FRISCO - There’s a lot that goes on behind the scenes at FC Dallas to get the team fit and ready to take on their opponents week-in and week-out.
When the team has a successful season the head coach and the players get credited, but often overlooked are the people behind the scenes, the unsung heroes like Skylar Richards, the team's Head Athletic Trainer and Director of Sports Science.
“I look over three main domains for the club and how we really look at sports science here is really anything that is at a high level should be measured, monitored, and can be improved,” Richards said in a recent interview with FCD radio voice Tyler Kern on the Sports and Entertainment podcast by MarketScale.
Richards not only works with the first team, but oversees the medical staff for the seven Boys' Academy teams as well - a total of eight teams. His main focus with FC Dallas is keeping all the players under his umbrella healthy and getting them back to 100 percent when they’re not.
As we all know injuries happen, but at FC Dallas, the injury rate is one of the lowest in the league, according to Richards, which is all thanks to the work he and his staff do daily. Regardless of if its prevention or rehabilitation, Richards brings a modern approach to his process.
“Well at the start it’s always helpful to give them goals, all these guys are goal-oriented,” Richards said. “They’re not as passionate about this data stuff as I am, so it has to be actionable and meaningful for them. If I can give them something they can track along the way, that game-ifies their intent and also not only game-ifies but something that directs their behavior patterns.”
A big part of Richards’ job is to work closely with the coaching staff to create an atmosphere in the locker room that will drive the success of the team. He worked closely with former head coach Oscar Pareja in the past five seasons, but the two of them go back further to the time they spent together with the Colorado Rapids. Without that connection and the relationship, Richards says he would not have been able to do his job to the fullest capacity.
“Without the support of Oscar Pareja these last five seasons, I wouldn't have been able to do anything. Part of that, to your point, is also teaching him and letting him teach me.
"On our side what we taught him and how we worked together is his first year we sat down, and he said 'You know I really love everything you're doing here, but I really want a mentality that we work hard everyday and we’re not worried about or stressed about getting injured. I want one that we’re here to push 100 percent,'” said Richards. “So what we did is we kind of configured our whole department to be a recovery lab that helps you get back to 100 percent everyday and that execution, just that simple change in name but also execution, of how it did towards the goal of recovering instead of injuries or the focus around pain really allowed us to have a different atmosphere around our club and supported his methodology, and then therefore he could support me.”
Like the team and the coaches, Richards himself is a very goal-oriented person. He created his own system to keep the players healthy and show Pareja his perspective on player selection for game days.
“The other thing we did, that worked out really well, I gave him, just like I give my athletes, that measure of success for me and for my department. What we use there is a metric we call availability percentage, which is the percent of our squad that’s available every game for selection, not whether they start, not how much they play but how many guys are available on his roster.” Richards said. “So we want to always be over 87 percent availability average over the season and so that’s really helped game-ify and frame a lot of our discussions when I talked to Oscar. It makes the communication easier to where I’ll talk to him and say 'Listen, Oscar I know you want this guy next week but if I can keep him out one more game, I know it hurts my availability now but I think it avoids him getting re-injured later which would hurt the availability average rate even more.'”
Richards also works to monitor and maintain their strength, agility, and speed. He also goes beyond his job at FC Dallas to better the league and the sports science industry.
“I tell new and upcoming sports scientists is this - I don't mind going and getting on a podcast like this or going to conferences, and sharing all the stats and all the science that we’re doing. I think that makes the whole industry better. At the same time, that’s not why I keep my job, no ones expecting me to do those things, I do them because I know they’re the right thing and they help me do my job," Richards said.
Listen to Richards full interview with Tyler Kern on the Sports and Entertainment podcast by MarketScale.