Sports Scientists meet in Tukwila

Some of the best in their field gathered in Seattle to share similar experiences in the Sounders FC Sports Science and Mentorship Weekend.

TUKWILA, Wash. - Every year, Sounders FC fitness coach Dave Tenney travels the world to spend time with some of the most highly-regarded coaches in his field.

For the second straight year, he has also brought some of the best in the country to Seattle to share similar experiences in the Sounders FC Sports Science and Mentorship Weekend. The three-day event, which also featured guest speakers from some top clubs in Europe, brought 50 coaches to the Sounders FC’s training ground at Starfire in Tukwila to help bridge the gap between sports science and coaching.

“I think in terms of sports science in this country there’s no real driving force and there’s a big disconnect in the soccer world between what happens with sports science and strength conditioning, and the soccer side and soccer coaches,” Tenney said. “This is the only real event that I know of in the U.S. where you have college strength conditioning coaches sitting together with college head coaches, where they can really talk about sports science, fitness, training, fatigue and all those things that we kind of overlook in this country.”

Tenney travels to Europe in the off-season, where he visits clubs in England and Holland, among other places, to learn how to further utilize the technology to keep the Sounders on the leading edge of sports science.

Last year, he met with Jan Van Winckel and quickly started comparing notes with the fitness coach at Beerschot AC in Belgium. Van Winckel was one of the guest speakers over the weekend and brings a unique perspective to the field as someone who started his own performance management company, TopSportsLab. Utilized by many of the leading clubs in Belgium and Holland, TopSportsLab can now claim the Seattle Sounders as its first North American client.

“Bringing that type of soccer fitness IQ here I think benefits us and it also fills the need of education for coaches in the country,” Tenney said.

Van Winckel wasn’t alone though.

Other guest speakers included Everton fitness coach Steve Tashjian, Patrick Ward of Optimum Sports Performance and Nick Winkelman, the head of education and methodology at Athletes Performance.

Jan Willem Teunissen also made the trip from Holland, where he is the head fitness/strength and conditioning coach for the Ajax Amsterdam Youth Academy.

“We’re from different continents, but you still feel that connection,” Teunissen said. “I saw all these professionals working with athletes who were struggling with the same problems. It was good to look at those in different ways.”

Tenney focused his presentation on bridging the gap between the data presented by sports science and the instincts of coaches, which in some cases can be a chasm built through years of cynicism over incomplete sets of data.

“We want the head coaches to make better, more informed decisions, but that only happens if the sports scientists know the right questions to ask. I feel like in the past, sports scientists haven’t really connected with the game; they haven’t always asked the right questions of the data to give the feedback to the coaches. So there's this disconnect and the coaches didn't really believe it,” Tenney said. 

“But I think at the end of the day sports science is a very new thing. Even what we’re doing in soccer, they’re still not doing on a daily basis in the NBA, or the NHL or especially the NFL. So it’s still in its infancy here and as we can give the coaches better answers to better questions, then they’ll be more receptive, I think.”

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