Once a week, Real Salt Lake and Utah Royals FC players gather for a team training session. While their surroundings are different — a living room, a bedroom, a backyard — the location is the same: Zoom.
In the age of COVID-19, the online video conference application has become as ubiquitous as Apple products. Seemingly every industry is utilizing its capability and virtual backgrounds, or a similar product, and the pro soccer teams in Utah are no different.
With the players largely confined to their homes, keeping in shape has been a challenge. But the strength and condition coaches for both RSL and the Royals are doing what they can until group sessions are allowed again.
“It’s actually good to connect with all the players, have a bit of fun and generally gauge where they are and get their feedback as well,” said Andrew Wiseman, head of performance for the Royals.
Major League Soccer announced Friday that players could hold voluntary individual workouts at outdoor training facilities. But small group and full team sessions are still suspended until at least May 15.
The Royals hold their Zoom workouts on Fridays, while RSL has them another day of the week. RSL used to hold two sessions per week, but one of them was replaced with meetings covering tactical analysis.
Wiseman and Matt Howley, RSL’s director of performance, said they provided equipment to the players. RSL got what Howley referred to as “care packages” and the Royals got an assortment of weights and even exercise bikes.
Every player has an individual workout program involving weights, resistance bands and a running regimen they can do outside. The virtual ones give the strength coaches a chance to guide the players, but also for the players to see each other and connect.
“It was a really good idea,” RSL midfielder Damir Kreilach said. “We as the players, we can see the guys from the staff [and] we can meet each other at least on … Zoom.”
Wiseman said players’ pets have made appearances during Zoom workouts, and even the children of some players have joined in. Royals forward Raisa Strom-Okimoto said those glimpses into the non-soccer lives of her teammates brings everyone close together, which will translate if and when games resume.
“It’s just something new about your teammate that you can connect on a different level with,” Strom-Okimoto said. “I think that’s super awesome. It’s not just soccer. They have a life out of soccer.”
While the strength staffs can’t evaluate players in the same way as they used to, they are still giving players benchmarks and goals to reach. And the Royals have incorporated some healthy competition.
Strom-Okimoto said the players have challenges incorporating running speed, push-ups and sit-ups.
“We try not to compare, but obviously you want to be the fastest, you want to get the most push-ups, you want to get the most sit-ups,” Strom-Okimoto said. “So in that sense, we’re competitive and we kind of push each other to get the highest that they can be.”
It’s still unclear when RSL and the Royals can take the pitch again. But Howley believes the Zoom workouts and the fitness directives will help the athletes be ready.
“In the end, if we can be more resilient and healthier than other teams when we get back to games and to training, that’s ultimately going to give us a better chance to win if we can have our best players on the field more often,” Howley said.