Meet Erica Suter, Founder of Total Youth Soccer Fitness Program [Interview]
What do you do when you have a heart for coaching, but not necessarily the head for business? Do you want to start your own fitness business so that you can make a difference in the lives of others in a field about which you are very passionate but you don’t have the love or stomach for the numbers-crunching logistics of entrepreneurship? You’re not alone.
Today, we’re talking to Erica Suter who will share her experience as an entrepreneur who loves training and coaching her athletes, but admittedly is learning to love the “business” side of the business. She describes how she benefited from great mentorship and learning to delegate in order to build and grow her successful fitness practice.
If you’re ready to grow and manage your business better, schedule a demo today.
Meet Erica Suter, Soccer Performance Coach
Schimri Yoyo: Hi, welcome back. This is Schimri Yoyo with Exercise.com. Today, we have the pleasure of interviewing Erica Suter, who is a Strength and Conditioning Coach with MedStar Sports Medicine and the founder of Total Youth Soccer Fitness Program.
So, Erica, thank you for doing this.
Erica Suter: Thank you for having me. I’m super excited about this conversation.
Schimri Yoyo: Alright, so let’s first get a little bit of background information about you so our audience can get to know you a little bit. How did you first become passionate about fitness and training?
Erica Suter: Oh my goodness. Well, to start from the beginning, I started playing soccer at age five and absolutely fell in love with it, and I began strength and conditioning when I was in middle school. This was back in the early 2000s when it was starting to become a thing.
So, I was grateful to have such an amazing strength coach in my life, a role model, someone who showed me what I was capable of, my strengths and everything my body could do, whether that was on the field or off the field. So that was a huge part of my life.
After that, I played soccer at Johns Hopkins University and was captain my senior year. Then after that, I spent a year in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, coaching kids. So, that’s really where all of the coaching with the youth started; that experience in Brazil, which was in 2012.
Schimri Yoyo: Wow. That’s great. Besides soccer, were there any other sports or any other physical activities that piqued your interest when you were growing up?
Erica Suter: Yeah. Oh my gosh. I am having flashbacks to just playing tackle football in the neighborhood with my brother and his friends. I was definitely a tomboy, so I was exposed early on to a lot of different physical activities. I think being exposed that young with that risky type of play, that rough play, turned me into a better athlete who’s confident, strong, coordinated, and can move well.
So yeah, the tackle football, we did a lot of wrestling and watched the WWE. But as far as organized sports, I did gymnastics and ballet really early. It wasn’t for me. And then I did lacrosse and soccer. So soccer I always had, but I dabbled in all those other things as well.
Schimri Yoyo: Well, that’s good. It gives you a little background in some of the rough and physical, but also some of the flexibility with some of the dance and ballet and stuff. So, your footwork must be excellent between soccer and ballet.
You mentioned playing abroad. What are some of your favorite memories of playing professional soccer abroad in Brazil?
Erica Suter: Oh my gosh. So many. I went down there originally to coach and to work with kids in impoverished neighborhoods. And that for me was a crazy experience, because I grew up extremely privileged in the soccer system. I had access to amazing facilities and strength coaches, nice uniforms and cleats, and balls and all [of] this equipment. And you go down there and you see soccer in its most basic form. It’s just kids out on the concrete in the neighborhood, slide tackling each other, doing bicycle kicks, bleeding, scraping their knees.
But they’re still in love with it, and they’re just having so much fun, and there’s so much joy on their faces. For me to see that in its simplest form and return back to basics was really nice and it reminded me of why we play sports, and that’s to challenge ourselves, connect with humans, and to lean into our creativity and to see what we’re capable of. That was one of my favorite memories from Brazil.
Schimri Yoyo: That’s awesome. Now, you mentioned that you had some good mentors and strength coaches as you were coming up as a player. When you decided to make this your profession and go at it full-time as a career, who were some of your mentors who helped you really launch a career in sports medicine?
Erica Suter: Definitely my strength coach, Brien McMurray. He used to be the strength and conditioning coach for the University of Maryland men’s lacrosse [team]. I think this was back in the ’70s and ’80s. But, he was my strength coach in middle school, and I actually stayed with him for a decade. I trained in middle [school], high school, and even in college during the summer; I was going back to see him and train with the other athletes.
So, he was a huge inspiration, and I just saw the physical benefits of the programming [especially in the areas of] speed development, conditioning, not fatiguing in the second half, but also just mentally, and just taking care of my body and working on my strength. My overall mental health improved, and I always found that my mood was better after a tough workout. I was more open to other people and my relationships were better, and it just improved all areas of my life.
I’m at the point in my career [where] I want to give that back to kids. I know there’s a lot of noise going on in the world, especially in a young athlete’s life, so I want to show them the power of movement beyond just the physical and the performance side.
Schimri Yoyo: That’s a pretty good endeavor and mission. Now, how have you been able to keep active during this pandemic; as we are recording this, this is April 28th, 2020, and we’ve been hit with this Coronavirus Pandemic; so how have you been able to stay active during this social distancing era?
Erica Suter: Oh goodness. Well, in that first couple of weeks my workouts were actually not a priority, especially something structured, I was just in survival mode and just trying to take care of my players and make sure they were transitioned and good. So, that was a very stressful time for me. And I think we can’t always be hard on ourselves if we miss workouts because of life stressors that are crazy, like a world-wide crisis.
But, now I’m in a routine. I’m making it a point to go for an hour walk every morning, and I’m doing strength training four times a week. It just helps me to have it all written out so I’m not waking up and like, “Okay, well what am I going to do today?” Because that’s just too much thinking. It’s too disorganized; and I need to just have a set schedule, like “Okay, I’m doing core and hips today. Okay, I’m running sprints today.” And it just needs to be laid out.
I will say that my workouts aren’t as intense now, just because it’s a very chaotic and nervous-system-heavy time. So just more movement, in general, is good. It’s going to be a little bit more relaxing now, and just a lot of strength movements with a long recovery, and just really taking my time, nothing too high intensity.
Schimri Yoyo: It seems like you’ve prioritized having some structure, even though we’re in a time of uncertainty. When you’re not training and not self quarantining, what are some of the things that you like to do for fun?
Erica Suter: It’s funny, I was saying to one of my friends the other day, “Man, I don’t miss that much about the old life except for coaching in person and seeing humans, but also snowboarding.” It scares me that I don’t know when I’ll be able to go on a mountain again because I love snowboarding. I love it as much as soccer.
So, that’s one of my most favorite activities. I love hiking and going for long-distance bike rides with my dad. So, yeah, just a lot of movement, and just talking to people, having deep conversations, which we can still do over Zoom, so that’s been nice. But yeah, snowboarding I miss so much.
Schimri Yoyo: Well, let’s hope that this pandemic will be over by the time winter rolls around, so you’ll be able to do some snowboarding.
Erica Suter: I sure hope so. I hope you’re right about that.
Proper Process Leads to Sustainable Progress
Schimri Yoyo: Alright. Well, let’s talk a little bit about your philosophy and your methodology of your practice. If you had to describe your practice or your coaching style in one word what would that be?
Erica Suter: Process. Yeah, with young kids, I want them to take their physical training the same way they would anything else in life. So I always compare it to school. You can’t skip from basic math of adding and subtracting to calculus and differential equations.
You have to start with basics and then go to the next level, and the next level, and then you’re ready for the more complex stuff. So, it’s the same thing with physical training. It’s a long journey. It’s going to last a lifetime, for the length of your career.
So, you have to start with mastering basic movement patterns, whether that’s skipping, marching, crawling, climbing, hinging at the hips, squatting. And then you can do the more specific things, so you can start to load in a safe manner, you can add more volume, you can do different progressions, whether that’s double or single leg.
I always tell kids, if you sign up with me, and I tell their parents this too, this is not a six-week program and then you peace out. This is going to last, I mean, at minimum, a year. But ideally, I want to see them through their entire physical development, especially as they get through that growth spurt, because that’s a critical time where a lot of disturbances and coordination are going on, and kids’ height is shooting up, or they’re maybe putting on more fat mass, especially with teenage girls. So just helping them to navigate that time from a physical standpoint.
Schimri Yoyo: Now, obviously when you were meeting clients day-to-day in person, what were some of your day-to-day responsibilities as the strength and conditioning coach for MedStar Sports Medicine?
Erica Suter: We have kids training year-round, so every time they come into the facility they do their warmup right away. We have it all written out, and it’s up to them to make their way onto the turf and get going. But the warmup time is where I can catch up with the kids and talk to them about how their day was going and get to know them before we get into the meat of the workout.
Then after the warmup, we’ll do different movement prep; so crawling, marching, skipping, being able to coordinate in all planes of motion. And then if we’re in the offseason and we can train a little harder, we might be doing some high-intensity speed and change of direction work. And then we’ll finish up with our strength lift at the end.
Every kid has their own packet for the strength training. So they’re tracking their load each week because not everyone’s going to be lifting 20 pounds on a squat, a goblet squat. Someone might be doing 50 pounds and be a little bit more advanced or further along in their training age. So it’s all group training, but I try to customize it as much as possible.
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Schimri Yoyo: That makes sense. Now, how, if at all, do you broach the topic of nutrition with your clients, with the young people and their parents?
Erica Suter: As far as with the parents, I always get questions from them. “Well, can you talk to my kid to eat healthier?” And I just ask them, “Well, first of all, what’s in their environment at home? What’s in your pantry? What’s in your refrigerator?” “Okay. Oreos, ice cream.” You know, like a bunch of unhealthy sludge. And it’s like, “Okay, well, we need to first tackle the home space first, because they’re exposed to that way more than they’re exposed to me.”
They’re seeing me for like three to five hours a week. And then outside of that, that’s a lot of hours, and they’re most likely at home. So I always encourage parents, slowly start to change those habits. Maybe having more fruit available, or more fresh vegetables, or healthy proteins and eggs in the refrigerator. So it always starts at home.
And then as far as the kids, it’s an ongoing conversation in the gym. So sometimes I’ll give them samples of healthy snacks like protein bars, or berries, or electrolyte drinks at the gym. So that I’m just kind of placing the behavior in front of them. And they’re like, “Oh, okay, well, this is good for me. This is what I need after a workout.” So it’s just become this ongoing conversation almost weekly when they come in, and it’s helped a lot.
Schimri Yoyo: That’s good. Now, we sometimes hear about professional athletes and even amateur athletes suffering from heat-related illnesses. What are some of the proactive ways that coaches and athletes can try to combat a heat-related illness?
Erica Suter: Education and just informing them that they need to intake a certain amount of water based on how much they’re sweating out. But also, this doesn’t just happen, dehydration doesn’t just happen in heat-related environments. So even in the cold, kids aren’t sweating as much, but they still need to be cognizant of putting in enough water and electrolytes into their bodies.
So, my best advice there is education. And again, just putting that behavior change in front of them. So if that’s having extra water on hand or giving them potassium and electrolytes, and just showing them that they need to feed their brain and their body with water because it keeps them alive and it keeps them performing at a high level, that’s what I’ve found works the best.
Schimri Yoyo: Okay. And how do you measure progress, first for your clients and then also for yourself?
Erica Suter: For my athletes, we’re taking both qualitative [and quantitative]; so a lot of video feedback. I have a lot of my athletes send slow-motion videos of their acceleration technique for a 10-yard, 20-yard sprint, and then more max velocity technique when they are reaching sprinting, so 30, 40 yards. I can really break down in a slow-motion video what’s going on with that specific athlete, and I like to show them a before and after over several months’ time so they can see that improvement.
But also we’re looking at numbers, so more quantitative, looking at acceleration and sprint times, making sure those improve; conditioning times, whether that’s anaerobic or on a longer distance; power, so vertical jump height, broad jump. And then as far as the strength, that’s something we’re tracking weekly because they’re going through their program and they’re constantly writing down the weight they’re using. So we’re not necessarily retesting that because we can just see the trajectory over time with the strength stuff.
Schimri Yoyo: Okay. And for yourself as a coach, how are you giving yourself and assessment as far as your growth and progress?
Erica Suter: Yeah, that’s such a good question. I’m not taking slow-motion videos of myself, but I’m definitely tracking my strength and my progress, and make sure I’m operating under a progressive overload model. I’m also taking inventory of how I feel. And I started to do that actually with my athletes last winter, and we would write down like, “Okay, what are our energy levels? How’s our sleep? How’s our mood? How are we feeling?”
And that, to me, is a great way to measure progress as well in the gym and to make sure you’re not overtraining or undertraining. So I like to go off of how I’m feeling. And actually, earlier this year, I gave up drinking all alcohol, and that’s been a game-changer in my workouts and my sleep. I’m constantly taking inventory of what’s serving me and what’s not in my life.
Schimri Yoyo: That’s pretty good. How do you as a coach find the right mix of pushing your athletes to reach their peak or physical limits, but also balancing that act without pushing them to the point of burning them out?
Erica Suter: Yeah, I mean burnout is such a big topic now because young athletes especially are doing a lot. So it really comes back to just keeping the conversation open and just asking them how they’re feeling, and just getting to know them beyond just the weight room and the field, and just to see if there’s any other stress going on in their lives.
But overall, I haven’t run into too much overtraining here, because I think it’s just a part of the culture that all the athletes work hard, but they take care of themselves, and it’s just something that I, as a coach, am reinforcing year-round.
Business Development: Being a Coachable Coach
Schimri Yoyo: And now, talk about, how do you budget your time and energy between training, but then also running your business and trying to pursue entrepreneurship?
Erica Suter: Well, it’s definitely gotten a lot better. In the past year, I’ve actually hired a business coach, just because it’s not my area of expertise. I am someone who’s passionate about coaching kids and exercise physiology. And that was an area I needed to learn more about. So I always that recommend strength and conditioning coaches find a mentor.
You cannot do it on your own. There’s so much going on with business, like systems to learn, and taxes, and marketing, and digital product creation, and just things I never would have thought about that he’s really helped me with.
So, that’s been such a great balance for me. And now I’m excited to learn about the business aspect, just for my own sanity, and to make sure I’m protecting my energy and things are running smoothly so that I am at my best when I’m coaching because that’s really what I want to do is coach, and not have everything else hit the fan.
Schimri Yoyo: No, that makes sense. You actually answered one of my next questions, I was going to ask about what you’ve learned about your business and delegation, but it seems like that’s something that you’re doing right now. You’re trying to delegate the aspects of the business that you’re not strong at, and empowering others to help you along the way.
Well, let me give you an opportunity to brag about yourself a little bit and what you’re starting to do with your Total Youth Soccer Fitness Program. Give us a little bit more information about that.
Erica Suter: Sure. I have two books out in the Total Youth Soccer Fitness series. The first book I released last year, and it’s a digital product; it’s over 100 pages of coordination and core stability and strength exercise for middle and high schoolers. That one is a more general version. There’s a lot of exercise videos in there and week sample programs. So if anyone needs a start, that’s the best one to look at.
The one I just came out with last week is a year-round plan. So, it’s all of the exercises from the first book and then some extra ones that I added in, and it’s a year-round workbook. I created it actually last year when a lot of coaches and parents were asking me questions, how to fit in strength and conditioning amidst busy sports schedules.
I wanted to create something that had all the exercises laid out, the sets and reps, the work to rest time, and everything you can be doing at home or in a gym or on the field in one place, and for you to do it at your own convenience. So, that’s why I created it.
And oddly enough, it finished during this crisis, which was kind of cool, because I know a lot of people now have been asking for a routine, and I think this is the best time to adopt the routine and to get better as an athlete. And I tell my girls now that they need to envision the type of athlete they want to be when sports start up again.
Who are you going to be when you step on the field, when you play that first game again in several months? And I hope that it’s a stronger, more resilient, and more robust athlete. So, again, that’s why it’s such a good time now to really train under a structured plan.
Schimri Yoyo: That’s great. And where can we find the two books and the two products?
Erica Suter: Sure. So ericasuter.com is my website, and then I’m @fitsoccerqueen on Twitter, and I’m always sharing other free resources, and my offerings and products, and research studies. So @fitsoccerqueen on Twitter is a good place to find me, too.
Schimri Yoyo: Which actually leads to my next question: In what ways are you using social media and technology to promote your services? So you’ve got @fitsoccerqueen on Twitter. Are you on Instagram or anything else like that?
Erica Suter: Yeah, I’m on Instagram as well as @fitsoccerqueen, and Twitter, and Facebook. I really use the social media platforms to inform people and to show them videos and drills that I’m doing with my athletes and the benefits, any new research studies I’m interested in, whether that’s on youth speed development or ACL injury.
So, I’m definitely sharing a lot of those, and other amazing work from coaches in the industry. But I’m also using it to highlight my athletes for training on their own and just crushing it during this time. So a lot of it is my younger kids, and it’s amazing to see them inspiring people.
Schimri Yoyo: Nice. Give them like a digital shoutout.
Erica Suter: Yeah.
Schimri Yoyo: Nice, yeah. Well, thank you again for your time, Erica. You’ve been great. It’s been a great conversation. Just one last question: Do you have any resources, books, podcasts, magazines or anything like that, that have been helpful to you that you’d want to share with our audience?
Erica Suter: Oh, absolutely. So as far as coaching books and just building culture and being able to listen to your players, I always recommend Motivational Interviewing. It’s a book on behavior and habit change. And then InSideOut Coaching is a great book that talks about the impact coaches have beyond the game and beyond physical training.
Then, as far as physical training, I really like The Athletic Skills Model written by Ajax Youth Soccer Club’s strength and conditioning coach (René Wormhoudt) and Smart Moves, which talks about why the movement is good for kids and their brain development and memory and learning. I’ve probably read it 100 times, and I’ll probably read it again during quarantine, but Smart Moves is an amazing book.
Schimri Yoyo: Alright, well, thank you. Those are some great recommendations, and we are thankful for that. I wish you much success even during this time of self-quarantine and social distancing. And hopefully, you’ll be able to get back out on the mountains and snowboarding come this winter.
Erica Suter: Yeah, fingers crossed.
Schimri Yoyo: Thank you again, Erica, for your time.
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Schimri Yoyo is a writer for Exercise.com and a financial advisor with active life and health insurance licenses. In a past life, he covered Villanova Men’s Basketball and Big East Football for Examiner.com. Schimri has also produced freelance copywriting, editing, and proofreading for various websites and online publications for over a decade. He is an avid sports fan, possessing an encyclopedic knowledge of all things Boston Celtics, Boston Red Sox, and San Francisco 49ers. Schimri is an educator and a storyteller who is eager to assist individuals and families to stay financially and physically fit.