The New England Revolution are in the midst of preseason preparations for the 2016 MLS season, and a major component of that is fitness.
A core part of a physically demanding and travel-intensive league, the Revs need everyone from their backup goalkeeper to starting striker to be ready for the grind ahead. Ups and downs will surface from March to October, and at the center of it all is Nick Downing, the team's strength and conditioning coach.
Through a long-standing relationship with Jay Heaps, Downing is an integral part of training and game day alike. The Bent Musket sat down with him to discuss his role on the team, what preseason is like and much more. His thoughts are below.
1.) This past offseason was shorter than the guys would have liked. What were they up to in terms of fitness and building towards camp in January?
Throughout the offseason I check in with guys on a weekly basis. I know if they're not with me, I know exactly what they're going through with whoever they're working with, whether that's on their own or another coach in their hometown. I also never worry too much about the base fitness level the first couple weeks. History hasn't told me otherwise yet, so I'm happy with where they are now.
2.) What are some things that guys focus on doing the offseason? They know their bodies pretty well, but there must be certain areas that need improvement.
The offseason is geared towards getting stronger, improving some of their aerobic base. If a guy's aerobic base is not good, that usually translates over to muscle injury problems. There's a lot of research and study out the last couple years about the stronger the athlete and more development they have in the offseason as far as strength gains go, the less muscle injuries they'll have over the next eight to 12 months. That's convenient because our season is 10 months long.
3.) How closely do you interact with Jay Heaps and what are some of the things you two work on together?
My relationship with Jay is good. It's been a long-standing relationship playing together, then staying in touch throughout the time we switched to different professions and now back together again. As far as planning sessions, he's in charge of the soccer stuff and I'm in charge of the intensity level and fitness. That's more on an individual level and we're lucky enough to work with GPS that lets us look at numbers before and after training.
We have started to develop player profiles for lack of a better term where we can figure out much we want them to do from an intensity standpoint. Whether that's accelerations and decelerations, or sprinting or total distance. Those are all things we can monitor during a session. I deal with that type of stuff with Jay and so far so good.
4.) You touched upon technology. How do the Revolution maximize the products out there? Do they play a minor or major role?
It's important more to not get carried away with the technology. We use it a ton, but we could cover 200 metrics if we wanted to. Every preseason, every offseason we sit down and talk about the most important metrics. The sprints, the amounts of decelerations and accelerations, the parts of the field that the players are in and what they do in those parts, average sprint time, average distance every time they get above a certain heart rate. All those things are more important than monitoring 1,000 things. It's important for us to simplify things as much as we can.
I want to make sure that I give Jay a concise, brief snapshot of what I'd like to see. That's just been four of five metrics. In a session, if someone happens to go over those metrics, I can decide if they need to be pulled out or if the level needs to come down a little bit. We've used that simplicity level with the GPS more than anything. There's a lot of tests we run on a daily basis: resting heart rate, gate analysis, looking at symmetry.
5.) The team just got back from its annual trip to Casa Grande, Arizona. How does that help them bond and prepare for the season opener on March 6?
It's wake up, go to breakfast, train, eat lunch, rest, train, eat dinner, rest. It's a pretty uniform schedule. There's nothing too interesting, but it serves its purpose out here. The solitude of this place provides exactly what we need and keeps guys focused without distractions. Over time it's served us well and our time has been utilized well. Guys leave here a little more focused and a little bit more fit.
6.) Let's end with a fun one. Who are some of the more fit guys on the team, and are there ever any fitness competitions?
Guys like Steve Neumann, Jose Goncalves, Chris Tierney, Teal Bubnury, those four guys come in really fit. There's not a large gap though between those guys who aren't as fit. They do a really good job in the offseason. We also let the small sided games and trainings bring the competition. I don't add a ton of competition at this point as far as fitness goes. It makes me nervous as far as injuries go.
Did any of Downing's comments peak your interest or inspire curiosities? Share your comments and thoughts below!