Kings Q&A: Head Trainer
Get an inside look at injury prevention and fitness from Kings Head Athletic Trainer Manny Romero. Plus, Romero dishes on working with players, including C-Webb, DMC and Jimmer.
A certified performance enhancement specialist from National Academy of Sports Medicine since 1998, Manny Romero enters his third season as Kings Head Athletic Trainer and 11th overall with Sacramento. Along with assisting Kings Director of Sports Medicine Pete Youngman in areas including injury management, prevention and rehabilitation, as well as on-court emergency procedures, the Loyola Marymount graduate serves as a liaison between the team, doctors and players.
Over the last three seasons, the Kings have ranked second, eighth and sixth, respectively, in Least Number of Games Missed Due to Injury – a testament to the sports medicine staff's year-round diligence, devotion and implementation of the latest trends in the field.
"We don't attribute that all to the sports medicine staff because there are a lot of things that go into it," says Romero. "But we are in the right direction with the things we are doing here."
In a recent interview with Kings.com, Romero provides insight into his role, describes working with athletes, including Chris Webber, DeMarcus Cousins and Kobe Bryant, and much more.
How did you get started in the athletic training field?
"I did my undergrad at Loyola Marymount University, and the L.A. Lakers used to practice there before they got their big practice facility at STAPLES Center. Around 1996, I volunteered one summer to work with their head athletic trainer, Gary Vitti – who's still there. I did some volunteer work for a season and then the following year, I got a paid internship and I got certified as an athletic trainer.
"The Kings Assistant Athletic Trainer position opened up in 2001. Pete Youngman was looking for an assistant, and he asked Gary if he recommended anyone. He recommended me. I interviewed for the job and got it. From 2001 to 2004, I was here as the assistant athletic trainer. I left to be the assistant athletic trainer with the Lakers under Gary for two years, but then I wised up and came back to Sacramento in 2006. I've been here ever since – the last three years, I've (served) as head athletic trainer. While I've been here, I've also worked as a performance enhancement specialist and assistant strength and conditioning coach because I have those certifications, as well."
Who've been some of your mentors and role models you've looked up to for advice?
"Initially, Gary was my contact. While I was (with the Lakers), I was introduced to Alex McKechnie, who is a world-renowned physiotherapist from Canada. He's invented things such as the core board and the Core X system. His main philosophies are core stability training, so he's been one of my big mentors as far as performance and rehabilitation, looking at movements and injury prevention. Pete, obviously, is a great mentor to me and has been over the years. Mike Clark, who started the National Academy of Sports Medicine, has also been a pretty big mentor – especially in the realm of injury prevention, assessing and identifying movement dysfunctions and putting together a corrective exercise program so athletes can perform optimally on the court."
Who are some players you've enjoyed working with throughout your career?
"Early on in my career, I had the great fortune to work with Kobe Bryant. His work ethic, his attitude towards basketball and his professionalism was a very good benchmark for all athletes to achieve. I worked with Shaquille O'Neal, and he was a fun person to work with – (he was) always good in the locker room and he has a big heart.
"Chris Webber was another person who was great – a great personality, great work ethic, very talented and always did what (was asked) from a professional standpoint. Vlade (Divac), I think, is one of the best people in the world. I always saw him take time out to talk to people and he had a great spirit about him, too. Bobby Jackson was a great ambassador and great person to work with, also.
"Currently, I enjoy working with DeMarcus (Cousins). He has a fun side to him and he has a good spirit when he works here. Jimmer (Fredette) is another person who comes in with a great work ethic and is very professional. He's always here a couple of hours before practice starts, working on his game and working on his body in the weight room. I've known Carl Landry from working with him in the past, so I think he's ready to go and (will) bring some leadership.
"One person I've gotten a chance to know – just because he's coming off (ankle) surgery and rehabilitation – is Greivis Vásquez. He reminds me a lot of former (Kings player) Francisco Garcia, who's another person I think very highly of. He's come in asking the right questions and doing the right things. He was asking what I thought he needed to do from a sports medicine standpoint to get his body ready for the season. He's definitely coming in ready to work."
How often are you in contact with Kings players during the offseason?
"We're in constant contact with them – we usually don't go a few weeks without talking to them. Usually when the season ends, we give them some time to be away from basketball for a while, but come May and June, we'll start (calling them) to see how they're doing.
"Some guys will schedule workouts here and we'll be on top of their health and well-being. If they live elsewhere, we'll even do site visits just to make sure they're doing well and (check) if they have any questions. Some of these guys have their own personal trainers, and we usually talk directly to them and make sure we're all on the same page with regard to their programs. Pete and I will also contact players (more frequently) who are recovering from injuries.
"As the season approaches, we usually talk to them every other week just to make sure they're on task and come into training camp ready to go."
How would you characterize your day-to-day responsibilities during the season?
"I usually get in early and get the training room ready. We do pre-season assessments and screenings on all of our athletes (to) try and identify any movement impairments or muscle imbalances they may have. Then, we try to work on those on a daily basis.
"Athletes start coming in about an hour and a half before practice. We get them working on their flexibility and their corrective exercise program based on those assessments. Then, we're the in-between to the weight room, so once they do their exercises, they go into the weight room and try to increase their strength, speed and agility before they head onto the court for practice.
"During practice, we're on the court, ready if anything happens from an injury standpoint. Then, we do recovery after practice – icing guys down, working on their flexibility and helping out in the strength and conditioning room, if needed.
"We're also the liaison between the doctors and the players, we help with travel and we work with the equipment managers to make sure everything is stocked and ready for the week."
How would you describe a typical gameday?
"(In the morning), the athletes come in and we get them ready for shootaround – we tape them and stretch them out. Pete, most of the staff and I are here anywhere between three or four hours before game-time to prep the training room. Athletes start showing up usually a couple of hours before the game, and Pete and I are constantly moving from player to player to prep them in whatever their routine is for the game. We're obviously doing the taping of the ankles. Sometimes an athlete shows up and he's not feeling well, so we have to take care of that, as well. Usually, the doctors show up an hour and a half before the game to help with those medical things, as well.
"(During games), we help with some statistics for the coaches and (let them know) how many timeouts we have. We're there for injury management and any emergency that might happen on the court throughout the game."
What is your overall approach to injury prevention?
"There's been a paradigm shift for injury prevention, in taking athletes who come in injury-free (and being) able to identify some minor dysfunction they may have. (It can) prevent them from having an injury and also increase their durability on the court. That also lays the foundation so they can optimize their performance, whether it's in the strength and conditioning room or on the court.
"It begins with the assessments or screenings – we want to get as much information about the athlete, physically, as possible. So we do go though a normal physical, but we take them through some movement patterns that may identify a dysfunction. Once we've identified those dysfunctions, then we can sit down as a sports medicine group, go through those assessments and choose which dysfunctions we need to work on the most. Then, we collectively pick and choose exercises to change those dysfunctions, whether it's a mobility issue, a flexibility issue or what's called a motor control issue, where they actually need to work on recalibrating that movement pattern through exercise. If it's a mobility or flexibility issue, we'll work on mainly stretching and those types of exercises, but if it's a strength issue or a muscle is not activating properly, we'll work on exercises that will help movement in a more efficient and correct way."
What are some of the most common injuries you see and what is the course of treatment?
"Definitely the most common injury is the ankle sprain. Research has shown that since the ankle is the base of the kinetic chain, if those ankle sprains aren't properly taken care of, it can cause movement dysfunctions up the kinetic chain – you can get knee, hip and lower back injuries. We can identify those who might be at risk with that assessment.
"Other than that, (we see) poor core stability with some guys. We've put together a good program to help alleviate some of those issues. Research has also shown that poor core stability has an effect on ACL injuries. We haven't had any of those for a long time here – knock on wood – but I think a lot of that has to do with some of the prevention stuff we do."
How important is rest and recovery with the demands of the NBA schedule?
"It's very important. We usually get together with the head coach, look at what's going on during the week – as far as games and practices – and give him suggestions on how to alter his practices. For instance, if we have a back-to-back (set), we might recommend a day off or a light practice the following day. Maybe we'll get in the weight room and do some corrective work, some foam rolls, some balance and core stability work that is not too taxing, but is still beneficial for the athlete."
How significant of a role does nutrition play in training and injury prevention?
"Nutrition is really big – our strength and conditioning coach heads up that department. They have recovery shakes (to get) protein into them right after the game or practice – (we have a) Gatorade product (that's) pretty good with that.
"We usually have an outside nutritionist come in and talk to the guys, just to get everyone on the same page as far as how important it is. Athletes, a lot of times, will go out of their way and seek additional information from the nutritionist and even hire a personal chef just to make sure they're on point with what they're eating and putting into their bodies. If they're eating right, research has shown that a lot of times they'll recover from injury even faster, so we emphasize (diet) with a lot of the things we do."