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In December 2021, New York City FC penned a new chapter in their history by winning the MLS for the first time with victory over Portland Timbers.

But what does it take to go from contenders to champions? And how can the club and its backroom staff now improve on that fairytale season and start a new era of repeated success?

Those are the questions the MLS winners’ human performance department are tasked with answering on a daily basis as they seek to improve the physical and mental output of their players.

In a special episode of the Science in Sport Industry Insights podcast, SiS Director of Performance Solutions, James Morton, sat down with New York City’s outgoing Performance Director, Jeremy Bettle, to discuss the club’s high performance secrets.

 

  1. Work smarter, not harder

As the club went in pursuit of a history-making first league title, their high performance staff refined their day-to-day processes to maximise the physical output of their players and their ability to recover between training and games and rehabilitate from injury.

The first 30 days of Bettle’s tenure were key to observe opportunities for improvement, establish one-on-one meetings with staff, monitor training and recovery processes and start delivering feedback to staff on how to optimise the way they worked with players.

Data sharing and communication between all departments was a key early change. By pooling together findings from sports science staff, S&C coaches, physios and medical experts, they were able to solve the causes of injuries in a more efficient manner and accelerate recovery.

Reflective practice was also introduced, as staff were encouraged to critically analyse their own work and that of their peers to create an ongoing process of adaptation and learning. They were also able to dip into a bank of learnings created by the club’s parent company, City Football Group, which pulls together performance learnings from each of its 10 clubs.

 

  1. Fuel for success

Last season, tests found that some players were under fuelled before games by up to 50%. Morton and Dr Dana Lis, the Company’s US Performance Nutritionist, worked with NYCFC to change that.

Key changes included tweaking their menu design to make carbohydrates more readily available from natural food sources. Player preferences were also accounted for, with pancakes provided at breakfast to top up carbohydrate stores and a high protein risotto after lunch to repair and refuel.

Consuming enough carbohydrates through food alone is tough and so the club also turned to SiS supplementation via Science in Sport’s Beta Fuel range, REGO Rapid Recovery and the bespoke Performance Solutions Lab product, S3.

After the changes were implemented, the club’s high performance staff monitored data gathered via players’ GPS vests and noticed a big difference in the distances covered by several players, validating their decision to increase carbohydrate intake.

 

  1. Guard against complacency

The aftermath of success can be a dangerous time for clubs and players – but New York already had a plan in place to guard against the onset of complacency and maximise their chances of winning again.

Bettle acknowledged that some of the club’s success last term was a by-product of the work done before his arrival at the start of last season, and his aim was to continue his project of refining their work on the training ground to optimise performance on the pitch.

“One of the pitfalls of success is that you think you’ve won because you’ve done everything perfectly,” says Bettle. “But I don’t think that was the case, I don’t think everything we were doing was perfect and keeping that in mind was important. We’d implemented some changes but in 6-8 months there was no way we were the finished article as a human performance department.”

Humility, therefore, was crucial to approaching the off-season. Together, the club’s human performance department acknowledged that the success of the club as a whole didn’t mean their processes were perfect and they’ve continued their pursuit of marginal gains this season.

 

  1. Study serial winners

New York’s pursuit of marginal gains involved a special off-season project, which saw them conduct meetings and interviews with experts from a host of serial winners from other sports. They spoke to Formula One team Mercedes, rugby union side Canterbury Crusaders, and the All Blacks, plus several other teams, to find out the secrets of their repeated success.

The findings reaffirmed many of the things that the club was already doing well but also resulted in new learnings that the club has since applied to its daily processes. A recurring message from those high level talks was the constant need to ask critical questions about how to improve regardless of success.

Language is another tool they are using to avoid complacency. Collectively, staff have agreed not to talk about the success of last season and emphasise that the club are not champions this year and still have much work to do to repeat their success and adapt to their new status as champions, which has seen them go from hunters to hunted.

 

Click here to listen to the full episode of the Science in Sport Industry Insights podcast.

Written By

The Performance Solutions Team