Impact Media strives to bring you as much information as possible on your club. The players on the field are crucial, but the club is also about passionate women and men that take care of every aspect of the organization. In this space, we’ll introduce you to some of these people who play in the shadows.
Sports therapy has evolved exponentially over the last decades. Gone are the days when players got injured and heard the manager simply tell them to “run it off”. Every professional team now employs athletic therapists, the first responders that sprint onto the field when the referee waves them on as a player winces in pain.
Head athletic therapist Nicolas Nault and assistant athletic therapists Karam Al-Hamdani and Sheehan McBride do so for the Montreal Impact. But their job entails much more than immediate assistance on match days.
Here is how a typical non-match day pans out:
Nault, Al-Hamdani and McBride drive to Centre Nutrilait, where they set everything up for therapy. They are the first faces that Impact players see in the morning – and in preseason, for that matter, when they conduct mandatory tests.
The aim of training camp is to lift players to their optimal condition for the upcoming season. ‘Maximizing capacities’ is how all three gentlemen describe their job.
“If we do our job well, nobody knows, because the player’s effective on Saturday – that’s it,” adds Nault. “The guy that tears his ACL, we know he’s hurt. He’s doing rehab. Everybody knows. But our job is managing these players so that when it’s time to deliver, they’re in tip-top condition to perform.”
Players start trickling into Centre Nutrilait for therapy. Usually, they are the long-term injured players; healthy guys can sleep in a bit more, as shut-eye is a crucial, if underrated, aspect of injury prevention.
“A player getting hurt doesn’t mean that the prevention program isn’t good,” Nault says. “All sorts of factors come into play. You can’t predict that a player will get studs rammed into his leg.”
This is not just about treating the players’ bodies. This is also about managing minds that want to go faster than the body can process. As needed, the therapists pull the reins on players and insist that they take their time – return too early, and they may miss another four weeks.
Despite such natural frustrations, the therapists’ work doesn’t go unnoticed by players.
“Players thank you the moment they get off the table, the moment they return to the field,” McBride says. “They’re very aware of what we put into this.”
Therapy begins for healthy players, who still consult with the therapists – even if they remain in peak physical shape all season long.
The constant contact between players and therapists fosters an environment of trust, a haven for players to work through their hardships. This is a key element of the therapists’ work, essential for them to learn what makes their clock tick.
“We see them every day and work in an intimate setting with them,” Nault says. “Let’s say that a player that’s new to the team and not yet settled in the city, gets hurt. It takes a bit more for him to get into that comfort zone to divulge information. We have to build that trust with him, because in the end, we’re here for him to make sure that he gets better.”
Most days, first-team training starts at 10:30 or 11am. The period from 10 to the start of the session provides a buffer for the therapists to do any type of stretching with the players or finish up treatments and taping of body parts.
Plenty of resources are available for them to help the players, both externally – through consultants – and internally, with the state-of-the-art Centre Nutrilait. All three spend more time at the facility, together, than at their own homes. They know each other inside and out, lean on one another in all sorts of situations.
“One day in training camp in Orlando, we came back from practice, my cousin in Abu Dhabi reached out to me to let me know that my grandmother had just passed away,” Al-Hamdani says. “I’d just come back from Abu Dhabi to see her. I knew it was coming, but it was a blow. I was extremely shaken and in a terrible state of mind. Sheehan and Nicolas carried me through it. Nicolas told me to take as much time as I needed, that they would steer the ship during my absence. I realized then and there that we had become more than just co-workers, we had become family, able to rely on one another during times of need.”
Training begins under the watchful eye of Nault, while Al-Hamdani and McBride focus on rehabilitation. Injured players remain in the gym with McBride, the return to play specialist who builds a base that shortens the gap with the subsequent individual field work.
Once those players are cleared to return to the field for individual work, Al-Hamdani follows a checklist, starting with some light stretching and jogging, evaluating how the player is progressing along the way.
“You then work your way to soccer-specific exercises,” Al-Hamdani explains. “As the player moves into that phase of the return to play, he will then start to work with Yannick Girard [first-team fitness coach]. Once all the boxes are ticked, Yannick starts increasing the workload. When Yannick gives the green light to rejoin full team training, the player does so.”
The session is over. Not the work day. Time to optimize recovery for the next day: recovery shakes, hot tub, cold tub, recovery boots, massage, gym work – whatever helps.
“What works for one player doesn’t work for another,” Nault says. “We need to find the right approach that works for the player to maximize his performance. Every player has their own unique routine. It’s about identifying that routine and supporting them within that framework.”
The therapists return home, having gotten everything ready for the next day with, hopefully, little fixing to do on injured guys.
“We prefer that our work isn’t talked about,” McBride says. “We shouldn’t be at the forefront. We don’t want to be the focal point, even when our work goes well.”
“If no one is talking about us,” Nault adds, “then we’re doing our job.”