While the idea of going back to basics isn’t groundbreaking, the Union are applying this notion to their training in a way that has never been seen before in MLS. Many of the Union’s offseason changes have affected the organization off of the field, but their newly implemented Sports Performance department is making tangible impacts where it matters most – on the field.
The man at the center of this new department is Bill Knowles, a world-renowned athletic developer whose philosophy of reconditioning is being showcased to the team for the first time this week. Knowles takes over the first 15-20 minutes of training, walking the team through his warmup, which consists of both aerobic and strength development.
“There’s a really common thread that’s sewn through all of the warmup routines,” Knowles says about his system. “The athletes are learning how to bend really well, or squat, keeping their ankles really loose. We do a lot of running mechanics, teaching them how to sprint properly, because that makes a big impact on game performance”.
And that’s the main idea behind Knowles’ philosophy of reconditioning -- making sure these athletes are able to get the most out of their training and then apply it during competition. Reconditioning is a strategy that utilizes movements that are used during rehab sessions, but are instead applied in a preventative sense during warmups.
Knowles’ is a strong believer in the importance of focusing on fundamentals.
“Athletes are so specialized now that they lose the ability of basic movements,” he said. “They are good at soccer, but their injuries are defined by their weaknesses and lack of motion.”
Meaning, because these athletes are performing the same soccer-related tasks day in and day out, they may be putting themselves at risk for injury because they are neglecting other types of movements. He also added that if a player does get injured, their recovery time will be a lot quicker because of the relationship between reconditioning and athletic development, stating it is more than just medical rehab.
Head coach Jim Curtin is excited about Knowles’ addition to the organization and explained that the new Sports Performance department will be implementing a one-system approach; everyone from the Academy team, to Bethlehem Steel, to the First Team will use reconditioning during their warmups.
“Bill has done this at the highest level, he’s recouped top-tier athletes, and we’re happy to have him,” Curtin said. “It’s a huge advantage in terms of keeping our guys on the field, which at the end of the day is the most important thing.”
Knowles has taken his system of reconditioning world-wide and has worked with clubs such as Manchester United, Chelsea, and Real Madrid. This is the first time he has worked with an MLS First Team and is excited about the impact his system can make in Philadelphia.
“We are being innovative and are on the forefront of athletic development, physical development, and reconditioning. We are putting a very innovative plan together.”
This innovative look on fundamentals will surely be a key point to watch throughout the season. It will be interesting to see how players’ stamina and agility improve throughout the year as well as how injury recovery will be affected by Knowles’ innovative vision. As for now, players seem receptive to their new warmup routine and will hopefully be able to see a difference in how they are physically able to respond to the everyday demands of playing professional soccer.
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