Earlier this month, I had the privilege to spend a week with the high-performance staff at Austin FC and explore the operations of their MLS Next Pro team, led by my good friend Brett Utley. From the outside, there has been a great picture painted of this expansion team – their beautiful training facility, rocking stadium, experienced coaching staff, and exceptional high-performance department led by none other than Mr. Dave Tenney. I wanted to get an idea of how their state-of-the-art setting matched with their inner operations. My thoughts once I left: “What an incredible club! From top to bottom, an impressive operation.”
I started by observing the second team, and what stood out the most was the ease and simplicity of their daily workflow; that, to me, is a sign of a highly functioning staff that can nail down all the details of training and operational logistics with minimal stress and chaos – all of that while managing the needs of the first team and adapting to last minutes changes or requests. There is so much power in proper preparation, composure, and adaptability when operating in the fast-paced, high-pressure, and complex system of professional sports, and this crew gets it right. Unsurprisingly, they went on to become MLS Next Pro Champions two weeks later, beating Columbus Crew in the final. I must give a special nod to Brett, as his managerial style and playing philosophy were clear to observe within a week while watching the team play. He is a passionate and gifted young coach with a bright future. Thank you, Brett!
While with the first team, I spent most of my time with my former boss and head of fitness and rehab, Chad Kolarcik – which led to some great conversations about everything high-performance. However, some of the most insightful conversations were really about life in general and how that all relates to our profession. Capturing his thoughts about the deeper understanding of our energies and emotions was truly inspiring, as I battled with that myself all year. Getting to think about how we perceive our environments, how that triggers our behaviors and emotions, and how it impacts our energy level was special. How do we think that it all relates to our athletes as we aim to improve their energy levels to optimize their performance? Thank you, Chad!
I also spent some time chatting with head athletic trainer Satoshi lida, who shared some great insights on his approach to sports medicine operations and athlete management, and he dove into his more specific role within the return-to-play process. One aspect that was clear was the importance of merging medical and performance expertise throughout that process. I still see too many settings where there is a lack of integration between medical and performance specialists. At Austin FC, Tosh and Chad display another great example of how this special collaboration yields the best results in returning an athlete to the field. Thank you, Tosh!
Lastly, I spent time with high-performance director Dave Tenney. Aside from all of Dave’s great experiences, the most powerful conversation focused on his time in the NBA – specifically on the differences between those worlds and the challenges he faced in developing his system and staffing his team. The reflections of that time in Orlando and how he approached his new role at Austin were inspiring. We discussed the importance of diversity within a staff, but also the power of having some strong anchors with experience in the sport and league. Thank you, Dave!
During the high-performance staff debrief, I felt the same ease and simplicity I had observed with the second team. Even though they were discussing high-level details and variables leading to critical decision-making, the composure and calmness felt were impressive.
A truly inspiring experience that was validating in many ways. The one absolute truth I continue to cherish after all these great encounters is that it’s about people. Recruiting good people first and, more importantly, putting good people in leadership roles to shape a working culture that promotes good behavior and work ethics is one big key to success.
Thank you to everyone who allowed me to soak in this high-level environment.
A special congratulations to Brett Uttley and his staff and team for a great season and winning the MLS Next Pro championship!