After the GameNov 28, 2018

After the Game: Oguchi Onyewu and the Winter Training Sessions

After a storied 15 year professional career that included time in Europe and the MLS, as well as a major role on the U.S. Men's National Team, Oguchi Onyewu is passing his fitness and training knowledge on to the next generation. He founded Onyx Elite with long-time friend and business partner, Chris Gorres, and built a fitness program focused on providing regular individuals the chance to "train like a pro." With locations in Richmond and Reston Virginia, Onyx provides high level training to all, but he thinks he has something special to offer his fellow pros as well. 

During his career, Onyewu noticed a gap in players' access to quality off-season training. From there, the concept for Onyx Elite's Winter Training Sessions was born. This 10 day program is geared towards current and aspiring soccer professionals and provides them the opportunity to be exposed to and benefit from professional caliber training sessions in the off-season. 

Onyewu, who officially announced his retirement in September, shared a bit about his journey and how he hopes to change the training landscape for young professional athletes for the better. 

Q: What inspired the concept behind these winter training sessions?

Essentially, the concept arose because I realized there was a void in the market in regards to organized, quality training in the off-season for pros. I looked at the different disciplines, like football and basketball, and they all have some sort of sponsored, structured off-season training somewhere. I looked around and saw that soccer players, to my knowledge, didn’t have that. Speaking to people, I found they also weren’t aware of it. So, I started to wonder about how you are just left on your own in the off-season to stay fit. You have go to the gym or try to find pickup games. I said to myself ‘If it doesn’t exist, we’ll be the first ones to do it.' So, I thought we can offer something to pros and new pros who want to be fit and prepare for the upcoming season in the off-season, provide them the service of structured training that basically emulates the professional environment that they would be going into in the coming weeks.

Q: What made you decide to take the leap into this business?

Honestly, I literally I woke up one day and I was like ‘I need to do this before somebody else does.’ So I spoke to my business partner Chris Gorres, who is nationally known as a personal trainer and is the COO of my company, and I asked him what the feasibility was. From there we just went with the idea. We reached out to a lot of people and that’s really how it was born. Basically anything I do in my life I kind of detect a need, figure out a plan of action and then just do it. That’s how I think you should do things. Just go for it, and if you fail you fail, but at least you’re not questioning yourself afterwards. I truly believe that for me it’s a way of giving back to the youth. This is something that wasn’t provided when I was growing up, when I was a young professional, or even an older professional. I feel as though the current generation has access to a lot of advantages that we didn’t have. I hope this will turn into one of those normal type situations for them.

Q: You were working on this while playing, do you think it's important for players to be thinking about life after soccer?

For sure. The idea came well into my playing career. That was always kind of a thought in my mind, you know, ‘What do I want to continue with, what do I want to be involved with after playing?’ Because as much as anybody loves to play, your legs won’t give you that forever. So I definitely think it’s important for current pros to think about the after even it’s not in the near future. It makes for a much better transition afterwards. It’s a difficult subject, because no one ever wants to think about the end when they’re in the thick of it. But it’s important because the reality is, nobody plays forever. Even Jordan had to retire. Ronaldo will have to retire. Messi will stop playing. So I think it’s important to think about those things, whether you make a plan of action is your own issue, but it should definitely be a thought.

Q: During your career did you notice that off-season fitness was an issue?

100%. A lot of players literally switch off, which is good for a period of time, but for me, I think being professional shouldn't ever completely switch off. You have to give yourself time to recuperate, but that doesn’t mean just turn it off completely. I think it’s important for these pros to understand that they shouldn’t use pre-season as a way to get fit. They should already be fit in the pre-season so they have a leg up on the competition and they are hitting the ground running. The average MLS player’s season is over in October, so you literally have November, December, and half of January to figure out how you are going to maintain the same level of fitness that you had at the end of the season. It is an issue, and we’re trying to address that hopefully.

Q: How do these winter sessions run? What do the players experience?

Since it’s in the winter we opted for a location that wouldn’t have much resistance in regards to the weather. We've been partnering the last two years with the Tampa Bay Rowdies and working out of their facilities and their stadium. This year it will be January 3rd - 12th and essentially it’s like a pre-season program. We do two-a-days, sometimes three. We focus a lot on strength and performance as well as the technical and tactical side of the game to prepare these young professionals. We work hard and it’s a serious environment. We tell them that they should take it as seriously as they would within their professional environment. 

Q: Who do you think will benefit most from these sessions?

I’d say the people who are serious about their career and want to use their off-season as a means of getting better, not just turning off. From last year the range of players went from CJ Sapong, who was in with the national team, to an 18 year-old who, right after our camp, signed to the second division in Switzerland. So it’s an array, from those kind of players to combine players. Last season we had three players that entered the MLS combine and two of them got drafted. It's a wide spectrum and everybody sees a benefit because it’s truly quality training and it’s hard to find that kind of team environment in an off-season. In the regular season you’re training as a team, you’re playing as a small team, and you feel like you’re getting something out of training, so I wanted to replicate that in the off-season for these guys.

Q: What do you hope people take away from the 10 days?

Definitely the sense of what it means to be a pro. I think that gets lost in translation a lot of the time. Being a pro doesn’t just mean you go on the field and you’re one of the best players and you make your coach proud. For me, what I’m trying to tell these people is that being a pro is a state of being. You conduct yourself professionally, that means from how you are in the locker room to how you are in the hotel. You are a representative of yourself, you are a representative of your family, you are a representative of your team. We really preach that, and that a professional career is really a short span of years, and it’s even shorter after it’s done. As a young professional you never want to hear that, and you don’t actually believe it. I remember an older pro telling me that and I was like ‘I’ve got like 20 years left what are you talking about.’ Then you wake up and you’re 35 years-old. From day one I tell them to take advantage of every opportunity because you never know who is watching you. You can be scouted, you can be seen. You don’t want to turn around and think ‘Man, I wish I would have done this.' So I tell them to capture the moment because it’s a privilege to be a pro, not a right. We try to preach that. They might not want to hear it, but it’s one of those messages we have to drill into these kids.

You can follow Onyx Elite on instagram and twitter. To find out more about this year's Winter Training Sessions, email INFO@ONYXELITE.COM .