Nashville SC

Transcript: Gary Smith on return-to-training and more

Nashville SC head coach Gary Smith met with the media (virtually) this afternoon. Read his full comments here.

Opening statement

“Well first of all, it’s been great to have the guys back at the training ground. It seems like an eternity since any of us had any close interaction with the players. I think more than anything, it’s a big morale boost, and certainly a positive step. Now, for sure it’s a small step, but it’s enabled the players to be back in a more structured and safe environment. It’s not been easy for any of them – I suspect at all clubs – to go out and get any work done. Certainly in public areas, with the concerns we all have at the moment. Some of the work that we’ve been able to put on, I think, has enabled the guys yet again to be on a good surface, to be around decent equipment and the environment, but as I said at the very start, I think the biggest positive out of this is morale, good interaction again – or decent interaction – and a very nice step towards something we all hope is going to be a return to playing in the not-too-distant future.”

How much run-up do you think you’d need before playing again?

“Well, we’ve been off a long time now. If you look at what a preseason might look like under normal circumstances, if I’m not mistaken, we’re into the eighth week of isolation and this moratorium. The professional athlete at this level would need what a normal preseason would look like. However, I think everyone is understanding of what a season may well look like now. Are we going to be able to get a full 34-game season in? Are we looking at something that might be more reduced? Some of the questions that obviously surround what a season might look like will certainly impact how much time we do get to prepare.

“But some of the ongoing discussions have suggested that it could be up to four weeks for players and teams to get themselves back into some order. It’s not just being fit and healthy and in a good position to compete against other teams, but there’s a lot of things that go into making sure that your team’s ready and prepared for whatever the challenges are in front of them. We’re not just talking about one game here, we’re talking about preparing players for a season that could still be anywhere from 75% to a full season – so it’s a lot of games, a lot of stress on a player’s body. But I think if we’re looking at a preparation time of four weeks – I’m sure most coaches would want more, understand, though, the position they’re in – I think a lot of us would be able to get the work that’s needed done in four weeks.”

What are your thoughts on a proposed five-sub rule?

“There’s been all sort of rule changes that have been aired and discussed – not just in MLS, but I’m reading lots and lots of press from abroad, and I think this is something that the European leagues have discussed. Personally, whatever season we go into now is going to be completely different to how this season started, or any season that we’ve had before. Looking at the restrictions and some of the difficulties that we’re going to have to endure – whether that’s a reduced preparation time now, is it squeezing games in on a more regular basis to find our way to a more-fulfilling season and more games? – in that case, I’m fully in support of having extra substitutions to ease that burden, and mentally to try and think about what else: extra subs on the line, instead of an 18-man matchday group the possibility of 20 to have more players to choose from, all of these things that I think are being discussed.

“My only one thing about the five substitutions: there would still only be three breaks in the game per team. So, for example, if we were winning the game, it would be a natural course of events sometimes to try and give your own players a bit of a break in proceedings, or to break up the game and the flow of the game. If you’ve got five substitutions, it’s not going to be very enjoyable for the viewer to see constant changes that just disrupt the flow of the game. So the three breaks in the game and five substitutions make a lot of sense, so therefore you’d have to have multiple substitutions at any given time if you want to get all five of those players on. I think that makes more sense.”

What is your involvement with discussing Orlando-type scenarios, and how would you feel about completing the season in one neutral location over a long stretch?

“Firstly, there’s a lot of information that I get fed through Mike Jacobs, and he’s in some very different environments discussing what transfer windows and budgets, etc. look like. These chats and sort of visions of what a season, and where ti could be, I’ve heard about. I haven’t been in a meeting that has categorically said, ‘this is what it’s going to be.’ The league is still at a stage, from what I understand, where this particular idea is something that they have in mind, and are trying to get feedback from teams about, as to what it could look like and how it could work.

“Personally, we’re in uncharted territory here. I certainly – along with probably most other people – have never seen anything like it before. Therefore, you have to be a little bit more open-minded about what a season could look like. This could be the only season – I hope it’s the only season – that we have to endure anything like this.

“Every team at one venue presents particular problems. Not just obviously with the amount of people there, and the logistics of that, but actually putting on games, timing of games. Orlando is a well-known warm-weather environment (not that most cities in the US during the Summer are not), but Orlando can be extremely humid. I would think there would need to be some considerations about when those games would go on, how many of those games you would be undertaking down in that environment, and over what period of time. For the three- or four-month window that you suggested, yeah of course it’d be extremely difficult to be away from family. There’s other issues that you have to run into and will run into being away from home for that amount of time. But if it means the season, the league, and of course the opportunity to get the wheels turning again, I think most people would be supportive of that, and whatever that means. There will be certain boundaries of course, that we might not be able to cross, but in the main, I think a lot of people have been away from their club, competition, games, the world that they know best, and are looking forward to getting back and being in that environment. The one most important factor I would obviously consider – and I’m sure everyone has – is staying safe.

“That plan sounds a good one; I know there’s been one or two others that have been aired: about regionalizing possible venues and not the whole league going to one venue. Where we end up, I don’t know, but as long as the groups are isolated at this point, we’re able to train and compete in safety, and that is the most important thing for the players. We’ll get the rest of it done, as long as the windows of time are set in a sensible fashion. I would imagine each staff will be pushed to their limits in getting players in the right place, and recovering, etc., but as long as the groups – staff and players alike – are in a safe environment, I think that’s a big piece of the puzzle.”

What have you been able to do personally with the return-to-training protocols?

“Our interaction is zero. At this moment in time, the back-to-training protocol, as you’d rightly said, enables the players to come back into a safe environment: not just obviously with the virus a problem, but also in terms of surfaces, players looking and trying to find recreational areas outside of our own, puts them at risk, and that really is not a good place to be for any club or any coach. Wondering what, where, and how the players are being able to exercise and train.

“We’re really restricted, players are on their own. There’s no coaching, no interaction. There’s a lot of safety precautions to make sure that when there’s a changeover of players, or even when the players are coming into the training facility, they’re not colliding, there’s not an issue with individuals getting too close and maybe running into more health and virus problems. Just really, to make sure that the players are back into a restricted and confined environment that’s better for them.

“As far as the sessions go, we personally have tried to break it down and keep it as stimulating as possible. But for an hour – which is the limit on what we can have the players for, each player – of course it is very, very limited. There’s still stuff that they’re getting on with in their own time. The hope is that we can tick the boxes in the right fashion to try and make it a sensible move forward to smaller groups at whatever point the league feels that is the right move. At this point in time, I think the players have been lifted, and there’s a positive feel, even though they’re not able to compete or interact to a large degree. They’re still in a position where they can talk to each other from different areas of the field, and have a bit of banter, which has been limited of course because of the isolated way we’ve al lived.”

Have you given the players tactical or technical instruction now that they’re back on team facilities, or will most of that have to wait until they’re working in groups?

“There’s not really anything tactically we can do at this point. The individual workouts restrict you to a lot of technical work, and as you’ve rightly pointed out, physical work. I honestly think that we’ve been able to monitor our group through one of the devices that we had at the start of the season, so we’re aware of where most players are at physically. Of course there’s some ground to be made up: there always will be, you just cannot replicate what the guys are going to get on any normal day that they will have been training, or any normal period of time. Being around the ball, feeling comfortable with the ball, staying mentally stimulated, keeping safe of course, and staying in a good physical condition really has to be the main focus. whenever the league says we’re good to move to the next phase, and start to maybe go into groups of four or five, whatever that looks like, we can start to crank up the interaction and the workload and the competition, and slowly-but-surely they’ll start to find their way towards something that looks more natural. I would hope that will be the process.

“I guess the only thing we all have to consider is: depending on how long we stay in this current moratorium, and then with the league looking at what a season might look like, and the timeframe needed: there is of course the possibility that we go from this straight into a mini-preseason, as it were. And we’ve got to get ourselves ready. Even more reason for the players to be in a good physical condition, so that they – when they do make that jump – are in a much better place to deal with the rigors and stresses that they’re going to be put under.”

How have you occupied your unexpected free time?

“It’s not easy. When your mentality and your personality is to be in and around the team and preparing for matches and competition, and then for the last eight weeks, I’ve tried to keep myself and the family in a safe place and isolated, and sensible about what we’re doing as a family. I’ve done more video calls than I’ve ever done in my lifetime. This was something pretty new to me – whether on Microsoft Teams or Zoom – suddenly these computer-based video calls have become the norm. I think I’ve got six of them today, this one included. You’re getting used to a different type of environment, a different life. Certainly, it has been, for the last eight weeks, some days are good, some not. It’s been a period of time that I think we’ve all been able to have some time of reflection about the team, about yourself, about development.

“There have been some things that we’ve been able to do as a group: i.e. looking at prospective players and future recruitment. Lots of time to look at video footage and be more familiar with some targets, and to try and unearth some others.

“There have been some things that have been personally important to maybe get my teeth into a little bit more that I might not have done had I been in the midst of a normal season. I have some licensing that I have to do and catch up with that pertains to a lot of computer work, presentations, and modules that I have to complete, so I’ve been able to do that. Probably one of the more enjoyable angles has been trying to learn Spanish. Cristina was on a call with me, I think yesterday, and my Spanish is – I’ve tried twice before, I’ve always wanted to be able to speak another language, and Spanish being the one that I’ve really tried to focus in on. I don’t find it easy, and I’m not this time, either. We’ve got a bit of a fun and enjoyable angle on it: we have a bit of a league table and competition on where we are, and how much we’ve learned, and points that we’ve gained. And I would definitely go into the Championship – I would be relegated if it was a genuine table. You get a feel about maybe where I’m at with my Spanish. I’ve enjoyed it, and I do enjoy it; I’m just not very good at it.”

Where is the team and where are you personally from an emotional standpoint?

“I think we’re eight weeks in now, and again, I’ve maybe lost a week somewhere – it could be nine. It’s a long period of time. It’s a great question, and I’m not sure I have the full answer on that. What I can tell you is, if the players emotionally are looking at the picture the way I have and my family have: it’s not just about soccer and a season. You look around the country, and obviously my country back in England as well, have been very hard-hit in London. Lots and lots of people have lost their lives, when normally they wouldn’t have done. Lots and lots of people have lost their jobs and are in a very very different position to when this virus started to take hold. I still have – and am fortunate to have – both of my parents alive, who are in their 70s. Therefore, they are more at risk, with some of the stories that certainly I’ve heard with maybe some of the older generation. It’s not good if you find yourself in that position. They’re finding their world is very different, and that affects me and my family, and of course the concerns that you have.

“It isn’t just about ‘we’re back’ and we’re training in a capacity. Yes of course, it’s great news. I do honestly think that even in normal circumstances, when you come in a soccer environment, especially a professional one, there are many times where players have issues outside of the game, and it’s their opportunity when they come in just to leave that baggage at the door, go onto the training field, and compete, perform, be in an environment or world that is completely different to maybe the one that they’ve left behind them, albeit for a couple of hours.

“I do genuinely think – maybe not to the same sort of level – that there are lots and lots of fans out there: USA, MLS fans, UK, Premier League, etc. around Europe and South America – that soccer is their world as well. This whole process: the shutdown of the league i Europe, the inability to finish what my be a silverware season for some teams, promotion, relegation, it affects everyone’s world. I think fans would love to see, – if I’m reading it right – they would love to see us back competing again. It would certainly give them the opportunity maybe to leave that baggage that a lot of people are carrying around, just leave it at the door for the hour and a half or two hours that the game’s on. They can drift into a world that they’ve not seen for a little while, and maybe it just gives everybody a little bit of relief, for whatever amount of time that is.

“It’s certainly been a very, very tough couple of months, and for some, a lot tougher than others. I certainly feel grateful that we’ve been able to get through this at the moment, but it certainly doesn’t go unnoticed that lots and lots of other people have not been as fortunate.

“As far as the players are concerned, I think that when I’m able to get closer to them, and interact a little bit more than we have done, our group in a short period of time has been one that has been really personable. There’s a lot of good personalities, there’s a lot of characters, there’s a lot of interaction. Relationships have grown and were formed very, very quickly with like-minded people. And we’ve not been able to do that for a long time. So as soon as we can get back to that, I’ll understand and appreciate a little bit more where those players are at, but I’m sure they’re feeling not only their own pain, but those around them.”

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