Several weeks ago, I was invited to attend an event I had only heard about previously.
The Breakfast Club, run by EXOS is offered by The Trust - which is powered by the NFL Player’s Association . It’s a six-week program designed for former players to work out, access resources for nutrition, physical therapy, performance and lifestyle, as well as continue the competitive nature of their time in the NFL.
The program takes place three times a week in 12 major cities around the country at local YMCAs or EXOS centers and is new here in Kansas City.
Weight loss and fitness scores are kept, giving former players competitive motivation, which they can use to either return to or maintain the level of fitness that they desire.
This site was heavy with former Kansas City Chiefs, but there were also many players from other teams who are either from this area or have just decided to continue living here after their playing career was over.
I consider myself an expert in human movement and am generally interested in all things in this area. What I incorrectly assumed was that this was all about the physical aspect of care. As I sat with many former players, I found this to be only one part of the many benefits they feel the program provides.
I was fortunate to meet with Drake Pollard (performance coach), Will Streck (Physical Therapist) and Cristina Desemone (Performance Dietician), all of EXOS, and they led me through the daily schedule and what the players experience in every session.
I watched workouts consisting of core, upper body and lower body work—including flexibility and strength considerations for a range of former players from their 20s to their 60s. Obviously, not all former players are of the same current fitness level, and adaptations were expertly made for all individual’s needs.
Physical therapy needs were addressed for any player that requested it. These consisted of soft tissue work and joint mobilizations, as well as individual flexibility work. These were all done in a one-on-one setting to maximize effectiveness and demonstrate attention to detail. All participants underwent an initial history and injury screen here.
Nutrition considerations were addressed both before and after workouts. Also provided was education as to what former athletes need based upon their current lifestyles and levels of fitness, as well as any goals they wished to attain. Weekly weigh-ins, caloric intake and meal planning were all a part of the education taking place.
Four players were kind enough to speak with me on the program: Shawn Barber, Martin Rucker, Paul Coffman and Chase Coffman.
Not only did I find that consistent workouts motivated them for those three visits a week, but also the carry-over effect played a role. They almost all found that they wished to continue to work on days that they didn’t attend the program.
Several noted that they were moving better, had less creaky joints and increased flexibility. One even went as far as to say he was sleeping better and getting out of bed more easily every day.
One player noted that he hadn’t worked out in three years and that this program was changing that. Some noted that while they had remained active, this structure was better so that they were not doing it all on their own.
I consistently heard thanks for the program for adding motivation to men who knew that they still had the ability to workout but found it helpful to do it with others in a communal environment.
What I didn’t expect to hear, but in hindsight should have, was the level of enjoyment that these men had being around former players who shared the locker room. A consistent theme was that the fellowship was almost more important to them than the fitness.
For many football players, the league is home, that place is familiar. More time is spent in the facility than anywhere else while your career is ongoing and the people that are there are family, in a sense. Current and former players have a way of sticking together and when their careers are over, as many lose that sense of structure and comraderie.
One player noted that while he knew his daily schedule in the league, his post-career life required much more adaptation and uncertainty. While he knew that was coming after football, doing this program regularly added a sense of what he was good at naturally back into his daily routine.
I spoke with Bahati VanPelt, the executive director of The Trust. We spoke about many subjects and traded stories about our time in the league. He noted that everything the program offered was by design—the physical, the social and the mental aspects of care.
We spoke about former players craving fellowship and belonging, support and activity. The competitiveness doesn’t turn off in these men after they are done playing; they just need an outlet for it. This program is currently serving that need for some.
VanPelt and I continued our conversation about the program and how the care of former players continues to advance and should do so, how they want to continue to see more involvement and expand.
As a person who took care of these athletes while their careers were ongoing, I can only say that added care at this point in time will go a long way to make them all have a better quality of life down the road.
While many will paint a picture of former athletes in a sometimes-negative light, what I saw here on multiple occasions were grateful men that were happy to be in a program where they felt a sense of belonging and familiarity again.
These men mostly have not played in years but could be found doing the same things that current players do: workout out alongside of each other, trading verbal jabs at one thing or another and exchanging stories from the previous session or day.
I feel like this program benefits those who are seeking structure. These are individuals who have had their schedules booked to the minute in their prior career with very little flexibility. Once out of that environment, it can feel unorganized and uncertain.
While the physical aspect is paramount, the social and mental aspects are just as important, if not more important, to them. The Trust hit a home run with this program, and here is to hoping that it continues to grow.
Aaron Borgmann is a Physical Therapist and Athletic Trainer who worked in the NFL for 12 years. He currently owns and operates Borgmann Rehab Solutions.