Darcy Norman is a coach that I’ve followed and respected for years. We met for the first time at the Sounders Sports Science seminar last year, where we got to talk shop and compare notes on training our soccer players.
Not only is Darcy one of the nicest guys in our industry, but incredibly smart, humble, and down to Earth, too.
Plus, any time you can interview with the performance coach for the German National soccer team, you jump at the opportunity!
If you want to learn more about performance training (especially in regards to soccer), I think you’re going to love this interview.
Darcy, thanks for taking the time to be with us here today. Could you start by telling us a little bit about yourself?
Absolutely, my pleasure!
I am originally from Northern Alberta, Canada and now reside in Truckee (Lake Tahoe), CA. I ended up moving down to the states to go to college and ski race at WSU. There I got my Biology and Kinesiology degrees with an emphasis in Pre Med and Athletic Training.
After WSU Kirk Bradshaw and myself opened a fitness consulting company in Seattle, WA. After about 3 years I decided to go back to school to get my PT degree. Ended up being a managing parter at Olympic PT in Seattle, WA for about 1.5 and then made the move to EXOS (formally Athletes’ Performance) in 2003 and have been with them pretty much since then.
Being a physiotherapist, strength coach and athletic trainer, I have had the opportunity to work in each individual capacity as well as combinations of them in various sporting aspects. I have recently taken on more data analytics responsibilities which has challenged my computer skills but has been great.
I have worked with a variety of different athletes in different avenues throughout my career from kids to pros, individuals to teams, consulting to being on the pay roll, rehab to performance training.
My team experiences have been with Professional Cycling working with Team High Road the 5 years of their existence, Bayern Munich (Pro Soccer) 2008-10, as well as the German National Soccer Team since before the Euro 2012.
I have been with EXOS since 2003 and attribute a lot of my opportunities to being a part of that team. They are a fantastic group of people that are passionate about what they do and love solving performance problems.
Currently I sit on our Performance Innovation Team at EXOS working on various projects for Adidas as well as supplementing with training and rehab and some speaking engagements.
Wow, that’s quite the resume!
What originally led you into the fields of strength and conditioning/physical preparation?
I have always loved, participated and enjoyed sports and wanted to match my passion with my work. I couldn’t imagine doing something just to do it. I wanted my work to be my hobby.
It was the next step from what I grew up doing. After I stopped ski racing, I got into competing in endurance sports like Mt. Biking, offroad triathlon and regular triathlon. I moved into coaching and from there knew training was a key piece to sporting success. I looked for more information on how to make my athletes better and the S&C field was a natural progression and the rehab/medical field after that.
And you’re unique in that regard, because you also have more of a medical background as well. Correct?
Yes, although, I am not sure how unique it is getting to be anymore. I feel like all the information is one continuous spectrum. After all, it’s all information on how the human body works. To me rehab does equal training and vice versa as Charlie says. It’s all the same just on various parts of the spectrum.
So let’s start with an obvious question – how has your unique education background (that merges rehab and training), influenced your own training philosophy?
I think I have a unique experience from working with very metabolic athletes to very explosive start stop athletes. At the end of the day they all need the same stuff just in various amounts.
The endurance athletes need more strength and HIT training and the start stop athletes could benefit from more mobility based training and better metabolic support. (This is obviously a gross generalization as really it’s what the person needs but something I seem to notice frequently).
I feel like now a lot of time I act as a psychologist trying to get to the root of what motivates that person getting them to expand their concept of training to make it more balanced.
The medical/rehab side of me feels like there needs to be more attention to movement quality, if you are going to move do it with the best mechanics possible. While the strength coach side feels like people just need to lift/train more, put a little more weight on the bar but not sacrificing the quality. I see the limits in either professions but also see the benefits.
Now that we’ve got that covered, let’s talk a bit of soccer!
What originally led you to training soccer players specifically?
Haha, I didn’t really have any soccer experience prior to working with Bayern besides the occasional game we played for dryland training while I was ski racing.
It was funny because at one point the assistant coach at the time at Bayern asked me:
“How did a guy from northern Canada end up at a club like Bayern?”
I guess it is one example where you don’t have to be an “expert” in the sport to do what we do with our athletes. I am sure it helps but if you are willing to take on the learning curve and have an open mindset anything is really possible.
So with that said EXOS started working with the GNT in 2004 when Juergen Klinsmann became Head Coach. They had a bumpy road trying to upgrade their methodology but in the end had great success in 2006 with getting third in the WC2006 after not making it out of the group phase in the Euro Champs in 2004.
After the WC, Juergen moved on and we (EXOS) continued to train them. Juergen then was named HC of FC Bayern Munich and was looking to assemble a similar team to what he had at the National Team and I had the opportunity to interview with him and got the job as Fitness/Rehab coach in 2008, the rest I guess is history……
That is very, very cool.
Could you walk me through this path a bit? Because we’ll get to the German National team (GNT) here in a second, but you obviously didn’t start there.
I had the opportunity to join Juergen Klinsmann when he took the Head Coach job at Bayern Munich in 2008 through EXOS. He was looking for someone that could play a duel row of rehab and fitness coach and hadn’t been tarnished by the traditions and style of how professional soccer operated.
He wanted folks with a clean objective view that could take a situation for what it was and not be influenced by the culture of the sport. That was my first step into it.
It was a steep learning curve but one I really enjoyed and appreciated the opportunity to have. The first year we didn’t have the success we had hoped for and Juergen got let go late into the season and was replaced by Jupp Hyekes to finish the season.
The following season Louis Van Gaal (now with Manchester United) was hired to take over and the structure changed for good and bad. I got more focused into a rehab role but also got the opportunity to start my life with GPS systems and data analytics as he brought in Inmotio to monitor the players on the pitch. He also had a very good structure that allowed another level of learning and understanding for me that has helped shaped ways I think today.
In total I spent 2 years in Munich with the opportunity to be part of team that won the German title, Pokal title and played and lost in the finals of the Champions League.
Due to family reasons my family decided to move back to the states where I picked back up with EXOS fulltime and joined their Performance Innovation Team.
Excellent. Could you talk a little bit about your time with the GNT? First and foremost, how does one even get a shot at a position such as this?
Certainly humbled and honored for the opportunity and experience. It was the right time, right place, with the right people working as a collective group.
There were a lot of pieces to this. The first one was obviously that EXOS had the contract with the GNT and Masa Sakihana moved over to support Juergen when he took on the HC job for the USMNT and I back filled into Masa’s role.
I was also helping Adidas with their new miCoach monitoring system that the GNT was using so fit anther role they needed with the team on the data analytics side. Also at the time there was about 6-7 players from Bayern that played on the GNT so I knew and had worked with a good portion of the team already.
They took me on a trial for the Euro 2012 and everything worked well and got asked to come back and support the team for WC2014.
Let’s walk through the process a bit. When you got the gig, what was the first thing you wanted to do with these guys with regards to intake and assessment?
For the GNT, we (EXOS) had already been working with the team since 2004 (as mentioned above) and Shad Forsythe had done a phenomenal job implementing new systems, methodology, technology, etc so when I came on board the machine had already been running I just stepped in to continue to help support the group and start adding the performance data analytics piece.
They were already doing everything they needed to be doing to start employing the methodology. My role was to continue to support that, bring any fresh ideas and or thoughts and help implement them as well as manage all the performance analytics we were tracking with the GPS team system.
And following up on that, how much training can you actually do with these guys?
It really depends…..there are a lot of things to consider.
The short answer is you can do quite a bit, but it can vary significantly and also depends on how you define training. With the National team there are 2 main circumstances.
- National Team Breaks/Qualifying – These are 3 day to 10 day gatherings where the squad (not always the same players) will get together for qualifying games for the next tournament. In these breaks you are just keeping the guys moving well and maintaining them for the break and their season with the club.
- Tournaments – This is where you get together for 1-2 months with a named squad and prepare and participate in a major tournament (Euro Champs or World Cup). This is an opportunity where you make more change and upgrade the player. You have a chance to break down your time to various training cycles and actually progress them through.The players already come to these camps relatively fit so you are just adjusting the dials to get the most out of them. That could mean improving their movement quality, improving their power, working on movement skills or conditioning all within the goals of the team.
To my point about defining training: Training can also come in the form of education which plays a massive role in upgrading the player. This education helps when you are not with them, because they have the tools to make the right choices to keep themselves developing on a good path.
So in both cases education on the framework and systems of the team is key and then when they leave they can keep those things going in their respective clubs.
I love the idea of athlete education – that’s huge and something not enough of us are talking about.
Obviously the GNT isn’t a club team where you have them for months at a time. How does that change what you attempt to do from a performance-training perspective?
You have to evaluate the needs of each player for where they are at, at that point, look at the need of the team and come up with individualized games plans for each of them that fit the greater good of the team.
So as a team they are doing all a similar program for the greater good and then each player may have 1-3 things that they are focusing on to upgrade their potential.
At the end of the day it is all driven to improve their performance, which could mean improving eating habits, recovery habits, training more or less etc. It’s really putting the shine on the package.
Last but not least, when it comes to recovery and regeneration and keeping these guys fresh, did you have any go-to modalities or strategies that you used to keep them feeling good?
I think we had a good mix of strategies for multiple situations for the different needs of the players that involved various modalities. To me it is more organizing the logistics of the modalities than doing the modality itself.
I don’t think there is any new rocket science out there that you can’t find in blogs and forums – probably too many and you have to wade through the misrepresented ones and get to things you know have value for your logistical circumstances. It was just taking what is out there that we are already aware of and applying it effectively.
As well not just looking at physical recovery but also emphasizing nutritional and mental recovery.
We had our programed ones based on the training etc so we looked at how we could create environments that it was easy and convenient for them to do it without us always having to get in their grill and remind them or push them to it.
In the end they got more regeneration opportunities besides our planned ones and it was their choice which kept the moral of the group and staff high which was also important.
Obviously I could go on and on with this line of question, and I guarantee it would be as much for my own benefit as that of my readers! 🙂
But I’ve already taken a ton of your time, so let’s start to wrap this up. What is one mistake you’ve made in your career, and how have you learned from it to become a better coach?
This is a tough question!
My quick answer, I don’t think I have made any mistakes – I have made decisions that could have been better that is for sure. From each decision (bad or good – as you don’t know until you make it) you learn from it and try and move on and continue to upgrade what you do and how you do it.
I guess, I should have read more, paid more attention, studied more, etc. Maybe that is what I have learned to become a better coach is you have to keep moving forward and trying to upgrade yourself, take a step (big or small) each day but take the step.
As soon as you think/act like you know it all something will punch you in the nose.
Try and be present and aware in what you do and I think a lot of what it comes down to is managing expectations whether it is the people you work for, work with, coach etc.
If you can manage expectations well I think you will be successful.
Darcy, thanks a ton for coming on here today. Where can my readers find out more about you?
If people are interested in learning more about myself and our work they can go to www.teamexos.com. If they are interested in learning more about our systems and methodology they can go to www.teamexos.com/#education.
We are actually now just announcing our EXOS Performance Specialist Certification and would like to offer your readers 20% off the certification. We are currently in a pre-launch period and all content will be loaded and ready for viewing in mid-September. Once you’ve signed up, we’ll send you a notification when the certification is live.
Click here to learn more and to register!
Thanks again Darcy – I really appreciate it!