Interview with Adam Kendhammer

Adam Kendhammer is a seasoned veteran of the Minneapolis Mayhem Rugby Football Club. As a prop, he is a self-described “tank of the rugby field”, a physical power force ready to hold the opposing team back at whatever cost.

In our interview, he discusses the training required for such an intense sport and the importance of a strongly connected team.

MMG: Let’s start at the beginning. Were you athletic growing up?

KENDHAMMER: I was very active as a kid, I grew up in the country so I had plenty of space to explore and adventure.

I started ice skating when I was 3 or 4 and was playing hockey by age 5. I did that throughout high school, as well as Tae Kwon Do. Unfortunately I did not keep up with either of those while I was in college.

MMG: So with your hockey and martial arts days behind you, how did you end up playing rugby?

KENDHAMMER: Funny story about that one, I was working down in Antarctica and was looking for something active to do in my free time.

Scott Base, the primary New Zealand station, is a short distance from McMurdo station – the primary US base.

They have a rugby match each year to celebrate the partnership between the two, and so that the Kiwis can show the Americans how little they know about rugby.

MMG: Back up a sec, how did you end up working in Antarctica?

KENDHAMMER: I had gotten a contracting position as support staff for the station and worked down there for two summer seasons and spent time in New Zealand in the off season.

Basically I found a job posting online and applied thinking “what the hell” and the contacted me, did a few interviews and offered me the job.

I think the fact I am from Minnesota helped, a lot of people seemed to be from Minnesota, Wisconsin, Colorado, or Alaska.

MMG: That’s awesome. What was is it like playing rugby there?

KENDHAMMER: We practiced and played on top of several feet of packed snow, piled on top of many feet of sea ice, above the Southern Ocean and at the foot of an active and smoking volcano.

In retrospect it was very surreal, but you become accustomed to it when you are living there.

You had to make sure you had as little exposed skin as possible, not necessarily because of the cold but because the snow was full of ice crystals and if you got tackled into it you would get a ton of really tiny cuts.

Rugby was not nearly as dangerous as the softball tournament, I assume because we practiced a lot before hand. Softball strangely had a lot more injuries.

MMG: Now, you are living in the Twin Cities, and have kept up with rugby as you are a member of the Minneapolis Mayhem Rugby Football Club. How did you end up joining?

KENDHAMMER: When I moved back to the US after spending a few years abroad I was looking for a way to stay active and meet new people, and the team has provided me with that and a lot more.

MMG: The Minneapolis Mayhem has a great mission. Can you explain that a bit?

KENDHAMMER: The mission of the Mayhem is to promote participation in rugby among traditionally under-represented groups, including but certainly not limited to gay men.

We also partner with Minnesota Youth Rugby and have close relationships with some of the Women’s rugby teams as well to help grow the sport in those areas.

Our goal is to provide an inclusive environment for players to compete in rugby at Regional, National, and even International levels.

MMG: Tell me about your teammates. What’s the group dynamic? A few of my friends are on the team and you seem to be a very social bunch off the field, but how does that translate into matches?

KENDHAMMER: Rugby is a game of support and for us that means on the pitch as well as off of it. During a match you have 15 men on the field as well as up to 10 subs that will switch in – that is a lot of people to work with.

When you really get to know someone, you can pick their voice out on a field surrounded by 30 screaming hooligans.

You get to know how fast they run, how far they can pass, and you know damn well if you end up in a maul they will be right there with you.

These are the same guys that will show up to help you move, get tickets to watch your show, or celebrate your wedding with you. It really builds the team cohesion.

When you step out on the pitch it’s not your team versus the other team; it’s you and your friends versus the world.

MMG: Having lived in Antartica, maybe it wasn’t that bad for you, but we have had an awful winter here in Minneapolis. I imagine it didn’t afford you much time outside on the fields. What does your off-season training consist of? What’s a normal week?

KENDHAMMER: We have actually had twice weekly practices indoors since February on gymnasium floors and occasionally turf.

It’s not the ideal environment for a rugby practice but we have certainly made do. Generally when our Fall season ends everyone has a bit of a respite during the holidays to relax and recover.

We began our winter fitness mid-December, an hour and a half CrossFit workout every Saturday, and then once the New Year hit we added team weight training sessions on Monday and Wednesday nights (the same nights as practice during the season).

This is a great time for new recruits to come and meet the guys on the team, learn what it takes to place rugby, and for some learn how to train effectively.

You see guys who used to be afraid to approach the free weights at the gym start tracking their one rep max.

MMG: To compare, what does training look like when you are in season and regularly playing matches? Are you just on the practice fields or are you doing anything in the gym?

KENDHAMMER: We run twice weekly practices throughout the season and a Saturday team fitness training, though our Saturday fitness eventually switches to Saturday matches.

For most of us our training in the gym will decrease during this time, particularly on Sundays.

The intensity of our practices increases and with playing matches as well you start to get bumps and bruises so your rest and recuperation needs become a lot higher.

MMG: On the team website it says your drink of choice is whiskey. Outside of libations, do you follow any diet to complement your training?

KENDHAMMER: For rugby, especially during the match season, when you eat is as important as what you eat.

It really doesn’t feel good to get tackled on a full stomach, nor are you going to be able to last a full 80-minute match on an empty stomach.

The night before a match I load up on complex carbs and in the morning, usually yogurt and a banana.

I always have coconut water before and after matches – you sweat out so much during a match, especially during the warmer months. The pitch is the worst place to risk a cramp.

MMG: Your position on the team is a prop. What does that mean for those uneducated in the sport of rugby?

KENDHAMMER: There are 15 different positions in rugby. You are usually not restricted to any single position on the field, although most players specialize in just one or two that suit their skill and body type.

Props are essentially the tanks on the rugby battle field. We are not the fast ones but we are the most physical: front row in the scrum, center piece of mauls, lifters of line-outs, ruckers extraordinaire and crucial when your team is in control of the ball against a defensive line at the try zone.

If you can’t go around them you are going to have to go through them.

One of my favorite memories is scoring a try where the other Prop had the ball and myself and one of the Locks pushed him at full speed through their defense into the try zone to score. It was like bowling a strike.

MMG: Your nickname is listed as “Bejeezus”. Can you explain what it means and how it came about?

KENDHAMMER: That’s something for our Rookies to find out!

MMG: Fair enough. Rugby has a reputation of just being really intense and physically brutal. How do you mentally prepare for that?

KENDHAMMER: That is a two part process. I have a specific playlist of music that really helps get me into the proper mindset.

The other part is running a mental inventory of frustrations – the stuff that makes you mad but you otherwise really can’t control, things you have screwed up in practice or previous matches, times when you wanted to take a stand against something but didn’t or couldn’t.

It’s part of the reason I love this sport so much is the pure catharsis of it. You meet resistance and you push back even harder and that is exactly what you are supposed to do.

MMG: Do you like to compete? What has been the highlight of your time on the team so far?

KENDHAMMER: I do, I have a bit more of a competitive side to my personality than I previously realized.

I think the team aspect of it helps drive that too, since I know how hard the other guys on the team push themselves at practice. I want to show them I am at the top of my game.

As for highlights, I would say the away trips are probably my favorite. We went to a large tournament in Chicago last spring and, despite having been sidelined by a high ankle sprain, being in a place surrounded by people from around the US and Canada who were all there due to the same crazy obsession with this sport was a really powerful feeling.

You get to meet and befriend amazing people that you otherwise might not encounter in your normal day to day life.

MMG: As successful as the team is, you also face losses. How do you handle defeat?

KENDHAMMER: Accepting them as they come and learning from them. A lot of rookies have pointed this out to me as something the really appreciate about our team culture.

Mistakes on the pitch don’t become a shouting match of who is doing what wrong and what the hell is wrong with you.

It’s, “Hey, in this situation you did this and it didn’t work. Next time do this, or watch for that, or remember what we went over in practice”.

Learn from your mistakes, don’t tear your team apart over a loss, and next time you’ll all be better for it.

MMG: Do you have any advice for anyone who is looking to train and compete in sports as an adult?

KENDHAMMER: Do it! Start right now! I get contacted by a lot of people who are interested in playing but are pretty sure they are too skinny, too fat, too old, too young, too inexperienced.

They talk themselves out of it before they even show up to a practice. You would be surprised of what you are capable of doing. Go for it!

MMG: In CrossFit, we use the term “goat” to refer to something you suck at, like an exercise or lift. What’s your goat?

KENDHAMMER: Speed. I am not a fast runner and it is my Achilles heel on the pitch. A teammate once told me, “You may never be fast, but you can always be faster.”

So I work on my form, I practice sprinting; I watch how other people run. I’m faster than when I started.

Interview with Devin Thaut

The crack of the bat, the hot dogs, the ice cold beer – it really doesn’t get much better than going to a live baseball game on a sunny summer afternoon.

Some of the most fun you will ever have is watching the Saint Paul Saints take the field. One of their newest players is Devin Thaut, an infielder who is as much home in the gym as he is on the baseball diamond.

In our interview he discusses a lifetime dedicated to fitness and the lessons he learned from his father.

MMG: I always like to start at the beginning. Were you always athletic as a kid? What role did sports play for you growing up?

THAUT: Yeah, athletics has always been the biggest part of my experience growing up and everything like that.

I have three brothers, one sister, they’re all athletic. My dad is a coach. So I was always outside being active with sports, playing around.

MMG: When did baseball come into the picture?

THAUT: Ever since I was just a little toddler. My dad was a coach, like I said. He coached my brothers, who are eight or nine years older than me.

I was just a little guy and I was a bat boy so I’ve been around it basically my whole entire life.

MMG: When did you start focusing on baseball as something you wanted to pursue at a competitive level?

THAUT: Ever since I saw them [my brothers] when I was growing up and they were eighteen years old – just the passion and the dedication that they started putting in to become better baseball players and it was a love that I fell in love with and was attracted to.

So since five or six years old I knew I wanted to become a baseball player.

MMG: Were you playing on club teams or for your local high school?

THAUT: I went to T-ball for maybe a week or two. I was better and a lot further along than the other kids so they brought me up two or three ages.

And then I just kept playing from there on. I played on Varsity since I was a freshman and I’ve just kept going.

MMG: You played at the collegiate level. Tell me about that experience.

THAUT: Honestly, I wasn’t on the right track. I was a little bit troubled when I was younger and so my grades and everything like that suffered, which I regret.

I could have gone to some bigger schools but since I didn’t really work as hard I should have at certain points I had a little bit of a tougher road that I had to go down.

So I had to go down to juco [junior college] level and then I went to a NAI level. I gave myself a tougher path but all in all I think it was better for me.

MMG: How does it compare playing at the level to now being with the Saints?

Each level it gets a lot more difficult. You have to think about the game more. Slow it down. You can get away with a lot of stuff, a lot talent wise, at the lower levels like high school and college.

But everybody’s really talented, everybody’s pretty athletic, once you get up to here so all the little things separate the great from the good.

MMG: How do you describe your role on the team, both on and off the field, this year?

THAUT: I believe I’m a substitute kind of guy, utility guy. A lot of these other guys have played some affiliated ball, some triple-A, double-A ball.

I’ve never even played affiliated so to be at this point in my career, I think, is a big accomplishment. I’m fine and dandy with playing my role a little bit, but obviously if I get in the game I’m going to go as hard as I can, go balls to the wall.

That’s just the way I was bred, a little bit.

So, honestly, I don’t mind it all. My mindset is to make everyone better around me and help this team win as best I can.

MMG: Baseball has the dichotomy of being very individualized – going up at bat, one on one with the pitcher – but also clearly a team sport. What’s your approach to sport?

THAUT: Knowing your role, not stepping on people’s toes too much. If someone asks you for some advice than you give it, but other than that you go about your business and do you. Be professional. Get a routine. Slow the game down.

Help the team out as best you can without being selfish. Just try and make people better. Worry about the W. Stop trying to focus on “you, you, you”.

You worry about wins and making everyone else better, everything else will fall into play. That’s something I’ve really learned over time.

MMG: Now that the season is in full swing, what does training look like in between games?

THAUT: In the off-season, I was going two to three workouts a day. Right now, I’ll maybe get a light jog in the morning and then I’ll try and get to the gym.

Or here [at the stadium] I’ll go run a couple of laps and I’ll mix in a couple of exercises here and there and I’ll do five or six rounds of that. But I try and workout every single day.

Like three days and then I’ll take a day off or do a light active recovery that day and then go another three days.

MMG: How much of your training is dedicated to skill work compared to general overall fitness?

THAUT: It’s an everyday process. I’ll go get my little workout in the morning and then come here and do some early work hit. That’s just real nice and skilled. We’re just trying to work on some drills right there. And then my workout is mostly skills too.

During the season I’m not trying to build. I’m just trying to maintain so I work on my form, make sure my body’s nice and healthy, my range of motion’s good, my mobility’s good.

So that’s really my focus and then we’ll go back to bp and then the game. So it’s basically an all day process.

MMG: Tell me a bit more about what off-season training looks like for you.

I actually made a joke with my head trainer that I need to move a cot into our gym because I basically live there.

Usually I’ll do two classes in the morning that I teach then I’ll go back, grab something to eat, and get my workout in. And then I have another two classes that I teach and then get another workout in the afternoon.

Then I’ll probably go hit for an hour or two with my dad, come back, take a little rest, maybe a nap or two, and get another workout in right before my last class at 8:30.

I do that maybe three times a week, then a day off, and then another three times – so about six times per week.

MMG: During the off-season you are coaching CrossFit classes. Has that experienced had any effect on you as an athlete?

THAUT: Definitely. Just being a baseball coach – that’s something I do, I volunteer – you’re more a student of the game. You sit back, you watch little things; and it’s just nice to have a broader perspective of the game.

When you’re playing, it’s kind of focused in on one certain aspect – it’s just about you. Same with coaching. Little things, like motivational things or just little cues.

I’ve learned quite a bit from coaching. It broadens your eyes a little bit.

MMG: Any advice than, either from your perspective as a coach or as an athlete, for someone who’s thinking about competing?

Be patient. Don’t be so frustrated. You can’t PR every single day. That’s one thing it took me awhile to figure out. Some days you’re just not going to be able to have everything you got. You can’t be your best every single day.

There’s going to be days when you’re not going to feel good, you’re not going to have all the fluids in you or your body’s just not working with you right. So you can’t get frustrated. You’ve got to be patient.

You’ve got to keep working. You’ve got to stay with it every single day. You get into a routine because if you keep missing days, here and there, they’re going to add up over time.

And if you think you haven’t worked hard enough, go into the gym and work a little bit hard. And if you think you have worked hard enough, get back in the gym and work a little harder after that.

MMG: How do diet and sleep fit into your overall regime?

THAUT: So important, especially if you’re working out three times a day. If you don’t put the right fluids in you, you don’t put the right fuel, foods, aminos, BCAs, your proteins, it’s worthless.

You’re not going to be able to get everything out of your workouts as you possibly can get. Besides working out, the next most important thing are my nutrition and mobility.

MMG: In terms of nutrition, do you follow any specific type of diet?

THAUT: CrossFit’s real big into Paleo. I’d say I do 70% Paleo. You know I cheat a little bit here and there. It’s hard being on the road and stuff like that. I try and stay away from my dairies. I try and stay away from breads.

If I do eat breads, I’ll eat gluten free. I have a lot of fruits, veggies. I don’t really have whey protein because it has milk in it and stuff.

I’ll have my Paleo protein. It adds up thought. It is expensive to eat healthy. It’s tough, but it’s worthwhile.

MMG: In terms of mobility, how much time are you devoting to it each day?

THAUT: I take it real seriously. I think it’s a very underrated aspect of sports nowadays. I don’t think we do enough of it. I think people are lazy with it and that’s why we have so many injuries – pulled hammies, here and there.

People don’t take care of their bodies. Before my workouts I like to do a lot of stretching, a lot of mobility, a lot of range of motion.

That’s what I like about CrossFit is they really emphasize on range of motion – like a squat we hit below our knees so you get the full range of motion, which is almost like a stretch in general right there.

My hips have gotten so much more flexible just from doing the exercises, I believe, the right way. I realize how tight my hips were before CrossFit and how much looser and stronger they are now. Same with my shoulders and everything like that. As long as you work on your mobility and do it right, there’s nothing better.

MMG: Has all this time and effort you put into mobility translated into your hitting power or throwing ability on the baseball diamond?

THAUT: Extremely. It’s a night and day difference. My power’s gone up tremendously. My flexibility is ridiculous compared to what it used to be at.

Just waking up in the morning, my agility is phenomenal. It’s done me wonders.

MMG: Do you allow yourself cheat days? Do you ever rest?

THAUT: I’ve got to have a cheat day. I workout enough where I can have a cheat day here and there but a cheat day for me is not having candy bars or anything like that.

A cheat day is very light. It’s like having a peanut butter and jelly sandwich or something like that – having a little bit extra fruit, a little extra sugar. But my cheat day is probably not really a cheat day for other people.

I’ll go to In-N-Out and have a protein style burger every once in a while, but I don’t like to cheat, honestly. Like I said, those cheat days add up over time.

MMG: Knowing that you do CrossFit, what is your favorite WOD?

THAUT: Actually I made one up for my head trainer but she flipped it and made me do it and have everyone watch. It was a combination of Karen, Fran and Diane.

It was 21-15-9 of dead lift, handstand push-ups, and then 21-15-9 of thrusters and pull-ups and then in between that would be 50 wall balls and then 50 more wall balls and then 50 wall balls at the end. That was probably one of my favorites.

I was about a centimeter away from puking. I felt it right in the top of my throat. That was a fun one.

MMG: That sounds awful.

THAUT: Yeah and it was two or three days before that I did “Murph” with a twenty-five pound vest on and I did puke on that one so that was a good one. Ha-ha.

MMG: So what’s your goat?

THAUT: it used to be double-unders but I got those pretty good. I would say Olympic lifting. Just my flexibility and mobility – I say my snatches, my shoulder mobility, I need to focus on that a little bit more.

Using my hips a bit more. You can always work on your Olympic lifting – that’s just something you can always perfect and you can always PR in too.

MMG: Lastly, who’s your role model in terms of your approach to training and competition?

THAUT: I’d probably say my dad, honestly. He’s a key role model. He’s just very determined, very motivated and disciplined, I’d say. He’s very disciplined and I think that’s where I get it from to just workout every single day and stay with it.

There’s lot of times you go through WODs and you want to give up. “I’m done. I’ve got a great workout in.”

But no, I’d say him teaching me that you’ve got to go from start to finish no matter what, no matter how much it hurts, no matter what you’ve got to do to get through it.

You’ve got to finish. So I’d say he’s my key role model and I look up to him. I love him.

Interview with Justin Davis

World Cup fever has taken a hold and all eyes are on the action in Brazil. But here locally in the Twin Cities, the Minnesota United FC are stealing the limelight, recently winning the spring season championship in the North American Soccer League.

A key to their success is Justin Davis, who has transitioned into a defensive role this year and has given United FC a dynamic option at outside back.

He sat down with us to discuss his career to-date and why he never travels without a foam roller.

MMG: When did you start playing soccer?

DAVIS: Back in the rec days of four and five year olds. I’ve been doing this going on 22 years now.

MMG: And when did you realize you wanted to play at a competitive level?

DAVIS: We had to make a decision about what club league to play for when I was about 10 so that’s when it got to that little higher level.

And then when I got to high school that’s where you pick one sport and stop doing all the baseball stuff and start focusing on soccer.

MMG: So in high school you decided you wanted to pursue playing soccer at the college and professional level?

DAVIS: Yeah, for me, my family moved from Michigan to Phoenix and that was where you play year round for me and my brother.

He chose baseball and I made the choice of soccer and you played on a higher level club team and it was a year round thing for us.

MMG: How did you come to play for the Minnesota United?

DAVIS: Through my college team. I went to the University of New Mexico and the old captain here was Kyle Altman, he was from Albuquerque, and so he would come back in the off-season and train with us [at UNM].

Once I graduated, I got drafted but ended up not making the roster at Real Salt Lake. He reached out to me, brought me up on trial, and a month later I was signed.

MMG: You came out of the gate like gangbusters in your first season with the team with a game-winning goal against the Puerto Rico Islanders. Tell me about that experience.

DAVIS: It was a little crazy cause it was only my second or third start with the team. The first couple of games I wasn’t seeing the field, which is tough to do as a rookie.

Then I finally got in the week before that and I was able to close-out a game for us. And then with the Puerto Rico game I was kind of in a groove there; so, as I play, I like to get forward and the opportunity just presented itself and I got a nice cross in and I was able to finish it.

For me, being only my second start, I was pretty thrilled with it.

MMG: Since then, what has been the highlight of your time with the Minnesota United FC?

Winning the championship in 2011, my rookie year, that was a big accomplishment. And then getting back to the finals the year after that, which is pretty tough to do.

But I’d say the start of this year has been awesome for us. The team’s playing really well. I’m healthy, coming off an injury last year.

So I feel great and being able to play every minute of every game and to have the success that we are having is pretty special.

MMG: How would you describe your role on the team this season as you have made a transition into defense?

DAVIS: Yeah, as you get a little bit older you become one of the mature players on the team – so not just flying forward like I did in my first two years.

Be a calming presence for the guys, be calming on the ball and just managing the game in the right away – I think that’s what I bring to the team.

MMG: You had a successful career at the University of New Mexico. How would you compare the experience of competing at the collegiate level to now?

DAVIS: I think it’s just a different game. I think the college game is big guys running full speed for 90 minutes and it’s just a battle out there.

Now here there is a little more finesse to it, a lot on the passing side of the game and I think, as a player, you like to do that more then just put the ball up in the air and the biggest and strongest guy wins.

I think that’s what the D1 levels big into and this league here is getting a lot better so that the style of soccer and the teams are getting much better.

MMG: On game day, how do you mentally and physically prepare to compete? Any pre-game rituals?

DAVIS: I used to be into the superstition side of it. I put my left cleat on before my right cleat and all that stuff. But as far as pre-game meals or anything like that, I don’t have anything special that I do.

I feel like if you do that, you get caught up into it. If something goes wrong, it messes with you mentally. I just try to relax throughout the whole day.

Listen to some country music before the game and kind of relax.

MMG: Do you have any warm-up routine besides what you do as team to practice right before a game?

DAVIS: I like to get here a little bit early and I go through a bunch of mobility stuff cause my flexibility is pretty bad.

Our strength coach told me to work on that a lot this year so for about 20-30 minutes before each practice, each game, I’ll have a foam roller and a med ball and go through this progression of stretches that I do before everything.

MMG: How do you maintain your energy and focus during the game, especially if part of the match you are not on the field?

DAVIS: I think our baseline of fitness is really good. We put a lot of focus on that this off-season. They gave us workout plan while I was out of town and then all of the work we’ve done in the pre-season.

You don’t see the results until a little bit later and I think they trained us the right way where we are seeing results now in the game.

So the game is the easy part and the training sessions are where we are putting in a lot of work so you fell fresh for the games and you are able to do it for 90 minutes, which is awesome.

MMG: What does a regular week of training and practice looks like now that you are in season?

DAVIS: Once the game finishes up, we’ll all do an ice bath and take care of our body that way. Sundays we’re over at Lifetime Fitness doing a pool regen session and then Mondays are our off day so we pretty much shut it down and do nothing, which is lovely. But then Tuesdays we are right back at it.

Tuesdays and Thursdays they call our heavy load days so there’s a lot of games where you are full pace and then we are also doing fitness on the side of that. Wednesday is kind of our lighter day where we go over tactics.

And then Friday is obviously pretty light as you don’t want to do too much before the game. I think they do a good balance of getting you recovered but then keeping you fit and on your toes.

MMG: How does diet and sleep factor into all this training and practice?

DAVIS: They’re huge on that. My diet has never been the best. I’ll say I have a thing for Oreos. Just eating healthy, especially on the road, every meal is picked by the club so the pastas, the rice, so you’re making sure you’re getting the right nutrients and carbohydrates before the game.

And then it’s kind on you during the week to make sure you are not just going out having burgers and fries at dinner. It gets a little tough because you want to enjoy those things but you’ve got to train the next morning.

MMG: Are there any daily habits you employ, outside of the mobility and practice that you follow to a T to keep in peak shape on and off the field?

DAVIS: Big on staying hydrating, especially coming up on the summer here. I always got a water bottle with me. I got the Alkame water – I’m pretty big on that.

So I’m always drinking that, having one of those with me even if we are going through a team meeting or something like that.

For me, running up and down the field for 90 minutes, your legs tend to cramp up a bit towards the end so being really hydrated is important.

MMG: You mentioned briefly that during the off-season they are giving you workouts. What does the off-season look like?

DAVIS: It was about four days a week that they had us to do stuff. It’s a combination of anaerobic and aerobic exercises.

There’s always a good treadmill workout on there that they put us through. And then they have a little lifting packet. I try not to do the big heavy lifts. I just try to keep it light and maintain myself throughout the year.

But the treadmill stuff’s great and I think, especially this year, we came into camp a lot more fit than we have been.

MMG: I’m not sure if you are familiar with this CrossFit term of “goat”.

DAVIS: That’s the one you are bad at, right?

MMG: Exactly! So what’s your goat?

DAVIS: My goat would be the flexibility stuff and I don’t know why because I try to stretch and do the yoga stuff to make it better, but it’s just my body.

I’m not the most flexible person in the world so they’re always getting on me to keep stretching and do the mobility stuff to try and help out.

Interview with Aaron Pitchkolan

The World Cup might just be a distant memory now, but the Minnesota United FC soccer team is still going strong.

Helping lead them on the field is Aaron Pitchkolan, who signed with Minnesota in January 2013, giving the team options in both central midfield and central defense and years of experience across the American professional soccer landscape.

In our interview, Aaron talks about his career, about how to come back after a loss (and a win), and why he’s not into taking supplements, deer antler spray and all that other nonsense.

MMG: Let’s start at the beginning, were you always athletic as a kid and really into sports?

PITCHKOLAN: I wouldn’t say I was athletic. When I was younger, I played a bunch of different sports. I played basketball, soccer, baseball, and football in school. Anything to get outside, anything with the ball I was all about.

I didn’t start growing until high school. I was never an athletic specimen at all – far from it. Really skinny, not that athletic; so for me I really had to work hard to become athletic and continue my soccer stuff. But yeah, I was definitely not a natural athlete.

MMG: When did soccer come into the picture?

PITCHKOLAN:I played all those other sports but probably when I was ten or eleven I really started focusing on soccer and the others one just kind of fell to the wayside.

My whole life was about soccer and I wanted to watch it all the time on TV and play it all the time.

MMG: Did you have any professional soccer players or athletes that you looked up to as a kid?

PITCHKOLAN: I had a ton. I grew up in Denver and so I watched a lot of the Rapids games and followed as much soccer as I could.

So this is going back, I’m getting pretty old now, Roberto Baggio and a lot of other soccer players from that era – the mid-90s – were the ones I followed.

MMG: How about now as an adult?

PITCHKOLAN: Yeah, I just have more of a respect for what they’ve done and how well they’ve carried themselves in their careers.

I think all soccer players are fans of the game, probably true of any other sport and you see guys and you admire what they do and you respect how difficult it is to do.

With the World Cup, I’ve been following Michael Bradley. I think it’s a great story. He grew up in the U.S. system, had a great career in Europe, and now he’s back playing in the MLS (Major League Soccer).

So I think he’s a cool story and he’s definitely someone that I think is an amazing player.

MMG: You played soccer at the Division I level for West Virginia University. What led you after graduating to pursue a career playing at the professional level?

PITCHKOLAN: When I was a freshman in school that was my dream. I knew I had four years to put yourself on a path to be in a position to play professionally.

Luckily I was able to manage all those steps pretty well and when I was a senior I got invited to the MLS combine. And one thing lead to another but it kind of went according to plan.

MMG: Tell me about your time playing in the MLS with FC Dallas and how did that compare to playing at the college level.

PITCHKOLAN: It’s totally different. Just the professionalism, the way guys take care of themselves, the way they prepare.

It’s your job. It’s your life. I really learned a lot during my first year in Dallas coming from the U.S. college system where it’s intense but it’s nothing near a professional soccer league.

You’re playing a lot more games. You’re playing a lot more frequently. And you’ve got to be performing all the time or you’re not going to be seeing the field.

So that first year in Dallas I really learned a lot about how to prepare and how to become a professional.

MMG: Is there a particular highlight from your time with FC Dallas that sticks out?

PITCHKOLAN: Playing against David Beckham was a highlight because he was one of those players I watched growing up. It was a really cool moment for me.

MMG: And what about more recent highlights? You’ve been playing professionally now for the past ten years.

PITCHKOLAN: Yeah, there’s always different points in the season. You score a good goal or your team goes on a nice run. There’s a lot of little things that keep you going.

It’s hard to pick out just one but I think the run we’ve had here recently has been pretty good. It’s nice to see us at the top of the standings.

MMG: Absolutely. So you’ve been recognized as a “versatile player”, often playing either as a midfielder or a center back. How do you describe your current role on the team?

PITCHKOLAN: That’s a funny question because last game I started playing midfield and got an injury so I ended up playing center back as well.

And this game it looks like I’ll be playing midfield again. It’s back and forth. I’ve been given the majority of the minutes in midfield and it’s a different mindset.

You’re on the ball a lot more. You have to be a lot more aware. And obviously a lot more running.

MMG: Having played soccer competitively since high school, why do you like to compete?

PITCHKOLAN: I think it’s measuring yourself up against other people. Whether it’s a little possession game we’ll play at practice, once it’s competitive and the guys are into it, there’s kind of a zone you get into.

All the guys that’s what they play for, that’s what they enjoy doing and that’s why the games are so great.

There’s a lot at stake and everyone wants to do well. So measuring yourself up individually and as a team is what’s its about.

MMG: You mentioned this idea of getting into the zone. Is there some type of mental preparation you do to get ready each game to go head to head with the other team?

PITCHKOLAN: There’s not a switch you can turn on. Playing for so long, you know there’s certain things once the game starts you have to be on it.

There’s some games where you not feeling that great or you are a little sluggish and you know it right away.

Once that happens, you’ve got to do your best to find that determination and that fight again that makes you successful.

MMG: Do you have a pregame routine?

PITCHKOLAN: I’m not superstitious and I don’t really have anything special. It’s just warming up properly and just the more physical side.

Once the whistle blows then the mental side clicks in. Once I feel good physically then I’m much more mentally spot on.

MMG: As a more seasoned player whose seen your shares of wins and losses on the field, what’s your advice to athletes in regards to coming back after that loss?

PITCHKOLAN: Losing is such a terrible feeling and when you are this involved in it kind of ruins other stuff outside of soccer. So once you lose, you are that much more determined to not let it happen again.

You don’t want that snowball effect. You know how miserable it is to lose so you do everything preparing for the next week, the next game, whatever it is to make sure you don’t feel that feeling again.

MMG: I am also interested to hear your take on the opposite scenario. How do you treat the next match after a win?

PITCHKOLAN: You don’t want to get too high, you don’t want to get too low. I’m sure that’s the old sports cliche.

You’ve got to take that good feeling and know you want to feel that way again and you’ve also got to take a look at the mistakes you made and improvements to be made for the next game.

And work on those little mistakes. But obivously if you are winning, you’ve got to take the positive and a little bit of the negative and work on those but know that what you did was right and that you are onto something.

MMG: What does your off-season training currently entail? How much of it is skill work and how much of it is just staying in shape?

PITCHKOLAN: It’s kind of a tough dynamic because we’ve got a little bit of a longer off-season. Our season is long and pretty taxing so you want to make sure you get enough rest to recover from the season before, but you don’t want to take too much as you’ve got to prepare for the next season.

There’s a good amount of running, fitness, lifting. I’m kind of a gym rat so I enjoy that stuff. As far as the soccer stuff, you always want to be touching the ball and keeping all that stuff sharp. There’s a fine line between doing too much and not doing enough.

You’ve got to find that right area.

MMG: How do you split your time between the actual playing, with your teammate in practice having games and scrimmages, compared to just drilling some particular skill?

PITCHKOLAN: I think that’s looking back and knowing what your strength and weaknesses are. It’s knowing your strengths and trying to play to those is great in the games.

And obviously when you are not playing, you’re training and you’ve got to know what your weaknesses are and those things you want to improve.

It’s being pretty self aware. Knowing what you do well and continuing to do that. And knowing what you don’t do well and being honest with yourself and knowing that, “Hey, I’ve got to work on my left foot or something else.”

MMG: What role does diet and nutrition play for you in regards to your training? Do you follow a particular program or is it eat whatever you want because you are running around so much?

PITCHKOLAN: I wish. Diet and nutrition are huge. That’s one of the things I learned in that transition from college to the professional game.

When you are a college student, you don’t have a lot of time and you’re not willing to go to the grocery store and make the best meal you’ve got. But when I went to Dallas, I worked with a nutritionist.

Even here this year we’ve worked with Fit Studios and they’ve put us on a good weightlifting program and they really nailed home our nutrition.

They’ve given us a list of what we should be eating.

And I think the preparation, the meal before the game, and especially the recovery after and what we should be eating in-between is hugely important. I can’t stress that enough.

MMG: Any specifics that you can share? Any do’s or dont’s? Any supplements or vitamins that they have you take?

PITCHKOLAN: Yeah, not big on supplements. I take a daily vitamin and that’s about it. I’m not into all the weird stuff or deer antler spray or all that nonsense.

It’s just basic nutrition knowledge – eating the right amount of carbs and protein. It’s making sure you get enough whole foods and not a lot of processed junk; and that’s hard to find sometimes, especially nowadays.

We had that issue in our traveling in the airports. It’s tough to find stuff, days before games and days after games.

So it’s being smart and trying to find maybe not the best thing for you but not going through the airport and finding the worst thing.

MMG: Lastly, in the world of CrossFit, a “goat” is something you suck at, like an exercise, movement or lift. It’s the inspiration for the name of my site. With that said, what’s your goat and how are you trying to fix it – or “kill it” as I like to say?

PITCHKOLAN: I don’t know. There’s probably a lot. I think a lot of guys who play professionally are perfectionists so I don’t think they’d say, “I have this mastered.

This is what I know I’m good at. I’m 100% all the time.” I would just my quickness. This goes back to me not being a natural athlete.

I know it’s a weak part of my game so I’m always trying to work the speed ladders or doing something a little extra to, maybe not improve, but maybe stay where I am and stay sharp.

But, yeah, I think there’s probably more than one goat.

Interview with Scott Cooper

Scott Cooper is the consummate athlete who is constantly active playing sports and training year round.

He played football locally in Minneapolis for Augsburg College and since graduating has maintained his competitive edge.

While Scott is big into softball and horseback riding, his current focus is on becoming a CrossFit Games Athlete.

In our interview, we discuss his busy schedule, the best advice he has received and why he loves Linda.

MMG: Scott, thanks for taking the time to talk with me and answer some questions. You’ve got an impressive sports career to date and a wide array of athletic interests. I thought it would be fun to start by simply asking, what did you do today in terms of training?

COOPER: I played football, basketball, and baseball in high school, and football in college, so athletics and training are near and dear to me.

I still love sports and competition, so even after college now I try to find ways to keep competing; against myself and others.

My training now consists of mostly CrossFit, with a sprinkling of isolated muscle training and running.

I did a full marathon in 2013 along with several other races, so running doesn’t go far from my base training even though I mainly focus on CrossFit and Olympic lifts.

I need variety in my workouts so I don’t get bored, and it keeps my body guessing. I love sports, and I believe my fitness training needs to be a good base for that, so I’m happy when I can put my training into competitive softball nowadays, along with CrossFit Competitions.

MMG: And what does a normal week of training look like? How many days on? How many days off? And what type of workouts are you doing? Break it down for us.

COOPER: I’ll start with what I’d like my typical week to be: Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday would be CrossFit, Thursday would be an active recovery day, Friday CrossFit, Saturday either CrossFit endurance type workout or run, and Sunday totally off. But, that doesn’t always happen.

A typical week of training for me is CrossFit Monday through Friday, with maybe one day off during the week to allow for life stuff getting in the way, and one of those days is a double where I also go and do large muscle group isolation at the gym.

I take at least one rest day on the weekend, and one weekend day either is light lifting or a running day.

So easily broken down – five days on, two days off (if you count active recovery as off). I know my weakness is that I need to give my body more rest time.

MMG: So you do CrossFit, you are on a softball team, you played collegiate football and ride horses. Among all your sports and activities, what is your current goal? What are you ultimately training for?

COOPER: My ultimate big goal is to make it to the CrossFit games. First, my goal is to make it to the Regionals for the CrossFit Games.

In the meantime, I will keep doing local CrossFit competitions to get experience and training.

I would like to do other things like another full marathon or a half marathon, and keep competing in softball.

I just have to make sure whatever little side goals I have, that they don’t derail me from the ultimate goal of going to the Games.

MMG: Recently, you posted a side-by-side photo of yourself from three years ago and today. In both pictures you weigh the same, but by your own accounts are stronger and leaner than ever before. What helped bring about this change?

COOPER: Training and nutrition played a huge part of it. Getting three years older and having three more years of growth doesn’t hurt either, but you have to feed your body the right things and push your body with training to see results.

My weight and build fluctuated a bit in those three years. That side by side photo I weighed 200 lbs in each.

But within those three years I got as high as 220 lbs and as low as 180 lbs. A year and a half ago I was at the 180 lbs mark because of marathon training, and heaving lifting and lots of good clean food (and not running 40 miles a week) helped me to a reach a lean 200 lbs today.

MMG: How does diet factor into all your training? Do you follow any plans or have any rules that you follow in terms of eating and drinking?

COOPER: It’s a huge factor. I can tell when my nutrition is off by the way I feel and by how I look. I was strictly paleo for a good nine months, and that made me insanely lean. However my training required more food intake.

I’m not completely paleo now, but keep a clean, lean diet. I avoid fast food like the plague, and keep processed wheat products away.

I follow the 90/10 rule about clean eating, which gives me some room for date nights out and a beer here and there. I really don’t drink much, and usually it’s a 2 drink max if I do.

MMG: What other factors are important to you in your overall physical and mental wellness?

COOPER: Sleep is a huge thing for me. I typically get 8 hours a night. My body desperately needs that time to recover and grow.

Being mentally healthy is huge. If I’m stressed about something I can lose focus in my workouts and get tempted to “eat my feelings.”

Working out does help me relax, but I also have to take some time somedays and clear my mind of stress so I can let go.

Having a balance in my training keeps me happy and motivated too. I like to shake things up and keep it fun to keep me energized and excited about training.

MMG: You just came back from Dallas where you competed in the North American Gay Amateur Athletic Alliance (NAGAAA) Softball World Series. What was the highlight of that experience?

COOPER: I wish I could say our games were the highlight, but we just didn’t play that well and left Dallas frustrated with our performance.

But it was so fun to get to compete in that setting with many friends and peers. You know you get to play in front of people who really are excited to see you play.

The highlight of that trip I would say is watching the Twin Cities Frostbite (our sister team) play the Atlanta Show Stoppers in a hard fought elimination game Friday night under the lights.

The crowd was huge and rowdy, I was surrounded by friends from all over the country, and it was a really tight game that came down to the final play.

That embodied the spirit of what the World Series is to me.

MMG: In an article you wrote for Outsports, you discussed have post-tournament blues and be anxious for the next tournament. What attracts you so much to competition?

COOPER: I love those tournaments because it’s the perfect mix of tough competition, and social fun with friends.

Every tournament I go to, I get to see old friends I’ve made through softball and I also keep meeting fun new people.

I get to play against people who I’m familiar with their style of play and tendencies. And in every tournament I get to contend for the championship trophy.

The chase for the trophy keeps me coming back, and it’s so fun to get to do it with a group of athletes who I can totally be myself around.

MMG: Your team unfortunately lost before making it to the finals. How do you deal with winning and losing? Do you carry those victories and defeats with you? Or are you able to shrug them off?

COOPER: I definitely need time to get over bad at bats or a loss. I get frustrated when I or my team don’t do well because I set high expectations.

I may need an hour after a game to shake it off, but I take the things I learned from the bad moments and apply them to future games.

I don’t forget about the bad games, but the good ones are even more memorable. For the Series this year, I was mad about our loses, but within an hour or so I just took a step back and realized no matter what I was able to compete that week and also enjoy a great week with my softball family. I’m just more motivated to play harder next year.

MMG: Who do you currently look towards for guidance? Do you have any mentors or coaches or role models that are important to you in your life and in your training?

COOPER: My box owner and Coach, Logan Bautch, has definitely given me amazing guidance and advice in my training.

He pushes me harder than I’d push myself, and doesn’t give me a line of BS that I’m just going to jump into the run for the Games without much time spent working.

There are a few other people in my box that push me hard on a daily basis and give me hints along the way.

MMG: What’s the best piece of advice you have received in terms of your athletic career?

COOPER: FOCUS. I was talking to a friend recently who does Spartan Races and has many training clients, and we were talking about my goals and how maybe I want to do another marathon too and a couple other things.

And he reminded me that I can’t get great at one thing if I’m trying to be good at many things. If it doesn’t help get you to your goal, re-evaluate why you’re doing it.

MMG: You played football in college for Augsburg College? While softball and CrossFit are obviously different, how do you compare competing at the collegiate level to now competing as an adult?

COOPER: There are some similarities and some differences. Between college football and CrossFit, they’re very similar in that it takes a ton of training and time dedication to be really good at it.

And the competition is fierce. Many of the CrossFit athletes I compete against are former collegiate athletes themselves.

There’s a bit more friendliness however than on the football field. Softball is a bit more laid back, but I can’t say that it doesn’t take practice and effort to be good.

There’s tough competition, and I still have a lot to improve on.

Competing now is a bit more social, and definitely just as rewarding. There are just certain things that can never compare to being on a college football team, though.

But I’m very happy I found a way to keep competing after college. I needed to find that.

MMG: On the day of a competition, whatever the sport, do you have any pre-game rituals? How do you get in the mental space to be ready to charge the field?

COOPER: It starts the night before with the right nutrition. A typical night-before-competition meal is salmon, sweet potato, and veggies.

The day of, I love cranking some good music to get me going. That helps me get zoned in and ignore outside distractions.

I take the time to properly warm up, as it gets my mind ready, and also of course my body. I wish I could say I have some odd superstitious traditions, but I really don’t.

Although, I did go through a phase in high school where I ate a bowl of ice cream before every football game; I said it was my extra energy boost.

MMG: How do your experiences compare when competing as a member of a team compared to as an individual? Do you take a different approach with each?

COOPER: I’ve always played team sports, so it was new to me to transition into individual sports like CrossFit (which can be team too, but not always) and running. I put a lot of pressure on myself even on team sports, so competing as an individual didn’t change that.

I think I put an equal amount of pressure on my performance whether it’s solo or part of a team.

I know my bad plays on a team could hurt us, so I want to be 100% sound, and as an individual those things hurt your score or time.

I don’t think I could choose whether I like competing on a team or as an individual more.

MMG: What has been the highlight to date of your varied athletic career?

COOPER: Why do you have to make me choose? That’s a really tough one, and hard to choose just one. I’m going to go with walking onto the field for our final home football game last year, Senior Day, at Augsburg.

The moment was special, but what went into getting to that moment in time made it the best. It happened because I was able to get back into college football after I thought I was never going to play again.

I had put in the time and effort into the season and off-season, and was graduating as a part of the program and can always say now I’m an Auggie Football Alum.

My team was amazing and so supportive of me as a person and as an athlete, and nothing was greater than that day being surrounded by those guys, those feelings, and those memories.

MMG: And what has been the biggest lesson you have learned along the way?

COOPER: The biggest thing I’ve learned along the way is to stop comparing yourself to other people. It sounds cliche, but it’s true.

There will always be someone, bigger, stronger, faster, more agile. But you have to be confident in who you are as an athlete and person, and realize what you bring to the world around you.

You can push yourself to grow and see other people’s results to get you motivated, but being proud of your own unique accomplishments is important.

MMG: You are a self-professed lover of CrossFit. What is your favorite WOD?

COOPER: Hands down: “Linda.” Some people call it the “3 bars of death” and absolutely hate this WOD, but it’s my favorite.

It’s long enough to satisfy my cardio craving, and heavy lifting to satisfy my inner meat head. It’s 10-9-8-7-6-5-4-3-2-1 of Deadlifts (1.5 times your body weight), Cleans (3/4 of your body weight) and bench press (your body weight).

And my favorite lift by far: cleans. Gimme some of dat!

MMG: Finally, the question you’ve been waiting for, what is your goat?

COOPER: Snatches. But that shouldn’t be a surprise, right?