An Interview with Whitecaps FC S&C Coach Dr. Mike Young

I talked training and sports science with Dr. Mike Young, who was hired in 2012 as the Strength & Conditioning Coach for the Vancouver Whitecaps FC.

We talked nutrition, the state of training in soccer, how to balance playing and training in season, and much more.

In addition to working with the Whitecaps, Mike is the co-owner of Human Performance Consulting’s Athletic Lab in Cary, North Carolina, where he has trained a wide variety of athletes from many different athletic backgrounds.. You can read his fill bio at the Whitecaps official website.

Dr. Young first worked with Martin Rennie (the head coach of the Whitecaps) when Rennie was the head coach of the Carolina Railhawks.

Angus: How do you balance in season weight training with the demands placed on the athletes? 

Dr. Young

You have to be quite careful balancing the need to maintain strength and power in the gym with the need to perform on the field. There are really a couple things I try to do to make this happen. First I push for regular and frequent weight training.

Repeated exposure to a training stimulus (stress) is the number one way to reduce soreness from that stress. The second thing I do is careful manipulation of volumes and intensities for each player so that they are never handling inappropriate loads for their current fitness state. Third, I try to hide ‘maintenance stimuli’ in to warmups, sprint training and cooldowns.

While none of these training loads are significant by themselves, their summed effect over the course of time is better strength and power maintenance when we’re not able to make it in to the weight room due to games or travel. This also helps to reduce soreness when they inevitably return to being able to do dedicated strength training in a weight room.

Where will the next breakthrough in soccer training come? Is there one on the horizon? Is it already here?

Monitoring players for training load and game readiness is a fairly nascent area and as this area matures, analytics of the data that we’re receiving will bring us in to a new era. I think we’re just starting to understand what is important to monitor and technology is helping us do that. But the key is understanding and then applying the information that we receive. This is where analytics will be important.

(Here is an interesting read on analytics in the MLS.)

What was the first thing you did with the Whitecaps players after taking over? A base level screen like the FMS?

Unfortunately, I took over one week in to the season last year so I wasn’t afforded the luxury of testing the entire team right off the bat. I was only able to test a handful of the developmental players who weren’t on the game day roster. Instead I focused on familiarizing myself with the team, building a team culture that appreciated the importance of fitness training to performance on the pitch, and setting up a daily player monitoring system.

This year, I was with the team through the entire pre-season and we conducted several tests that we compared to test results from the middle and end of last year and normative data from previous research on professional soccer players. In addition to my fitness testing for speed, power, and endurance, all players are put through our in-house version of a movement screen by our excellent medical staff.

How would a typical off-season look for a Whitecaps player, in terms of a training program? Can keep it general obviously as I imagine this would be a lengthy answer otherwise.

I provide every player with an individualized training plan that focuses on there unique needs as a player. The plans are developed using prior test data, positional demands, injury history, specific guidance from the technical staff among other factors. Depending on the player they may be training 4-6 days a week in the off-season for an hour or two each session.

Since joining the Whitecaps, what are some of the big changes you have brought in? I imagine there was a wide range of gym knowledge/ability among the players, just like any sport.

I think the three big things I’ve brought to the Whitecaps is a daily monitoring system which incorporates several sport technologies as well as player and coach assessments to monitor an athlete’s daily training load and life stresses to give coaches an indication of their stimulus adaptability and preparedness state.

I’ve also brought in a more appropriate and game-specific form of fitness training and conditioning that better prepares athletes for the demands of the game (high intensity intermittent activity punctuated by incomplete recoveries and dependent on a foundation of aerobic fitness). Consequently we handle strength, speed and power development differently and have shifted focus away from anaerobic lactate training.

What is your role like with regards to nutrition and nutritional guidance? 

I play a secondary role with nutrition and nutritional guidance. We have a dedicated nutritionist on the team and I work directly with her to provide advice and implementation of the individualized nutrition and supplementation plan for the entire team.

Do you think being involved in such a wide variety of athletics has given you the ability to pull bits and pieces from each sport/training style?

Similar to how an athlete would cross-train with different sports.

Prior to focusing on soccer fitness, I primarily worked coached athletes in sports like track & field, weightlifting, skeleton, and bobsled. These are all quantitatively assessed performance-based sports where the difference between winning and losing is a VERY small margin that largely comes down to development of physical capacities. I think this has given me a unique perspective now that I’m working with a variety of team sport athletes. When you ask an athlete in a field or court sport what they want from their fitness or strength & conditioning program the answer will always be s ome combination of running faster, better endurance, throwing further, or jumping higher and / or longer.

Those answers ARE my sports and that’s what I’ve always coached athletes to do. As a result, I have a great appreciation for the details of training because you can’t make mistakes in physical development in sports so dependent on it and where the margin of error between medalist and has-been is less than 2%.

Thanks a lot for taking the time to do this.

Here is Dr. Young talking about Athletic Lab:

More Strength & Conditioning Interviews: