Speaking with Max Bretos during an Instagram Live interview on Wednesday, Mark-Anthony Kaye shared his secret to staying mentally sharp while observing the "Safer At Home" orders from local officials.
"I’ve started to do yoga every day. It’s just something to keep my mind active," Kaye said. "It might seem like it’s something easy, but you end up having a hard time in easy poses. Then you realize you should keep working at it."
Two weeks on from the suspension of the MLS season and a league-mandated moratorium on team training, Kaye admitted the recent restrictions haven't always been easy. But he understands the necessity.
"It’s tough to not be in a normal routine," Kaye said. "But we all have to play our part, stay at home, and make sure everyone is safe. Other than that, having some alone time is good but having a little bit too much can be hard at times. I’m trying to find the balance."
Trying to find that balance for players is a task of juggling the unknown while staying disciplined on their own. The life of a professional footballer is rarely this solitary. Players find comfort in their routines and in the group.
With that in mind, the LAFC coaching, medical, and performance staffs are trying to give the squad the best of both worlds. Through structured, individualized routines and open lines of communication, LAFC players are getting detailed instruction when it comes to maintaining their fitness in isolation, while also feeling connected to the group.
"We really have to utilize technology with a lot of Facetime, Zoom, whatever it may be just to be with these guys and make sure they know that they are supported," LAFC Head Performance Coach Daniel Guzman said via phone on Thursday. "So, it takes a lot of time on the phone or computer but after the first few weeks, they get a routine and we can build their program that way."
For LAFC players, that routine is done in three or four-day blocks. It provides players with consistency and something to build on from the day before, Guzman said. A sample day consists of a warmup activation session for players at their homes. Sometimes it's led by conference call, other days players receive a text or email with the activities for the day.
Then it's time for the running. There's a mix of endurance running and high-speed running completed by players on an active day. That's followed by a change of direction exercise or a pre-programmed drill usually diagrammed by Guzman in a simple PDF file for players. But as Guzman noted, each exercise is something players are familiar with from training, so not much instruction is needed once the exercise is scheduled.
The final component of the day is usually a strength session using body weight or dumbbells.
"Everyone wonders what are these guys actually losing and what does that mean for them? At these times, it’s not like an offseason phase. It’s a lockdown phase. They’re missing the football, which is the most important," Guzman. "All the stuff that we work on as a Club, touching the ball, passing with someone else, decision making I think is the biggest thing, and that stuff starts to suffer. But these guys have different resources and we’re being creative with making sure that they’re still getting their ball touches, they’re trying to do something with those moments of passing, the inside and outside of the foot, and some sort of striking. It’s not always perfect but we’re trying to get the most out of that."
Removing the focus solely from the physical output and overall fitness of each player and putting it into holistic terms takes a team effort. That team effort consists of considerable amounts of conversation between the performance staff, Bob Bradley and his coaching staff, and the medical staff.
Along with LAFC Performance Director Gavin Benjafield and LAFC Performance Coach Thomas Jobe, Guzman is in constant contact with players and coaches to assess the needs of each. Players wear heart-rate monitors during sessions. The data of each session is uploaded for coaches and staff to monitor players and provide feedback.
"When you talk about field players, a big thing for us is that you have your outside guys and you have your guys that play a bit more central. We know that a center back and a winger have different qualities and needs. So now we’re prescribing different types of conditioning and certain heart-rate zones," Guzman said. "We’re making sure we’re hitting those intensities and that it’s not just always long, slow endurance but some moments they’re getting into what we call ‘the red zone’ with high intensity runs."
To tailor workouts to each player, the performance staff started with individual conversations around each player's needs and what each had available in the place they would be staying. Guzman said while some players have garages or their own gyms to work out in, others live in apartment complexes with gyms that are locked up to prevent the spread of the coronavirus.
"We get taken care of very well at LAFC. The coaching staff and the strength coaches have given us equipment to bring home. I’ve got dumbbells, bands, weights, all that stuff, and we make sure that we’re staying on top of our strength," Kaye said. "I think that’s one of the biggest things because right now we can’t play and get that load in our legs. And obviously, there’s the running. But for me, I really appreciate the effort that Daniel and Tom have put to making sure we have workouts that are targeted to each player specifically. We’re not just looked at as one person, you know there’s individuality put into your workouts."
In unprecedented times, that individual approach sometimes takes unprecedented measures. Guzman recalled having to facetime with defender Jordan Harvey to help him set up borrowed equipment from the LAFC Performance Center in his garage. And social media has become the primary facilitator of information.
"With these guys, if I go to Instagram, that’s the easiest way to do it. Because they can log on. We can send stuff back and forth. That’s their world right now," Guzman said. "Instagram has been huge. Twitter has been huge. Whatever I can do to check in with these guys has been great."
When normal training resumes, it's the willingness to do whatever it takes to maintain connections and that feeling of being together that might serve LAFC just as much as the physical exertions.
"Of course, as a performance coach, I think the physical qualities are so important. But I actually think the most important thing is that these guys feel they are supported and that they are in communication and we didn’t just leave them alone for two, four, six, eight weeks, or however long it takes," Guzman said. "And so for them to come back and say hey those guys were with me every step and when I was struggling just being all by myself in quarantine, sometimes it wasn’t a workout, it was that Daniel or Tom or Gavin, Bob, Mike [Sorber], Ante [Razov], Kenny [Arena], or whomever it was called me up and said what’s going on. I think that’s something the staff has done really well. I think that stuff goes a long way.
"As you know and people that are around the LAFC community know, that’s what makes a team special. Everyone feels like they are in it together and they’re writing the story together. So even though we’re isolated, we like to tell the guys we are together in isolation."