This week we had the honor to interview Pierre Barrieu, the Director of High Performance at Toronto FC, a top MLS team.

Pierre is a highly experienced high performance director as he has worked in the US (Toronto FC, LA Galaxy, US Soccer Federation), Europe and Middle East throughout his career.

Show Notes: Throughout our conversation, we touched on his background, his role at the Toronto FC, his favorite technologies, the impact of COVID-19 on his job and his team, and the type of technologies he would like to see in the future to make his job easier.

Best Quotes: Here’s some of the key discussion points and best quotes from our conversation with Pierre:

1. On his background: “My background is, I was a Exercise physiology and PE teacher in France, and I was playing high level team handball, and I was coaching at a high level in soccer. After a while, I decided to explore a little bit of what was done here in the US in terms of training I would say, training for sports. I also dabbled a little bit with the medical side, because I did a Masters in Athletic Training and then very, very quickly I got involved with the University of Virginia. I progressed to US Soccer and this was the first time where I was part of the world of elite sports. I had been around teams in France, but not in an official role. I would say my first time as a full-time employee of a professional organization would have been with the US Soccer Federation. Then I participated to 3 Soccer World Cups with the US. I’ve also worked in England in the Premier League and Championship, in Norway, France as well as in the MLS. I also worked and still work for FIFA as a High Performance Expert (..) I originally moved to the US after the World Cup ’98. Then I left the US in 2011, went to the UAE, went to England, went to Norway, went to France, came back in the US as a director of high-performance for the LA Galaxy in July of ’17”.

2. On his role at the Toronto FC: “Well, as the director of high performance I oversee everything but the tactical. I am in charge of the background staff, which includes the medical staff, the strength and conditioning staff, and the nutrition staff. I organize everything that we have going on behind the scenes and I’m also the primary link or the filter with the technical staff and more specifically the head coach. I’m in charge of the coordination over the processes as well as the technology side of things and all the methods that we use in the background (..) Regarding the size of my staff, if you include the first team side it’s probably eight or nine and then another five at the academy, so 13 staff members in total”.

3. On the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on his job: “I was lucky enough not to be part of the last MLS season because I was still with FIFA. When I accepted the job with Toronto FC I knew that COVID-19 would be a, if not the biggest challenge that we’d have to face, because we’re in Canada and it’s very different than the way it’s been dealt with or approached in the US. Even so, It’s almost as if I underestimated the challenges. At the end of the day, I don’t think anyone in North America has been more challenged than the Canadian teams in the MLS. We have to deal with pretty drastic restrictions when it comes from the Canadian government. Also we have to deal with our location, so the team has been playing the last season in Hartford, Connecticut and this season we decided to go to delocalize to Orlando Florida (..) That was long enough with three months in the hotel, and training there in Florida (with the heat). Obviously it has been extremely challenging, and honestly it would be a full podcast to go over everything that we experienced. We still have people in quarantine here, and with families that are not fully vaccinated, so they have to spend a strict two weeks at home, with controls and with the food delivered. In pre-season we also spent two weeks in an apartment, we trained for 12 days, then we had a little outbreak, we spent another 13 days of not training in an apartment. It was just impossible. I mean, I’m not going to sugar coat it, it was just impossible”.

4. On his favorite technologies: “All right, so the first one obviously would be for me, I’m going to answer to the why before I give you the what. The why would be daily usage and widespread usage over our roster, over the team, that would be a criteria. If I decide to go for one, then I want it to be useful and in return I want it to be used on a frequent basis by most of our players. This is why I’m probably going to list tracking technology, in this case the GPS unit that we have. Then number two, I’ve always used the heart rate, whether it was early on, in the early days with the team system with Polar, or now, when two technologies are integrated in one device, which is the sports bra. People don’t realize how much of a progress we’ve been making in this area (..) More recently I discovered a technology that I really like called Kanga Tech. It’s a simple device from Australia. Basically it’s a platform that helps with measuring a lot of the maximum voluntary isometric contractions. We can assess and study many movements, which in turn is very useful when it comes to either activation, screening, and return to play. It’s another one that I’m using a lot, players are enjoying and it really fills the gap because before we could assess, we could do a baseline on players, but not on as many movements that we can now and not as easily. Finally we use force plates for the wellness assessment. We also have a contract with Kitman Labs, and we have contracts with a few different technology sources”.

5. On the benefits of using technologies as par of his job: “ The way I look at things, if it’s a technology that would provide you with a way to get objective measures, then it’s going to reduce injuries, because once you have these objective measures, then you can either address your weak spots or get stronger, have your strong spots and then you’re going to perform better on paper. On the other hand, if you’re looking at it from an injury reduction standpoint, then you may have to fix some of the imbalances that you will have. It’s never one or the other, it’s always all these topics that are linked together. At the end of the day for me the biggest advantage of using technology is in individualizing training. I know this is a word that’s been used for 20 years, but, technology gives you the tools to really get it done, and really achieve that. It’s also, when it comes to planning your workload and control your workload, again, it tells you if it’s true or not. You can plan, you can measure and you can either adjust, whether it’s reducing or doing it a little more. That to me is when technology is very useful, where, back then, all you can use is, you had the eye test and not much else. Now you have all these machines that gives you, if used properly, are going to comfort you, or actually are going to show you that you may not do the right thing correctly”.

6. On his decision criteria when buying a new technology: “Well, one of them I already went over is that you want something that gets some usage. It can be a fad that you’re only going to use once a month on a few players. For me, I’m looking at something that’s going to help us, across the board, normally at the first team, but as much as possible as an organization. Players also need to be able to use it without us. Early on they can use it with supervision, with coaching, but as much as possible it should become something that they can do on their own. Number two, it has to make sense for them, as much as it makes sense for us. Sometimes it’s just about the way that you actually introduce the technology or explain it. Can it be portable? We’ve just spent three months on the road, we shipped a gym, but can we ship a machine for example and can you use it on the road when you play away games? It’s going to come down to the ratio of how much do you have to pay for it and what do you get out of it? You have to be able to justify a purchase or especially a large purchase, by how crucial it is and how exactly are we going to take advantage of this? More than anything, the organization is all about one thing, is it going to help us be successful in the long-term?”.

7. On his philosophy: “In tennis they used to say, it’s the same as in a few different individual sports, “You have to take advantage of your high moments and manage the low ones.” It’s no different than when we have a lot of injuries, you have to stay cool, maybe not listen to the media, look at what you’re doing, assess what you’re doing, and see if you need to adjust. That’s just on the sports performance side and obviously the same applies to the coaching staff in conjunction with us. Because at the end of the day we are all in the same boat, we all want to win and this is a constant, not struggle, but at least a constant challenge to find the right balance”.

8. On the type of technology he would like to build to make his job easier: “For me it would be literally cutting the middleman, even if he doesn’t exist. What I am looking for is a way to upload everything we measure to a database, without actually uploading it. It is almost like an instant API. I’m using a machine in the morning. So the idea here would be that is would go straight from the machine to our database. The same thing for my trainers and the other logs on the treatments that they are using. Here it would go through one software. Then that software has to be synced and that same software is centralized in another software. It would be great to instantly get all this data on the same platform, not having to do any extra work. We have to load everything that we use here, whether it’s the athletic trainers, a sports scientist on the field, strength and conditioning coach in the gym, the nutritionist, on top of what they do, they still have to create KPI’s, upload all these KPIs so that it’s centralized on the same platform. It’s being done, it’s just time consuming and it gets lost in the shuffle at times. Because not all of these technology are integrated. To me this is everything, everyone wants to do it, everyone says they’re doing it. You end up doing it more or less, depending on how much time you have available. It would be a massive time saver if it could be done automatically”.

9. On why France lost in the European soccer championship: “It’s probably a few fold, but I see two of them. Number one, I think that there was a little bit of complacency at the start, and this would explain some of the performances. Then once you are three-one and you think the game is done, which is a professional foul at this level, but this is human nature, the brains control the rest and I think that we had some complacency in the team. Number two, I think there could be a little physical aspect, which again, it’s not to be used as an excuse, it’s far from it, because I think the Swiss were a little bit ahead of France, physically. To me, I don’t want to look at the congested schedule and everything else, I think it’s just on the mental side of things where, the high level is, the differences made at the detail level, and I don’t think we were as sharp mentally as they used to”.

10. On France’s chances to win the next Soccer World Cup in Qatar: “Well, in a weird way you would think that this is maybe the best way to prepare them for the World Cup. That’s a positive look at things. The negative look at things is, this is the beginning of the end for this team. I would rather stay positive. There’s just too much talent in this team. The talent will most likely be there in 12 months. Let’s hope for a good performance during the World Cup. Again, it’s all about details. It’s all about learning from your mistakes, whoever you are in that staff or also in that roster, let’s face it. Then hopefully try to correct this in, I was about to say four years, in just one year”.