FOXBOROUGH, Mass. – You can’t see it, but it’s there.
“The Wall.” That invisible road block that impedes tired players both mentally and physically.
As in, “I was rolling right along, feeling good, and then I just seemed to hit a wall.”
Players tend to hit it right around this time of year; these summer months when the heat is stifling and the sheer length of a grueling 34-game season begins to take its toll. Training sessions feel longer and increasingly monotonous. Legs feel heavier. After all, these guys have been grinding day-in, day-out for the past six months.
The first step in breaking through the wall is acknowledging it exists and adjusting the approach as necessary. That’s exactly what the Revs have done in recent weeks, going so far as to shorten training sessions and change up the daily routine in an effort to avoid monotony.
“We definitely up-ticked training; we’ve shortened it. We’re not out here as long,” said head coach Jay Heaps. “We’re trying to blend that with lifting at different times and watching video at different times, just to change a little bit of the sequence of the normal day.”
Young players tend to hit “the wall” the hardest as they adjust from the sprint of a four-month college season to the marathon of a 10-month professional campaign. That’s particularly noteworthy for a Revolution side with one of the youngest rosters in Major League Soccer.
New England’s staff keeps a close eye on particular players throughout the season, tracking their daily work-rate with the adidas miCoach system. If a player is overtaxed, their workload is reduced. It’s a sort of preventative maintenance.
But Heaps also believes the “one-game-at-a-time” approach he’s pushed heavily has a positive effect both physically and mentally during the grind of a season. Rather than focus in a macro sense on the daunting months ahead, players instead keep their attention fixed on the next opponent, which helps break the season into smaller, more manageable increments.
“When players start preparing and start getting their mind set around the next step – not so much what’s three weeks out, but what’s right in front of us in three days – I think that’s the most important thing,” said Heaps. “I know players get lost in that competition and their legs move for them, and they can compete in that regard.”