Off-field training raises game of soccer players

After two straight injury-plagued seasons in Major League Soccer, Chivas USA goalkeeper and former UCSB soccer star Danny Kennedy was determined to find a way to keep his body from breaking down.

What Kennedy discovered was a matter of science.

He met Dr. Marcus Elliott, a Harvard-trained physician who specializes in analyzing the body movements of elite athletes, isolates and strengthens their areas of weakness, and changes their mechanics, which in turn improves their athleticism and raises the level of their performance on the field, and helps reduce injuries.

Soon, Kennedy was training at Elliott’s Peak Performance Project in Santa Barbara, following an individualized program that not only would make him a better athlete, but a pain-free athlete.

“At this level, everyone is a hard worker. It’s about working smart,” said Kennedy, who had knee surgery two years ago and shoulder surgery last year. “I wanted to do everything possible to improve on these weaknesses.”

He’s presently in training camp with Chivas USA, competing for the No. 1 spot.

Michael Tetteh is entering his professional soccer career as the top draft pick of the MLS Seattle Sounders. Before the draft and MLS Combine earlier this month, the UCSB junior was working on improving his athleticism at Elliott’s P3 facility.

“This takes you to the next level,” he said. “I’ve gained so much power. My stride is more powerful and when I hit a shot, it’s big time.”

Sanford Spivey has been dominating in the midfield for the Santa Barbara High soccer team this year, winning head balls, derailing opponents’ attacks and the linking with attacking players. Spivey, who has a scholarship to Boston University, is coming off a knee injury which knocked him out of the playoffs last year.

He credits Elliott’s system with helping him become a better athlete on the field.

“P3 has definitely improved my strength and quickness, also my jumping ability has shot up,” Spivey said. “It’s helped me stay one step ahead of every soccer player and going after every ball, shielding every ball and going after headers, especially.”

Elliott has worked with players in the NFL, NBA, Major League Baseball and with Olympic athletes.

He’s excited about applying his methods to soccer training and building the athleticism of soccer players.

“I love to solve problems,” said Elliott. “Soccer, to me, is the best sport for us to work in. Why? Because we spend so much time building athleticism.

“The thing we do better, better than build strength, or build size, or even build power is build all-around athletes, athletes that are better getting out of breaks, that accelerate quicker than other athletes. That’s probably a hallmark to our overall approach in developing athletes and training people — building athleticism. And, soccer is such an athleticism sport.

“I couldn’t be more excited about what we’re going to do with soccer. The few athletes we have taken in have done spectacularly well.”

With Kennedy, Elliott devised a program that worked on his posture, strength, power and stability in his upper body. They also worked on the goalkeeper’s relaxation.

“He was strong and can drive really hard,” Elliott noted, “but his relaxation wasn’t great, and relaxation is so important in generating power. All of our highest power athletes at the professional level relax really well.”

Relaxation, Elliott explained, is not about “meditation, rainbows, butterflies, go to your happy place. It’s a trained phenomenon. If an athlete is not relaxed here, they’re never going to create power.”

He said athletes who have a higher degree of relaxation have better tempo and timing in their movements.

“That’s really important for keeping yourself out of bad situations, especially for muscle injuries. It’s really, really important.

“Our motto is you train an athlete to hold relaxation, to avoid holding tension and do it as well as you can in this environment and then make sure it translates out on the field.”

Trainer Woody Cliffords said Kennedy’s training routine in the gym is always different.

“We want to make him feel like he’s in a battle. There are different ways to attack that to keep it fresh. Unless you’re a boxer preparing for an opponent, in sports everything is a reaction, so it’s better that we keep throwing him in the fire and see how it goes.”

Before he left for Seattle, Tetteh was working on improving his power and speed.

“With Michael, we want to build more power,” Elliiott said. “He had good relaxation. What we want to do is make this guy stronger on the ball, sprint faster and accelerate better.

“With Danny, the primary goal was to give him better relaxation, a better sense of tempo and overhead stability.

“Here are two guys training for the same sport, yet their training is so different.”

Tetteh said he’s believer in Elliott’s training system.

“Every soccer team should have this type of training,” he said. “It deals with injury prevention; they test your body for areas of weakness. All around, it’s perfect.

“I’ve never felt this way in my life before. I feel so healthy, I feel more powerful.”