to share.  Be a part of our community and help us take it to a new level!

Tchoukball Sports Education Unit

Sports Education Unit in Tchoukball

I thought it would be my masterpiece.  My concerto, my Mr. Holland’s Opus, my Sistine Chapel.  Boy was I wrong.  It wasn’t my anything… was ours and it was awesome!

Back to the beginning.  I learned about sports education units from reading the blogs of @PENathan and @mrrobbo and watching the videos that corresponded with the units.  I knew this was something I wanted to try with our 5th graders as a big project this year.  After consulting with my 3 coaches, we decided the final game would be in our cafeteria (we don’t have an indoor gym), and we would invite our administration and the 4th graders to watch.  We decided on a sport that:

  1. Didn’t need hoops (because of the final game inside)
  2. Could be played in a medium-sized space
  3. We had enough equipment to run 2 games at the same time
  4. No student was an expert on.  This actually was a top priority because we have some superstar soccer, football, hockey, baseball and basketball players.  We knew nobody went home and played tchoukball.  So we chose it!

The goal of the sports ed.unit is to have the students pick jobs that would go into a sporting event. They would take ownership of that job throughout the tournament and up to the final game. Some of the jobs kicked in right away, like scorekeepers, referees and captains, while others took place later as their team was knocked out of the tournament.  We watched a hockey game in our media center (we also checked out a tchoukball game!), and the students came up with these jobs, which we generated into a circle thinking map:

Round Robin Tournament

Starting off, we needed to find a way to create 3 teams per class (about 7-8 players per team).  This meant with 6 full classes, we had 18 teams to play.  I would have liked 6 players per team, but that would have put us at 24 teams! We used the website  If we deemed the teams to be too lopsided, we moved a child or 2 to a different team.  Students then picked a team name and began to practice and discuss the best strategies for the game.  After a week of practicing, playing and observing, the teams picked captains, referees, scorekeepers and time keepers.  They were advised that a good and effective captain is someone who communicates well, who helps the team in following the rules, and who makes sure everyone on the team gets the ball and feels welcome. The Round Robin Tournament lasted for 2 weeks, during which time each team played 4-5 games and also spent a significant amount of time practicing.  We used the app Fixture Maker to set up the games for us.

 The Bracket

This was especially tough, as we didn’t want to knock teams out, but it had to be done to keep the tournament moving towards the ultimate goal, which was the final game.  We used a bracket maker website that placed the top 10 teams, based on win/loss/draw points in the bracket.  We also decided that some teams that didn’t make it based on points did a fantastic job with communication, teamwork and sportsmanship, so we put 2 teams in as “coaches’ exemptions”!

This meant that 12 of the 18 teams made it, while 6 didn’t.  These 6 teams got first picks at the secondary jobs of our tournament (see the circle map above).  They surprised me with how well they did with the jobs!  The reporters were right on top of the action, the cheer squads practiced routines, the video/picture crew captured the game play, and the other jobs were taken seriously by our mature 5th graders.  When not playing or working, another game was set up in our field for them to practice.  Eventually, we got down to a Final Four, which was a really big deal before the final game.  It began with a small group singing the National Anthem, which was amazing!  I was away 2 days in the previous week and was very nervous if we could pull everything together in time.  I told the students later that when I heard them sing for the first time I felt much more calm, because I couldn’t believe how good they were! Everyone in 5th grade watched those games, and it was intense and fantastic!  The level of play was incredible, as the 2 teams played with a big audience and wanted not only to impress their peers, but also to display their skills and make it to the Big Game!

The Final Game

The big day had arrived.  We were down to 2 teams out of the 18 we began with and the anticipation was crazy!  In the days leading up to it, students practiced their jobs, created their final song lists, finished routines, hung posters and banners, and learned new apps for video and picture crew.  The final teams practiced and went over strategy on their own.  Everyone was talking about the big game!  Teachers and administration received VIP tickets to sit at courtside, and 4th graders got their admission tickets as well.  Our coaches took a lot of time setting up the cafeteria that morning to make things look like a professional venue!

We spent the first period of the day going over everything with the 5th graders.  The script was set and my announcer for the game, Jackie was ready!  The DJ’s had their songs cued up!  The spirit squad was ready to cheer on both teams and they were prepared to toss goodies into the crowd!  We were so excited, and all the coaches were nervous!  I knew it wouldn’t be my version of “perfect”, but we wanted to give everyone a good show and demonstrate to the teachers, administrators and 4th graders the hard work the 5th graders put in and the sacrifices they made to get this accomplished.

Before we knew it, the time had come.  Our ticket sale personnel collected tickets at the door, and our security team helped to seat the VIP guests.  The venue was electric!  I somehow silenced the crowd, gave a small introduction speech on the unit, how our 5th graders pulled it off, and the basic rules of tchoukball (I found out later that some guests, including my wife who showed up late with my kids, had no idea what was going on-but they loved it!).  From there, it was showtime!  The teams were introduced and broke through their banners like at a football game as the DJ’s played a loud, bass-driven song.  After a minute or so of noise and clapping, we settled into our National Anthem, which was lead by our music teacher. Our students sounded incredible and truly blew everyone away!

The game itself was a blur to me.  I walked around a lot, made sure everyone was on point, greeted people in our VIP section (yes, especially my wife and kids!), and tried to stay calm.  In hindsight, I wish I watched more of the game, but I enjoyed what I saw, and the gameplay was at a new level!  The students were diving, jumping higher than ever, and running like I’ve never seen the game played!  We had them wear our new heart rate monitors for the first time, and their numbers were extremely elevated!  The spirit squad, DJ’s, and mascots pumped up the crowd and put on a fantastic show!  I was really impressed by Jackie and her poise with the crowd being so loud and excited.  Everything came together for an amazing game, and I couldn’t have been more pleased.

In the end, the Bulldozers beat the Terminators  22-15 in a hard-fought game and were awarded the coqui medals.  Both teams displayed incredible gamesmanship, teamwork, and grace, and every 5th grader should be proud of their accomplishments.  It was an awesome experience, and I can’t wait until next year!


Coqui Cup medals



GRIT: My New Favorite Word

I’m a nerd.  I admit it.  Most people read thrillers, humor, or the new Nicholas Sparks’ novel.  Not me.  After years of Tom Clancy, Robert Ludlum, and Stephen King, I’ve moved on to non-fiction.  Only.  To be more specific, I read books about talent versus hard-work.  The way ordinary people become legends.  The reason why circumstances, perfect practice, and 10,000 hours of laser-like focus equals champions.  Along with blogs and videos from my favorite author/speaker, Robin Sharma, these are the books (so far) I’ve read and devoured about that word…Grit:

Talent is Overrated by Geoff Colvin

The Talent Code by Daniel Coyle

Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell

Bounce by Matthew Syed

So what is Grit?  A simple formula might be: grit= perseverance+ time+focus+absolute dedication, which in turn equals greatness.

All 4 books have a few things in common.  Here they are:

1. No one is born with a “talent’ at anything.

-Tiger Woods and Mozart started really young, but they were “pushed” by their parents to excel.

2. Circumstances play a role in virtually every success story.

-If Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, or John Rockefeller were born even 5 years earlier or later, they might have missed their opportunity (okay, so that was a bit of luck and not grit!).  But also, if you live in Texas, snowboarding won’t be your “thing”.

3. This was drilled into my head in JV baseball (thank you Coach Simon!): Practice doesn’t make perfect, perfect practice makes perfect.

-That is why me hitting thousands of golf balls over 30+ years doesn’t mean I’m making the tour any time soon!  Having a purpose for each swing, musical note, or foot placement is more important than you’d think.

4.  10,000 hours or roughly 10 years is the minimum time it takes to “master” a craft.

-Bobby Fisher is a rare exception at 9 years.  Back to Mozart: he wrote music at an early age but his masterpieces weren’t written until he was almost 20 years old.

5.  Failing is not an option, it’s a must!

-If you want to be the best, you have to go out of your comfort zone and fail to get better.  If you’re not falling and failing enough, you’re not reaching high enough.  A gold medal skater was estimated to have fallen over 20,000 times in her career to greatness.  Derek Jeter “failed” 2 out of 3 times hitting in his career.  That’s where the learning happens: in failing.

Maybe I love this topic because I love inspirational heroes and “masters”.  Or maybe I love it because I know that an average guy like me can be great at something if I work really hard.  That is my goal: to become the best PE teacher I can be.  Why else would I keep upping my game by chatting on Voxer with incredible PE teachers all over the world, checking out Twitter constantly for cutting-edge techniques and info, and reading books and blogs with a determination to learn all that I can?

Robin Sharma said that “to reap the benefits that only 5% have you must do the things that only 5% do (paraphrase)”  So while most people are checking out what’s going on with the Kardashins, I’m perfecting my craft.

The big question: how do we instill this in our students?  It’s not easy, given that when I was their age (K-5th graders), I know I thought other kids were either talented at sports and math or they weren’t.  So I discuss this with them as much as I can.  We interview 4th and 5th graders on what it takes to be great at their area of interest.  We have cup-stackers, horseback riders, soccer players, hockey players, swimmers, and a lot of students who work hard at a lot of different things.  Maybe if they see that we have swimmers at our school that get up at 5:30 in the summer to someday possibly compete in the Olympics, it might inspire them!

It’s all about grit.  Even for a nerd like me.


Tim Notke