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Week of May 24, 2010

It’s a family affair 
for strength and 
conditioning coach

James Plocki didn’t intend for his life to revolve around U-M athletics. A chance encounter with famed football coach Bo Schembechler altered his life forever.

Finishing up his exercise science major in 1987 at Penn State, Plocki needed an internship to complete his degree. At the time universities featuring strength and conditioning departments were sparse. But U-M offered an established program. His internship soon blossomed into a career.

Photo by Scott Soderberg, U-M Photo Services.

“I was planning on heading to Vanderbilt to earn my master’s, but Coach Schembechler told me if I stayed here, he would make it worth my while,” Plocki says. He never imagined the rewards would include meeting his future wife, head woman’s gymnastic coach Beverly Plocki. “We were both from Pennsylvania and coincidentally living here. Neither of us had intentions of starting families here. Now we never plan on leaving.”

With two children living at home, the two have opposite schedules accommodating their parental duties. Plocki, who conditions both the football and ice hockey teams, begins his day with his own 4 a.m. workouts at the U-M football weight room. “You’ve got to practice what you preach,” he says.

The early morning workouts give him time to run through his conceptualized plans for the teams. The first batch of football players arrives at 7 a.m. and they continue in spurts throughout the morning. Afternoons are spent with the ice hockey team. “With hockey, you’re emphasizing the lower body because that’s the bread and butter of the game. They’re all ‘power speed’ athletes,” he says. “Football contains a power group, a speed group, and a power speed group. We have to run three different programs at once to achieve all three goals.”

Outside of work, Plocki and wife Beverly enjoy time as spectators and fans in the bleachers of their kids’ sporting events. During many out-of-season weekends Plocki spends time home alone with his two children while his wife travels the country recruiting female gymnasts. “I get to become Mr. Mom sometimes,” Plocki says.

Recently, he renewed an interest in hunting, which he was introduced to at age 12.

“I moved into a new home about five years ago and my new neighbor was a hunter and had 80 acres in Manchester. He rekindled my interest. I like bow and muzzle-loader hunting due to the human error and back-to-basics approach involved with both. It intrigues me to try to predict what wildlife will do in their environment.”

During football season, Saturday mornings are comprised of prepping the football players. Game time is spent monitoring the benched players and preventing the penalty-causing move of stepping onto the field during play, common in heated moments of excitement. His family always is in the stands watching.

“My kids have grown up knowing nothing besides U-M,” he says. He also attends away games, which entails the entire football entourage flying together to different destinations. “All schools have strong fan bases and different traditions. Perhaps I’m biased but nothing compares to the enthusiasm here.”

Of the student athletes he works with, Plocki says, “What they learned here, on and off the field, stays with them for the rest of their lives.”

The weekly Spotlight features staff members at the university. To nominate a candidate, please contact the Record staff at



James Plocki, strength and conditioning coach, Department of Athletics, on meeting his wife at work: “Neither of us had intentions of starting families here. Now we never plan on leaving.”