Yannick Girard in the history of Canadian soccer

Back from Qatar with the Canadian soccer team, Yannick Girard, one of the two physical trainers of the Canadian men’s team, a resident of Chambly, answered our questions.

What is a physical performance trainer?

The more customary term is more physical trainer. To physically prepare an athlete. With Team Canada, I’m responsible for physical performance because it covers a lot of areas, whether it’s nutrition, recovery, rehabilitation if there’s an injury, it goes a long way. My goal is to know how to manage the athlete around the clock, whether on the field or off. And like with the national team, we travel a lot and we live with the athletes, most of the work is done outside.

So you know all the athletes individually?

They share with us what they need and, at the same time, we teach them what they also need based on our scientific knowledge. It’s a mixture of both. In addition, we have athletes who come from all over the world. So the habits are not the same. It’s really knowing your athlete in the best situation for him to perform.

What is your journey to get to be present with the Canadian team in Qatar?

I was with the Montreal Impact. I created the Academy in 2011, and in 2016 I joined the team in MLS. I did two years with them. While I was off, Team Canada quickly called me, because they were on a new cycle, with a new coach. I was called and the adventure began in 2018, four years ago, with the objective, more or less secret, of participating in the Soccer World Cup. The coach was certain to go. Me, I was a little more worried, because I didn’t know the environment yet. And then we worked for four years to get there. There was a complete change in philosophy, an inventory of Canadian soccer and that’s how we managed to make a big qualification by finishing first, which had never happened, and a return to World Cup 36 years later.

Can this experience leave us optimistic for the future?

We knew that we had three very high level teams. So it was a challenge very difficult. In the first match, after seeing what we did, we said that we were in our place. We were a little disappointed, because we are convinced that we could have won. Afterwards, Croatia put us back in our place. This team has an incredible quality of confidence and serenity. During the whole match, I never felt a player who was in panic. For me, it was impressive to see that. It’s a good learning curve for us. Against Morocco, it was also an excellent match which could have finished tied.

You, how did you live this experience?

I am not on the bench. I have my assistant who is on the bench with the GPS data. Me, I’m more in the management of transitions when they come back to the locker room at half-time, which is what they need. Me, I run a little everywhere, but I am very close to the player to have the feeling that he has on the ground. The goal of Alfonso Davies, I was not there. He scored too quickly, I was still in the locker room. So sometimes there are little frustrations.

What is the most beautiful moment of this adventure, from the selection to Qatar?

The day we qualified against Jamaica in Toronto, I took advantage of it. I cheated a little. I went a little less in the locker room, I was a little more in the stands and even on the field at one point. It was the most beautiful moment of this course for the World Cup, because it was a concretization of all that we had prepared, but I have the advantage of being so close to the players that I small intimate moments, let’s say, of what they felt. And there are plenty of little stories that are very beautiful, in fact. But it is sure that this last match, it was the concretization. I had my family who was there, my little girl was there, that touched me more. We really lived these crazy 48 hours! It was a big moment.

At the end of the World Cup, the players weren’t too disappointed?

They were asked to fully live the experience, but inevitably, there was disappointment with three negative results. We tried to make them understand that part of the objective has been accomplished. We scored a first goal and showed the world that Canada Soccer exists and will be there now for every World Cup. That, they are proud of. But as a professional and a competitor, you can’t be 100% happy when you lose three matches. It is the same for the staff.

Was the Canadian team seen as the Cinderella team of this World Cup with Qatar?

Yes, and even after Qatar, because Qatar had an easy group. In terms of people’s vision, we were really put last, because they hadn’t seen us for a few years. On the other hand, they knew some players of the team. When the teams saw the group table, they started to analyze and some saw maybe Canada upset. When we see the result, we can now say that we were in one of the most difficult groups. It’s a little comforting to say that we performed well against two of the four best teams in the world today.

Are you always on the road?

Yes. We are hotel specialists. This year I did 108 days away, because I take care of the young men’s teams also from the U15s, it’s a lot of travel. I live two-thirds of the time at home, the rest while travelling.

What is your daily training, concretely?

From the moment they wake up to the moment they step onto the pitch for training, their fitness is analyzed every morning. We analyze the urine to find out the hydration, what are they going to eat, have they slept well? Lots of quizzes. We go to the gym to do the activation, we follow the meal to make sure the meal is adequate in terms of the energy needed for the training, and then as soon as they get to the stage, again, there is an activation before training, individualized. Then there is a warm-up. The biggest work is outside the field, especially since we are very individualized.

What data do you collect from the sensors placed on small vests that the players wear?

We can watch the heart rates and thanks to the GPS, we can see information of speed, distance, explosion, acceleration, deceleration. We can have hundreds of data, so we select what we need. This allows us to calculate the volume and intensity of the player. We know what we are looking for in training. So, live, we can follow the evolution of the athlete. This allows us to better manage workloads.

Why did you choose Chambly?

In fact, there is no official reason. I just found this town pretty when I visited. Before, I was in Montreal, when I was with the Impact. When I started with Canada Soccer, I could work from home. So, I tried to leave Montreal and I saw Chambly. I could settle where I wanted.

Today is forced rest?

It’s a break after the World Cup. In February, I will go to Guatemala with the U17 men for a qualification too. It’s the new generation. I have to get to know them individually. For the youngest, it’s more difficult, because they are in their respective club and there are fewer tools to share their data. So, when you receive them, you have to start all over again.

How will you prepare for the 2026 World Cup, which will take place in Canada, the United States and Mexico?

We have already started to prepare. We are preparing with the apprenticeship we have just had in Qatar with the management of hotels and training centres. We’re going to try to optimize that even more, so we’re going to research what’s best for us. Afterwards, we don’t decide where we are going to play. There will be two stadiums in Canada, Toronto and Vancouver. In Montreal, the Saputo stadium is too small, and the Olympic stadium is not suitable for the World Cup. We will have to know where we will have to train. It will be decided at the last moment. So, we will have to work on several options to be ready on D-Day. After that, we will have to manage player development. There are very few who will stop by 2026. We are a very young team, it is very promising. We were one of the youngest teams at the World Cup. It is an advantage for in four years.

Is there already a target for four years from now?

We haven’t talked about it yet, but we definitely want to go further. So, a first victory already, and then a qualification for the second mandatory round. That will be our two minimum objectives, let’s say. We will have the public with us, we will have a lot more experience, we will have new players with more experience. Already, all of our big players are leveling up in transfers.

Is it a disadvantage for you to have international players?

No, it’s better. We need our players, without pushing them, to perform against the best players in the world every weekend. Unfortunately, if they stay in MLS, we are in a kind of second level, without wanting to be negative. You can’t have good players in the World Cup by playing the best players in the world if they don’t play them. When we talk about Alphonso Davies, every weekend he faces the best, so it’s easier for him to adapt and perform. Koné, two years ago he was playing against Montreal North and there he played against Modrić, who is one of the best players in the world. It is unthinkable. That’s good, but if we want to go further, all our players have to face the best as often as possible.

Do you watch their games at their respective clubs?

It’s a big part of my job. Every weekend, I take stock of all my international players. Either I see the matches, if something happens, we contact him to find out what happened. We are also close to the physical trainers of each club, the doctors. At the slightest glitch, they call us half an hour later. We are in contact with the player once a week. There is a network with the clubs that has been created. As I come from France, it was easy to connect with European clubs. We have become friends with the physical trainer from Monaco, Lille, Troy, Bayern Munich… It’s interesting, because we share our experiences, our knowledge and we adapt to what we offer.

In four years, will you be there?

A big goal for me would be for young people to do the Olympics. For the World Cup, we are already there. So the process will be more normal, it will take longer, it will be less stressful. The World Cup has really made us a family. During the holidays, I will spend my time saying hello to everyone. There is a friendly relationship that has been established with the players. If, tomorrow, I go to Europe and I don’t go through Portugal or even France, I’m going to be scolded, because I have to stop by to say hello. This proximity is due to my position. It’s different from the reality of a head coach. For me, with the players, it’s easier.

How is soccer in general in Quebec, for you, at the base?

I look a little at what is happening in amateur clubs. Canada Soccer also looks after the development of these clubs. At the moment, there is a big change with the creation of national, provincial and regional licenses. So I’m keeping an eye on that. As with national clubs, this imposes certain physical and medical standards on them that almost correspond to those of a professional club. We are on a very good streak. A lot of development with the Canadian Premier League was created three years ago now, and it’s working very well. There is a good level. The girls who will enter a Canadian league in 2025. We are really in a very good period. In the next four years, there’s no reason it shouldn’t explode in all directions, for girls and boys.

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