"The Team Behind The Team" series puts a spotlight on those who work as part of the support team behind the sports team, the unsung heroes who have a hand in the success of every team without you knowing about them.
FC Dallas have kicked off this season of the MLS where they left it; with a lot of success. In fact last season was the most successful season in Dallas' 21-year history, winning the Western Conference for the second year running and also winning the Lamar Hunt US Open Cup, their first in 19 years, along with the MLS Supporter's Shield Trophy. Dallas also got through to the knock out stages of the CONCACAF Champions League for the first time ever. Suffice to say 2016 was a year of memories for the club, and with a young team managed by an astute coach and an equally astute backroom staff, the club have set bigger dreams for this year.
Joining us for this interview is Skylar Richards, Director of Sports Science & Head Athletic Trainer at the club. Skylar's been at the club since 2012, and prior to that also had stints at Colorado Rapids and Columbus Crew SC.
What made you get involved with sports science?
When beginning my career in Athletic training (athletic therapy) I began to realize that I was being taught only about injuries after they had occurred. That led me into a full time internship in strength & conditioning so I could understand the whole spectrum of athletic health from being health, to playing, to injury, to rehabilitation, and finally return to health. During my professional life I was exposed to many opportunities in the UK, where sports science is well defined and implemented. However I quickly grew to realize that we in the US lacked in sports sciences, they equally lacked in strength and conditioning knowledge. Thus I began to dive further into each wanting to figure out how to merge the measurement of physiology so we could define efficient methodologies and thereby increase the likelihood of success.
So obviously over here in the UK the main focus is the Premier League, in which clubs are frankly obsessive with sports science. Each club is looking for the newest and most detailed technology. How obsessive of sports science is the MLS in comparison?
Sports science is rapidly growing favor in the US. You are starting to see professionals from some heavy countries such as the UK and Australia hired by NFL and NHL teams. Due to the size and profitability of the MLS currently we are seeing a more natural grass roots growth from individuals already in the industry that can apply it much quicker due to the soccer specific data already performed in other countries. The obsession is growing quickly but is controlled by the rate at which coaches who understand this trend can be taught or hired.
So how did you get involved with Fc Dallas?
I joined FCD in my 6th year in MLS, having spent time with DCU, Columbus Crew, and the Colorado Rapids for different stints. FC Dallas had just hired a new Technical director in Fernando Clavijo who knew he wanted to expand what the club was already doing and integrate a scientific measurement side to it. Over the past five years we have been able to redefine success in new measures. That of:
Development: Physiologic growth of our academy
Prevention: The squad availability of our first team
Recovery: Increase compliance of physiologic maintenance and not rehabilitation
What’s been your greatest high so far?
Winning the Lamar Hunt Open Cup, in a stadium built by the Hunt Family, and with a team led by owner/president Dan Hunt. Having worked for the Hunt family the majority of my career, as they also owned the Columbus Crew, was very special for me. (Runner up in the category would be winning the MLS Cup in 2008 with the Columbus Crew).
How has sports science changed since you graduated?
It has spread like wild fire in the industry and has been made so much easier to adapt given all the new wearable and camera based technology.
What advice would you have for current students wishing to become sports scientists?
Be patient and get lots of experiences. Experts in the industry hire people they want to work with based on having worked within it for so many years. Internships are the keys to your future career.
What problems have you encountered with modern day sports science technologies or techniques?
They are designed without input from individuals actually in the industry. This creates systems that sacrifice work flow and efficiency for flash and bang. Technology should focus on allowing us to do the same or slightly more, with less time and more enjoyment. If you’ve done any high level data analytics then you’ve lived in “excel-hell”. This can be avoided with well-designed tech.
What’s been your lowest low in the industry?
I was fully offered a position with Norwich City once, and unfortunately the visa process was taking too long and they had to select a candidate already in the UK. I was very disappointed as I am a supporter of English Football. But truthfully I have had an amazing career and would not change anything.
A concern for young sports scientists is it’s ease in which to get caught up in work and not switch off. Is that the case with you? How’s the work life balance?
I was never concerned with that but found myself in that position often. I love what I do and would frequently put in 18-20 hour days and not realize it. Three and a half years ago I was blessed with a child and that all changed, now I love to go home and switch off from work and spend time with my family (I say that but as I type this it is 6pm and I’m still at the stadium!)
If you could hit a switch and go back in time, would you still choose to become a sports scientist?
What do you believe is the future of sports science? Where do you see it going?
I think it’s going to turn us into real time, side line pit crews for our athletes. Knowing exactly what chemicals they have depleted or created too much of. Leaving us the art of how to keep them running at optimum.
Thanks for your time, Skylar.