Category Archives: MLS

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Headspace Customized Mental Training Programs for USWNT Ahead of World Cup

For the past two months, while some members of the U.S. women’s national soccer team traveled on the bus to games, they would plug in earbuds and meditate. When the adrenaline was high after playing in crazed stadiums, several players would do the same to relax on the journey back.
These have been a few of the uses from a new partnership between meditation app Headspace and both U.S. Soccer and MLS. All athletes and employees of the national federation and the North American pro league will receive access to Headspace, mirroring a previous partnership with the NBA.
The difference here, however, is Headspace’s first construction of daily, personalized mental training programs for the U.S. women’s team for the five months leading up to and through this summer’s France 2019 World Cup.
“We often focus on the neck-down in order to get improvements in the game and try to get those marginal gains, whether it be strength and conditioning, tracking, monitoring, sports science,” said James Bunce, U.S. Soccer’s high performance director. “Less time is often spent looking at the neck-up and, as we all know, the neck-up is where the magic happens. That’s where the decisions are made, the emotions are felt, those crucial moments are decided.”
Every member of the women’s national team received questionnaires about personal stresses and experiences that served as the foundation for the custom meditation plans. The resulting program was integrated into the Teamworks app U.S. Soccer already provides each player, enabling quick-click access to each day’s meditation.
“Being able to seamlessly integrate your mental training into the rest of your routine is something that, I think, college athletic departments and pro teams are quickly being attracted to,” said Lindsay Shaffer, Headspace’s head of sport and fitness.

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In the athletic realm, Headspace has already partnered not only with the NBA (including the WNBA, the G-League, and the NBA 2K League) but also with Nike, USA Swimming, and UCLA athletics through the Kevin Love Fund. Headspace has conducted a feasibility study with Arsenal in the English Premier League and worked with dozens of individual athletes such as the Cavaliers’ Love, Titans linebacker Derrick Morgan, Jets quarterback Sam Darnold, and Olympic runner Colleen Quigley.
Headspace counts support from 20 published studies that have shown reduced stress and improved focus, among other benefits. Shaffer said she often receives the feedback from athletes who say meditation helps them “play more instinctually”—in other words, not let their mind get in the way of what their body can do. One study published in the Journal of Cognitive Enhancement in 2017 reported that Headspace helped subjects improve focus by 14 percent after 10 days of use.
“Throughout the history of sport,” Shaffer said, “we have kind of completely neglected the mind even though the mind underlies everything that we do.”
Shaffer said a key component of programs like the one being rolled out with U.S. Soccer and MLS is education. She said most athletes don’t realize they can proactively work on mental training or that there is a body of science supporting meditation’s ability to boost preparation, performance, and recovery.
“We liken it to a muscle,” Shaffer said. “We talk about, if you want a stronger biceps, you do biceps curls. We point out to athletes that the science behind meditation shows that it increases the thickness of the gray matter of the prefrontal cortex, which is where focus comes from, and decreases the size of the amygdala, which is where stress and fear comes from. You are actually physically changing the structure of your brain.”
Headspace has partnered with MLS and U.S. Soccer. (Courtesy of MLS)
Jamil Northcutt, VP of player engagement at MLS, said the league’s wellness program includes pledges that it will provide a wide variety of resources to create a proper work-life balance. Headspace fits in as a supplement to what already exists in this area.
Northcutt, who most recently worked in administration at the NCAA and NFL, said he often gives the analogy of a three-legged table where each leg represents health, finances, and relationships. Headspace will offer more concerted support to health but will also offer some benefit to the other two.
“If one leg is wobbly and might collapse,” Northcutt said, “it’s going to allow the whole table to collapse.”
Bunce said Headspace will work as an additional support tool to the work done by the national team’s sports psychologists, whose efforts can be limited by the short time the whole roster is in camp together.
“I do think the area of mental conditioning now is really, really taking off,” Bunce said. “I do think it will be the next push point in the sport in regards to people trying to get that edge because we are grinding out every bit of knowledge we have in the medical area and the physical area.”


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VenueNext, SeatGeek Partner on Mobile Ticketing App for Minnesota United FC

Stadium integration platform VenueNext has partnered with Minnesota United FC to build a mobile ticketing app for the 2019 MLS season. The app will use SeatGeek’s ticketing technology, making the company the official ticket provider for Minnesota United.
The app will be part of MNUFC’s plans to shift to a 100 percent digital ticketing system for all events at the club’s new home, Allianz Field. The new stadium is expected to open in March. VenueNext has previously built apps for the Minnesota Vikings and Minnesota Timberwolves, providing fans with game-day services such as mobile ticketing, mobile concessions and merchandise, and team news.

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“Our goal with this app is to provide a door-to-door experience for fans that supplements and enhances what we know is going to be a one-of-kind game day atmosphere at Allianz Field,” said MNUFC CEO Chris Wright in a team press release. “Allianz Field will have so much to offer fans and this app is going to be the best way for fans to get easy access to all that it has to offer.”
Minnesota United’s new app will represent the first time that a VenueNext-built platform is fully integrated with the SeatGeek ticketing marketplace. Outside of buying and selling tickets, the new app will offer fans access to exclusive team video and news content, as well as an integrated maps system to help navigate the new stadium. The app is scheduled to launch in early 2019 according to MNUFC’s official press release.
“Our partnership with MNUFC expands our footprint in Major League Soccer and marks our first integration of SeatGeek’s ticketing technology into our platform,” said Anthony Perez, chief executive officer at VenueNext, in the press release. “VenueNext’s platform allows teams to build stronger connections with fans by providing a seamless and dynamic experience, using our rich data and powerful marketing tools. We look forward to the grand opening of Allianz Field and helping MNUFC to deliver a truly mobile-first experience.”
SportTechie Takeaway
VenueNext has also built mobile apps for the Charlotte Hornets, Orlando Magic, and San Francisco 49ers. The Silicon Valley company was founded in 2013 and recently announced plans to expand its mobile technology platform into European stadiums. This partnership with Minnesota United is another step forwards for SeatGeek within an extremely competitive mobile ticketing industry. The company has previously integrated its mobile ticketing marketplace into popular apps such as Snapchat and ride-sharing company Lyft. 


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San Jose Earthquakes Teammates Are Tracking Steps for Doctors Without Borders

As fullbacks playing on the left and right wings for the San Jose Earthquakes, Shea Salinas and Nick Lima are expected not only to defend but also complement the attack. “No one works harder than us out there,” the two friends say to each other in training. 
The GPS data collected from their STATSports devices objectively affirm that mantra. Lima is a little faster, but Salinas consistently covers more distance. Both log steep training loads.
That drive has carried over into everyday life this month. Lima and Salinas have joined front office employees in a step-tracking charitable contest. Organized by Earthquakes partner Avaya the competition aims to raise money for Doctors Without Borders.
With two days remaining in the monthlong competition, Salinas has taken 345,024 steps compared to Lima’s 314,680, a lead of more than 30,000 over his teammate. Then again, Salinas, who is 32, has three clear advantages over Lima, 23. Salinas has two young children (ages four and two) to chase and one home to remodel, which means tiling floors and all sorts of cleaning.
“You get a lot more steps on those days,” Salinas said. “I rarely get to sit down and take a nap. Not rarely. I never get to sit down and take a nap. So my watch is always counting, unlike Nick’s. Nick’s probably gets a little bit of rest in the afternoon.”
As if this point needed any emphasis, his son’s voice could be heard in the background of a phone call. Salinas reported that he was in the backyard, waving a flag around at his son’s request.

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Both track their daily steps via Apple Watches and have synced their STATSports data as well. The two are among the few Earthquakes players to wear the trackers in games. Lima pays special attention to the number of sprints he makes in a game and the duration of those sprints, as well as top speed and total mileage. Salinas said he’ll run as many as 12,500 meters (7.8 miles) in a match.
“If I’m under 11,000 meters in a game, I know that, man, I probably wasn’t working as hard as I could have and wasn’t making as many runs as I could have,” Salinas said. “Sometimes, games dictate how much you run, but I like to be around that 11,000-meter mark every game.”
Salinas grew up running cross country and said he always wore a watch to keep track of his times, only back then it was a simple Timex rather than the Apple Watch and its FDA-grade heart monitor. He is cognizant of his age in this young man’s sport and has made additional lifting a priority—so much so that he said that his GPS has down his speed increase over the past few years.
“My body definitely takes a little bit longer to recover from a game than it used to,” Salinas said. “It takes me a little bit longer to warm up for a practice than it used to. But I’m just thankful that, once I do get warm and once I am recovered, I feel like I can still hang, if not beat, a lot of the young guys.”
Nick Lima. (ISI Photos)
Lima, on the other hand, is just starting his career. He was a nominee for both MLS Defender of the Year and Rookie of the Year in 2017. Back in January 2018, he received a call-up to the U.S. national team for a friendly, although he did not play in the match. He called the GPS data “very telling” from a macro level, allowing him to monitor his workload and react accordingly.
The two also compare their match data so that they have an objective measure of their exertion on either flank of the pitch.
“We always make it a thing for myself and him to be the hardest workers,” Lima said. “We’re always trying to push each other to do that. There’s definitely good that comes from it in the game in having the data to see after and know if our motivation toward each other is working.”
The steps competition has inspired some friendly banter as the two compare their steps and ultimately, they hope, some help for good causes. Not only are they raising money for Doctors Without Borders, but Salinas also wants the publicity to resonate with the members of Get Earthquakes Fit, a club program to encourage children to eat healthy, stay active, and do well in school.
“It just blows my mind how much little kids sit in front of screens these days,” Salinas said. “Part of my hope by doing this, some teenagers and some kids see that these guys move a lot more than even I do.”


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