The Chicago Fire have gone French.
No, I can unequivocally say that “Player X” is not a Frenchman. Sorry!
Rather I’m talking about the club’s new Strength and Conditioning Coach Tony Jouaux. Before you say, “Wow , four consecutive vowels is something to marvel at,” you should learn his story – it’s an interesting one.
Hailing from Auxerre, Jouaux spent 14 years in his hometown club’s development system, coming up through the ranks with a number of current French-born talents.
“I had a great opportunity,” said Jouaux from Fire training camp in Ave Maria, FL. “I came up with Auxerre and was in the academy for three years training with Bacary Sagna and Abou Diaby from Arsenal, Mohamed Sissoko (Juventus) and Younès Kabul (Tottenham Hot Spur), so I had a chance to play with very good players. I wasn’t as good as them though. I couldn’t make the professional team so at 20 years old I began playing for an amateur team and studied a lot to become a Soccer Strength and Conditioning Coach.”
After completing a four-year degree at the University of Burgundy, Jouaux set his sights on the United States for his masters. He joined up with the University of Louisville men’s soccer team in 2008, serving first as a volunteer then as a graduate assistant in partnership with the school’s Exercise Science Laboratory.
“I had the chance to do research on the men’s soccer team, taking what I learned from the scientific aspect of training and applying it to the team. I’m bringing more of a scientific background to the job. My degree from Louisville is in Exercise Physiology so I try to base everything we’re doing around the physiology of the athlete.”
Serving under Ken Lolla, Jouaux saw the Cardinal’s make a run to their first NCAA Final in 2010, where they suffered their only loss of the season, falling 1-0 to Akron.
If you haven’t already realized through the references to playing with certain players or when he complete his degree, Jouaux is young for an MLS coach. In fact he’s my age, 25, which is about the current average age of signed players on the Fire roster. A number of players on the roster are indeed older than him with goalkeeper Jon Conway having nearly 10 years on the former Auxerre man.
Age though hasn’t been an issue for the players or Jouaux.
“I’ve been working five years to be a strength and conditioning coach for a professional soccer club. Whenever we’re doing an exercise I try to explain why we’re doing it and my philosophy. I don’t see my age as an issue because I try to be as professional as I can and do my best all the time. I look at it as the role more of a teacher.
The teacher is there for the students, he’s not there for himself. I’m here and I spend all my time thinking about programs that are the best for the players. For sure there’s a big age difference with some players, five or six years with some, but they understand and know that I’m here to make them better. They have a great attitude with training and don’t have any issue with my age.”
Because of a pretty extensive background in the game, Jouaux’s philosophy with conditioning differs from the traditional concepts of straight-up sports conditioning in the United States.
“I try to talk a lot with the players about my methods which are a little bit different from an American strength and conditioning coach because I am really soccer-based. I try to do everything with the ball and my philosophy is ‘soccer is conditioning, conditioning is soccer’. By saying that we can develop all the energy systems related to the game by using the game itself. Doing small-sided scrimmages, building that up to bigger numbers -- that’s how we’re developing fitness.”
A big part of anyone with Jouaux’s job is to look at the way players are fueling themselves on a daily basis.
In that vein, he keeps it pretty simple.
“I’m always looking for quality in the food, by that I mean quality is going to be food that’s not processed. An apple is going to be a lot of quality because you can just pick it from a tree, a cucumber is going to be taking it from another place. When you get a chicken, flank steak, that’s quality. When you get a burger, fried chicken, pepperoni pizza and now you have a lot of processed food. You don’t get the same quality in terms of nutrients.
When you think about it, I always tell the players that eating is part of the job, it’s part of training. When you play, the fuel is carbohydrates and you’re going to break down a lot of proteins, so you have to replace that. By taking in a lot of quality in terms of carbohydrates, proteins or fat you’re going to perform better. Eating well is their responsibility and that’s what’s going to make them better. It’s my job to make it simple for them.”
Adaptation and an International Coaching Staff
While confident and his area, Jouaux admits there has been a learning curve with his new peers and environment.
“We had a little period of adaptation in the first two weeks because I’m working with coaches that are a lot more experienced than I am. [First assistant coach] Leo Percovich has many years in the league and Carlos [de los Cobos] has a lot of experience abroad, both at the professional and international levels, so I have a lot to learn here for sure – but you’re always learning, it’s a good thing.”
Jouaux (France) and Percovich’s (Uruguay) addition to the Fire coaching staff in 2011 meant that all members of the staff hail from different countries, with de los Cobos from Mexico and goalkeeping coach Aron Hyde hailing from England.
“I think its fantastic just because you get so much experience from each member of the staff. It’s so easy to talk about soccer because first of all they know a lot about world soccer and they know a lot about the league as well. We are bringing different methods but we’re all working to bring the team together. If we have five people coming from five different countries we’re coming with five different methods to see things.”
The international flair of the coaching staff and Jouaux’s work in conditioning will be put to the test for the first time tonight as the club plays it’s first preseason match against Florida Gulf Coast Unviersity at 7pm in Ave Maria, FL. Get LIVE updates of the match through our Twitter feed @ChicagoFire.
Discuss this article with Jeff Crandall on Twitter, @JefeCrandall.