This past April, Michael Chabala, former Houston Dynamo defender, shared his thoughts on soccer, fitness and life with us, and we’re betting his new soccer fitness concept, Sphere, will soon be all the rage in the soccer community for anyone looking to have a soccer-fit body while having fun in an interactive workout environment. In part one of a three-part series, Michael, or “Chewy” as most MLS fans know him, discusses the unpaved road that led him to carve out this dream.
Monday's are better kicked with your squad. pic.twitter.com/nrKhEmYBsZ
— SPHERE (@spherefithtx) June 14, 2016
Michael grew up in California where he played youth soccer. At the early age of 8 he was given the opportunity to travel and participate in a youth technical program for the Austrian first division club FK Austria Wein. “I went off and on there for two years and really learned the technical skills that most players need to aquire at earlier ages, that at least in the early 90s, was still lacking in the U.S. So, I grew up like most kids just doing ODP and chasing State cups, trying to play in as many tournaments as possible.” He received a scholarship from the University of Washington where he played for four years before being drafted by Houston Dynamo in 2006. He played in Portland and D.C. before returning to the Dynamo in 2013 where he now resides and where Sphere is currently based. The story of Sphere is essentially the story of his life’s journey as a player.
“Throughout my career of becoming a professional player, being a pro and trying to maintain and prolong that; each phase of my career had a different aspect of what it takes to be a pro and how to maintain it, so it kind of reflects the concept and the types of classes I’ve created for Sphere.”
Michael found himself in a position no athlete relishes the thought of. In 2014, when the Dynamo did not execute his contract, he was left to his own devices to either let that moment define himself or to use it as an opportunity to let his years of training and hard work take over and help him forge a different path.
“I found myself not playing that season. So I traveled and was trying to find myself, and along the way put down my thoughts of what I was interested in. Finally I realized that I needed to work out. I was staying away from the game because it hurt because I wasn’t training every day with the team and I realized I wasn’t as fit as I was. So I jumped on ClassPass and searched for something different. I tried everything from martial arts, to swimming, to Barr classes, bootcamps, crossfits. You name it, I’ve tried it.”
He fell in love with the energy and aesthetics of SoulCycle, the boutique fitness movement leader. He also enjoyed elements of CrossFit and yoga but it just wasn’t the same as the beautiful game. “I obviously love playing the game. I think there’s not a better thing in the world than running around a field with other players, kicking a ball around,” Chabala reflects on his search for something to quench the thirst he had for the soccer he had lost. “I was underwhlemed with most of the classes. I wasn’t achieving the same type of fitness goals that I saw when I was playing professionally and I realized there’s nothing in the fitness space that’s soccer specific.”
But, within the search he discovered camaraderie and that same sense of ‘something is missing’ in others who were playing pickup soccer games, something that Chabala did not participate in for obvious reasons. “I started talking to those guys and girls and they go to crossfit, the go to yoga, they run, but as far as an actual soccer class, or something they can mix both the fitness and the game, there wasn’t anything that existed. So I started focusing more, researching, and realized there was nothing there.”
Michael, who was also coaching kids at the time, found himself driving all over the spread-out Houston landscape, and realized it was time to make a change to a group class. “Eventually I just said, ‘hey I’m just going to be at this one location and if you want to see me, just come, I’ll charge you less, but there will be more people.'”
From that moment on, things kept evolving, first as skills classes to supplement the soccer, then he continued changing the tried-and-true formula to involve parents and bystanders in a soccer match. Where most saw nothing, Michael saw opportunity. “I realized there’s a lot of parents, brothers, sisters, other players, on the sidelines all wearing fitness gear and wanting to work out. So I just had a wild idea and thought why not incorporate both. So I added parents to the skills workouts, making it more interactive.”
“One day I started working out with some of my friends who play pickup. And they asked if I could coach them. So I coached them. And they said yes, it’s great but our girlfriends and wives don’t care if how many goals we score on our first touch, they care about our body. And that’s when it clicked. So I started incorporating HIIT training and caliscetic type of workouts that most soccer players do, more body weight, and it’s king of been spinning from there.”
He didn’t stop there. “Since then I’ve been focusing on the type of class I’ve been trying to create. I was trying to replicate a soccer game.” The concept of Sphere was starting to take shape as something different from the rest of the fitness world. It wasn’t just about a workout, it wasn’t just about a fit body, it wasn’t just about fun. It was about flow. “The stop-start of most American sports is really aggravating for me. Because as a soccer player, when you watch Barcelona-Madrid, it’s all about the flow of the game. With workouts I think it’s the same thing, when it’s stop – start, it’s very tough.”
He compares it to SoulCycle, but then shows how Sphere goes a step further to fill a gap. “Spin classes are one of the most flowing type of concepts that’s out there. SoulCycle preaches about riding with the pack and being part of a community. I find it hard to wrap my head around that when there’s no personal interaction when you’re on your bike. I mean I you are feeling the energy of somebody because they’re physically so close to you, but you’re not actually interacting.”
— SPHERE (@spherefithtx) June 17, 2016
“As far as the things about playing professionally with the Dynamo that I miss, like most athletes, it’s the locker room.” They miss their teammates, their friends and the interaction.
“I really wanted to focus on how to help my friends when they finish playing. And I also wanted to recreate the locker room that I wasn’t getting anymore. And I starting seeing myself, like other professionals when they finish playing. The lose their identity, their ryhthm as far as working out and they let themselves go. They have nothing to train for anymore. So I felt it was a really good outlet not only for fans and family friends, but also for my teammates and people I care so much about.”
Sphere is something Michael intends to offer his friends and former teammates when they finish playing professionally. He saw his own former dream cut short, but rose above the resulting fray to start to build something impactful. “For me it’s premature not playing [professionally]. So I’m looking at the opportunity now to try and get ahead and create something special so these other guys can take advantage of it when it’s time.”
Next up: Sphere’s for everyone. Find out how you can participate!