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Part II - Being Peter-active: Sporting KC’s training renaissance in Year Three of Pinnacle Training Center

We interview Peter Vermes and Joey Harty to see how they obtain such an advantage in fitness over the league.

Joey Harty,  Director of Sports Performance and Science warms up the team before the home opener.
Thad Bell

Welcome to Part II of Being Peter-active, the story of Sporting Kansas City’s training renaissance in 2020 featuring Director of Sports Performance and Science Joey Harty and Manager Peter Vermes. Part I (Ed. Note: a must read) revealed the establishment of baseline measurements and activities that provide feedback on how players are handling their physical load, tops in MLS through two games, before precautionary measures due to COVID-19 (coronavirus) interrupted the season.

Remember when daily naps (and then recess) was no longer a part of the school day? Yah. It was just wrong. Now, it’s … “If only employers allowed time for their workers to recharge their battery during the work week.” Am I right? For professional athletes, trainers realize those things are a must; they are a critical part of an effective training program.

R and R

Sporting’s recovery and regeneration routines show that the use of Pinnacle National Development Training Center – Sporting’s training home – is being tweaked and going in new directions. It all starts with a conceptual introduction from Harty.

“Since we’ve been [at Pinnacle] on our third season, we’ve been able to implement what a lot of people probably missed, which is “periodizing” the players’ recovery,” said Harty.

“There are certain stimuluses that you want to hit on certain days of the week,” explained Harty. “You are trying to overload the players from a conditioning standpoint four days, three days out from the game.” Period one.

“Two days out and one day out, you are trying to taper, trying to bring the players into that recovery zone.” Period two.

Generally, period one is Tuesday and Wednesday. “Tuesday, [is] our overload day for us; the guys will train [in the morning], have lunch, then come back and have a weight-training session that afternoon.

“On that Thursday – now you’re trying to progress to recovery [recharge the battery] – train, lunch, and then a series of recovery protocols that afternoon.”

This is where Vermes gets some influence. Known for enjoying word play and for his clever quips in press conferences, Vermes terms Thursdays “Duracell Day”. The players shorten their battery recharge day to “D-Day”.

Year three of Pinnacle: Still learning

The groundbreaking, envelope-pushing Pinnacle National Development Training Center opened two seasons ago. Having such a tremendous facility is like, well, (insert your dream or dream lottery winning figure here) It is overwhelming; you just aren’t completely sure what to do with it all. Harty and the trained brains at Sporting are progressing always at using its many tools during Duracell Day, which looks something like this (Keep in mind certain trade secrets must be kept secret.):

Step 1 – Players take part in a few options of therapy that focus on combating peripheral fatigue, “assisting players in increasing circulation and driving blood flow back to the heart,” Harty said.

Step 2 – is a 30-minute therapy started just last year that combats central fatigue and “assists players in going from their sympathetic nervous system to the parasympathetic – away from fight or flight.”

So, yeah, “last year”. About those 2019 injuries and what is being done

“You are always going to have injuries. What we’ve really tried to focus on are the preventable injuries,” stated Team Captain Matt Besler at Media Day. “We’ve tried to take it upon ourselves as a group, players and staff. Let’s try and get better at this.”

It’s always heartening to hear from Captain Matt. And he’s right: control what you can control. Harty reminded that a number of injuries last season were structural in knees, wrists, ankles, and hips.

“A big thing for us are soft tissue injuries – hamstring, groin, quad, calf. If we are littered with those types of injuries, we have to evaluate where we are at as a department and where we are at as a training process,” Harty intimated.

Sporting’s informed training – in all aspects – goes far in preventing injuries. However, the human body is a dynamic, living, sometimes unpredictable entity. As a result, tightness, slight pulls, strains, etc., crop up. That’s where the “art” comes in according to Harty.

“Every week, there are three-to-four players that are doing some sort of modified training week. With that comes our needs analysis, based off the player’s injury history (in addition to all the assessments we’ve done).

“Let’s say a guy has a lot of hamstring strains in the past: Now let’s look at some of our isolated muscle tests. Is there a big gap in a right versus left leg hamstring strength? Is there a gap for both hamstrings compared to what the norm is for the group? We have standards of where we like to see our players at,” Harty explained.

At that point, communication is key from the player to the training staff to the coaches.

“If the player is reporting hamstring tightness, he’s not recovering well, he’s an older player, high-injury history… those raise some flags to have a conversation with the coaching staff,” said Harty, previous to providing sample dialogue. “’Hey, we are not trying to take this player out or have him detrained, but we need to be mindful of where this player is at with the load relative to the rest of the group.’”

For fans, it is comforting to know that their favorite players are being given such care and are more likely to feature on the pitch each week as a result of Harty’s efforts.

The 3rd R is the most significant R?

Harty’s role is a significant one, to say the least. His views are forward-looking, macro, micro… and rear view mirror. And sideways. Harty practices what he preaches; sometimes he cannot resist participating in the exercises and challenges he presents the players to push and motivate the boys. Yeah, he often loses those challenges, but he has a fallback when a player chides him about outperforming him. “Well, you should. You’re a professional athlete.”

Seriously, though…

“I look at my role as being the right-hand to Peter in terms of how we are progressing training, not only on the team level, but the individual level, which is where that data becomes very valuable. We sit down every Monday, go through and plan the entire week,” Harty relayed, before telling of that vital reflection. “And, then, every single day after training – once we bring in the data that we captured from the session – we will sit down again and reevaluate where we are, and if there is anything we need to adjust for tomorrow’s session.”

Furthermore, with a geographically broad, constantly tactically evolving league like MLS, each week brings a different opponent, different conditions, different requirements. And those facets play into the Harty’s recommendations.

“Obviously, [the coaching staff is] looking at what the objectives are for the upcoming opponent tactically, and I’m coming along to say, ‘You guys want to accomplish these goals, so let’s keep within these parameters on these days.’”

Back to being Peter-active, even during these times

“I don’t believe even though you have done well at something, that’s enough,” said Vermes at Media Day. It’s Vermes and Sporting Kansas City’s M-O. “We are always trying to get better and everyone on the staff is pushing for that.”

Indeed, Joey Harty and his staff are a key cog.

Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, MLS has a training moratorium in place through April 6. Of course, that has impacted the critical training momentum to be Sporting Fit. But the Sporting Kansas City staff is on it, though the responsibility is clearly more individual now.

Check out 810’s Sporting Kansas City show interview with Roger Espinoza (including former TBT and Shades of Blue Soccer Show contributor Aly Trost) here, in minutes 23:00-26:15 for more on how players are staying fit during the layoff. (One purely soccer focused positive to the forced layoff for Sporting and its fans is that influential Felipe Gutierrez is getting the time he needs to heal and is not missing games.)

Here’s to what Sporting Kansas City has done in the offseason, preseason, and two games in. Here’s to what all (Navy SEALS or no) can do during this trying time and after when we take preventive measures, when we assess our condition from our “normal” baselines, when we are proactive (maximally or sub-maximally), when we recover, regenerate, and reflect/reevaluate, and put our own awesome resources to work, and, eventually, find ways to combine them with the efforts and ideas of others in connection once again every single day.

We at The Blue Testament hope to see you everywhere possible now and at Children’s Mercy Park and all Kansas City area soccer hubs soon.