Part 3: Pinnacle Spotlight – Sports Performance Lab and Hydrotherapy Suites raise NTCDC profile
In part three of NTCDC Spotlight, we highlight the Sports Performance Lab and Hydrotherapy Suites.
The newest crown jewel of American soccer is taking shape right here in Kansas City, Kansas.
The construction of the National Training and Coaching Development Center fulfills a vision shared by Sporting Club, U.S. Soccer and Children’s Mercy to build a first-class environment to develop elite players, coaches and referees of all ages.
Set to open in January, the state-of-the-art NTCDC will become the new, expansive training home of Sporting Kansas City, capable of hosting clubs and national teams from around the world thanks to its stunning facilities and countless cutting-edge amenities. It will also accommodate the Children’s Mercy Sports Medicine Center at Village West and the U.S. Soccer National Coaching Education Center, making Kansas City the hub for youth athlete sports medicine services and overall soccer development in the United States.
Day by day, month by month, the NTCDC inches closer and closer to completion. As this exciting process unfolds, SportingKC.com is publishing a feature series showcasing the various components of Kansas City’s latest flagship soccer venture. In part three of NTCDC Spotlight, we highlight the Sports Performance Lab and Hydrotherapy Suites.
One win. Six losses. Three draws.
Fresh off a comprehensive rebrand, new-look Sporting Kansas City had endured an arduous start to the 2011 MLS season. Manager Peter Vermes’ men languished at the bottom of the table after playing their first 10 matches on the road — many of which hung on a knife edge only for Sporting KC to concede late, back-breaking goals.
Then came the inaugural match at Children’s Mercy Park, followed by a long homestand that stretched through the summer.
The rest, as Chet North fondly recalls, is history.
North is the Director of Sports Medicine at Sporting Kansas City, a position he has held since 2014 when his full-time focus became fixed on the research and development of the NTCDC.
“All of the sudden, the Sporting Club ownership group gives the team Children’s Mercy Park and everything changes,” North said. “They planted a seed in one day on June 9, 2011. One game, one reality check, one dose of positivity. And we go from worst to first because of the belief that we had something special.”
Indeed, if there was ever a decisive catalyst that spurred Sporting KC’s meteoric rise from a city-wide afterthought to a model MLS organization, it may have been the club’s move into their new stadium.
And while the narrative isn’t exactly the same this time around — U.S. Soccer is on excellent footing with competitive men’s and women’s teams in multiple age groups — North believes the impact of the NTCDC could be just as profound and long-lasting as the arrival of Children’s Mercy Park.
“As this country continues its pursuit of World Cups and major championships, the NTCDC will provide a world-class training environment that is second to none,” North said. “This facility elevates the soccer profile in Kansas City and nationally, giving teams of all ages everything they need to compete at the highest level — from the soccer fields and swimming pools to the massive gymnasium and the Sports Performance Lab.”
Like the world-class venue that preceded it, the NTCDC was conceived by an ambitious Sporting Club ownership group that didn’t rest on its laurels after Children’s Mercy Park garnered a slew of international awards in 2011. As the calendar turned to 2012, North said ownership’s major question was, “What are we going to do next to be a leader in the world of soccer and business, and how do we make it incredibly successful?”
The answer — or at least a large part of a multifaceted response — was the construction of the NTCDC, less than a mile away from the stadium. After months of collaborative work with U.S. Soccer, the facility was formally announced in 2014.
It was a significant year for North, the only full-time associate who has been with the club since the inaugural 1996 MLS season. After nearly two decades that saw him juggle responsibilities as the head athletic trainer, strength and conditioning coach, traveling administrator and at times the equipment manager, North had taken an integral role in making the NTCDC one of the best soccer facilities on the planet.
As the Director of Sports Medicine, North has been a forerunner in bringing the NTCDC’s Sports Performance Lab and Hydrotherapy areas to life. The process began more than three years ago, when he spent much of 2014 traveling to observe the best practices of elite athletic facilities at the college ranks — Kansas, Nebraska, TCU and Oregon, to name a few — and professionally at the Oklahoma City Thunder and Dallas Mavericks. He also spent countless hours online researching soccer-specific approaches taken by major clubs around the world. No rock was left unturned.
At the forefront, North has acted on what has become his self-professed No. 1 passion: the treatment and prevention of concussions.
“Working alongside Children’s Mercy, it’s our ambition to make the NTCDC the concussion headquarters of the country when it comes to sports,” said North, who sees the facility as an ideal place for specialized concussion testing and research.
“This place is going to be like a magnet in the middle of the country that people look to for the latest in knowledge and research regarding concussions, sports medicine and sports performance for athletes of all ages.”
DEXA scan rendering above
Located on the first floor of the NTCDC building, the Sports Performance Lab consists of eight main areas. All of which are tailored to monitor and maximize an athlete’s health and fitness, and will be available to Sporting KC players as well as guest teams on a daily basis beginning in 2018.
1. Neuropsychology Office
Upon entering the lab, the first room to the left is the Neuropsychology Office. Its most eye-catching instrument will be the DEXA scan, an X-ray device that scans the laying body of an athlete to instantly generate data such as bone density, lean muscle mass and body fat.
Four computer stations will be nearby, where concussion baseline testing and other neurological brain testing will be conducted to monitor athletes before and after suffering a concussion.
2. Hyperbaric Chambers
As the season drags on, it’s easy for athletes to accumulate fluid build-up, swelling from injuries and edema from traveling on airplanes at altitude. A pair of full-body hyperbaric chambers will allow players to immerse themselves in an enclosed space where the air pressure is set at significantly elevated levels. This allows athletes’ lungs to gather more oxygen that spreads throughout the body to promote healing and squeeze out excess fluids.
3. Cryotherapy Lab
Next to the hyperbaric chambers is a cryotherapy unit (example to the right), a large vertical tube that engulfs athletes in sub-freezing liquid nitrogen at minus-280 degrees Fahrenheit for three straight minutes. The quick dose of extreme cold helps alleviate inflammation and offers a variety of other benefits.
4. Recovery Room
Situated at the end of the Sports Performance Lab hallway, the Recovery Room will become a haven for players looking to do just that: recover physically, mentally and thermally. The space consists of eight antigravity chairs — four on each side, facing toward the middle of the room — as well as a snack and hydration station with optimal sports beverages and nutrition bars. Big-screen TVs adorn opposite walls, but the room will remain in absolute silence. All sound from TVs and other electronic devices players bring into the room will come through headphones.
When players situate themselves in the gently vibrating antigravity chairs, they will put on a pressure garment incasing their legs to flush out lactic acid and swelling. They also have the option to wear cryotherapy vests for upper-body cooling as well as brain-tap glasses and headphones for prime rest.
“When you look at the different components of the Recovery Room, we’re taking into consideration the physical side of it with our antigravity chairs and pressure garments on their legs, the thermal side of it with our cryotherapy vests, and the mental side with the brain-tap glasses and headphones, which works subliminally through positive verbal input,” North said. “So when players leave after half an hour, they will be refreshed and recovered for the next day of training or the next match.”Recovery room example above
5. Massage Suite
Three tables will be used exclusively for massage therapy, giving Sporting KC trainers the luxury of treating more players in less time every day of the week.
6. Accupower Force Plate
North hails the Accupower Force Plate and Environmental/Atmospheric Chamber as “the lab’s Taj Mahal.” Both sit adjacent to one another, a space North refers to as the high-tech physiology area of the lab.
The Accupower Force Plate area sits just outside the Environmental/Altitude Chamber and will be used for motion analysis, baseline physical testing as well as post-injury performance testing.
7. Environmental / Atmospheric Chamber
The Environmental/Atmospheric Chamber is an LED-lit glass room that contains a Treadmetrix Force Plate treadmill surrounded by several cameras. The treadmill computes several measurements with every footfall, while the cameras capture every motion the runner makes. North says the instrument will be immensely helpful in assessing a player’s return-to-play capabilities, giving the training and coaching staff more objective data on which they can make sound decisions.
“With a machine like this, we can see when a player starts compensating in his running form,” North said. “We can read all of this data generated by the force plate treadmill and cameras, and we can see more objectively that a player is slightly leaning, not moving symmetrically, favoring the injury or if their gait changes. This can be great information to keep the athlete from acquiring further compensatory injuries.”
The Environmental/Atmospheric Chamber will also contain an advanced stationary bike and a metabolic cart for VO2 Max testing and EKG capabilities for cardiac monitoring.
The remarkable capabilities of the Environmental/Atmospheric Chamber will allow players to run in a fully simulated environment. The chamber’s temperature can surpass 100 degrees, while its air pressure allows for altitude training at up to 20,000 feet. This will unlock valuable data and information days before a match.
“If we have a big game at high altitude, for example, it can help coaches make huge decisions,” North said. “We know ahead of time how players can respond to heat and altitude. From a medical standpoint, we can duplicate an environment and see how they are going to perform in specific conditions.”
Environmental/Atmospheric Chamber rendering above
8. Physicians Clinic
The physicians’ clinic will be used by the doctors for player medical evaluations. The space connects the Sports Performance Lab to the Sporting KC Training Room next door, making it accessible from both locations.
The wide array of front-line amenities expands beyond the Sports Performance Lab and into the aquatic realm, giving players yet another invaluable option for therapy, rehabilitation and overall fitness.
“There’s a magical, therapeutic power to water,” North said. “But there are many different ways to use it.”
Many, many ways, to be sure.
The NTCDC boasts three separate aquatic areas, including a state-of-the-art Hydrotherapy Suite, two 140-square-foot pools in the Sporting KC locker room, and a 75-foot lap pool outside.
The Hydrotherapy Suite has two components: an underwater treadmill called the HydroWorx 2000 and a spacious, 300-square-foot pool called the HydroWorx 3500 that allows for ideal group therapy and regeneration sessions.
The HydroWorx 2000 has North especially excited. Players will walk onto an 8-by-11-foot treadmill that can drop as low as six feet, filling with water as the platform descends.
“If you simply put a basic treadmill in the water, all you can do is run forward, backwards or sideways,” North said. “But playing sports is not straight, forwards, backward and sideways. With the Hydroworx 2000, you can run in place, cross over and perform a lot of different, dynamic movements. You’re moving against resistance of the water and it feels like you’re sprinting 20 yards, when really you’ve only moved a few feet.
“It’s basically the same as doing an entire workout on a field — all the things you do on a soccer pitch — but you’re doing it on an 8-by-11 platform with low impact. This is athlete-specific. It’s soccer-specific.”
The Sporting KC locker room will have two 20-foot by seven-foot tubs, one of which is 105 degrees and the other is 55 degrees — perfect for pre-practice warming up and post-practice cooling off. Immediately next to them will be two rapid-drain open-injury tubs — one hot, one cold — for athletes with open wounds who can’t go into the larger tubs.
What puts the NTCDC’s aquatic offerings over the top, North says, is the outdoor pool.
“From rehab and exercise to recovery and simple aesthetics, it is a special addition that covers all of our bases. The outdoor pool was an exclamation point to having complete hydrotherapy in our facility,” North said.
With each of these aquatic amenities bolstering the NTCDC, one would be remiss not to mention the outdoor sand soccer field near the sports performance gymnasium. Like the outdoor pool, the sand field offers opportunities for resistance training and opens the door to potential events that fall outside conventional soccer.
On Sept. 5, Kansas City representatives including Sporting Club CEO Robb Heineman and Sporting KC President Jake Reid submitted an official bid to serve as a host site for the 2026 FIFA World Cup. That afternoon, Heineman and Reid presented Kansas City’s proposal in person at Major League Soccer’s headquarters in New York City with a booklet titled “Unite,” which conveys an overarching theme that Kansas City is “In the heart of it all,” perfectly equipped to host the world’s biggest sporting event.
The same sentiment has resonated in North’s mind since the NTCDC’s blueprint was laid. In the coming months and years, Kansas City is poised to facilitate the growth and development of soccer on a national scale. By adding the NTCDC to a robust soccer stable that already includes Children’s Mercy Park, Swope Soccer Village and Wyandotte Sporting Fields, the city has crafted a soccer profile that stacks up among the best in the country.
“Kansas City is on a path of doing incredible things for the world of sports medicine and athletics,” North said. “With us being right in the middle of the country, teams from around the world will come to a centralized place like Kansas City where they can have facilities like we have, with all the amenities we have.
“The NTCDC is a three-hour flight from the East Coast and a three-hour flight from the West Coast. We’re in the middle of everything, and we have the perfect facility to market to the world. We built it. And we believe they will come.”
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