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French fitness coach preps U.S. men

Pierre Barrieu advises youth coaches that if they only get their teams together for practice twice a week, forget about fitness training. "The coach should tell the players to jog in their free time." the U.S. national team fitness coach says. "You shouldn't sacrifice part of practice for fitness if you have so little time with the team." But when the U.S. national team gets together there's plenty of time dedicated to assuring the players reach the highest level of fitness, and Barrieu goes to work. Barrieu represents a relatively new breed of soccer coach: an assistant dedicated solely to strength and conditioning. "I don't have to deal with referees, the wind, scouting -- just the human body," he says. Coach Bruce Arena brought Barrieu aboard early in 2002, and after the Americans reached the World Cup quarterfinals they tipped a hat to the Frenchman. "You could tell that even late in the tournament, with four games already under our belt, we were still much fitter than our opponents," says Landon Donovan. "I attribute our superior fitness level to Pierre." Barrieu handles the team's warm-up, the cool-down at the end, and the conditioning sessions. He works with players who want or need extra training outside of practice, and helps players who are working their way back from injuries. Flexibility, strength and endurance are his domain so Arena and his other assistants can focus on the technical and tactical issues. Helping a World Cup team wasn't in Barrieu's mind when he and his wife, Florence, a software engineer, left France because she was offered a position in the United States. Pierre, who had been a professional team handball player, soccer coach and university instructor, just planned on taking a prolonged vacation. But they had landed in Charlottesville, Va., and Barrieu couldn't resist checking out the University of Virginia's athletic program. When soccer coach George Gelnovatch learned a conditioning coach with an impressive soccer background was on campus, he invited him to work with the Cavaliers, then recommended Barrieu to Arena. "Pierre Barrieu understands the physical demands and movements required for the sport of soccer," Arena says. "He loves the game and is an intense student of the sport. Because of his knowledge of soccer and his strong background in exercise physiology, he is superbly qualified to assist in preparing our players for competition." U.S. captain Claudio Reyna says, "In the summer, players coming from European leagues arrive drained after a long season and MLS players are in midseason, at peak fitness. Pierre figures out exactly the right amount and the right type of fitness work each player needs." Barrieu gauges the players fitness levels with a series of tests, besides educating himself on what they have been doing with their clubs. "It's crucial to individualize fitness training," says Barrieu. "Another key to good fitness training is variation. It makes players enjoy training more." Barrieu supervises weight-training, the main purpose of which he says is injury prevention. "I was the kind of player who would stop lifting when no one was watching," he says, "then I completely blew my knee out and learned how important it was." Barrieu makes sure players eat properly -- limit fat, eat carbs, get the key vitamins and minerals that convert calories into energy -- and says the national team players in general eat intelligently. "The under-20s are another story," he says. "A lot of kids have terrible diets."

  • Soccer America