Karsten Smith played soccer professionally for seven years and appeared in over 100 games, and what set him apart as a player is that he never stopped learning.
Now, he's coaching young athletes to have similar values: playing with a focus on the right mentality, stressing a love and enjoyment of the sport over competitiveness, and of course, learning to be aware of the body and the importance of mobility. Between a full-time career in sales, his private coaching practice, and his work in the New York City Football Club, he stays busy, and makes sure every student learns drills and exercises to keep themselves flexible and in tune with their bodies.
Smith embraces mobility awareness and corrective exercises for a simple reason: they helped save his career.
After sustaining a hip injury in Finland in 2013, Smith was initially misdiagnosed by a surgeon, claiming his injury was a hernia, and that surgery would fix him. Looking for a second opinion, he wound up being introduced to Dr. Valente through mutual friends.
During evaluation, Dr. Valente asked Smith to perform a squat, and was able to diagnose an asymmetrical weight shift and lower leg dysfunction. This caused him to overload his adductor muscle, putting strain on it. Rest, anti-inflammatory medication, and even surgery would not solve the problem as his body was unconsciously distributing weight improperly every time he moved, and his muscles had to be retrained.
Together, they began a complex treatment routine that included focus on increasing both ankle and hip flexibility as well as core stability.
"He saved my career," Smith said. "He treated me, but also introduced me to mobility routines. He made me aware of my body, and what the injury was. I leaned on him for expertise in the following years of my career."
What Smith described is the basic tenant of Dr. Valente's treatment: mobility, and learning the ways to correct musculoskeletal imbalances with different exercises. Unfortunately, many chiropractors are known for simply adjusting the spine, but Dr. Valente prefers to look beyond the injury or source of pain, and find the root causes, treating entire body systems instead of just one part of the body.
"Loading a bad movement pattern only reinforces bad movement," Dr. Valente often says, and learning to move the body properly is what propelled Smith forward.
Part of what made Smith such a successful player on the field was his attentiveness and ability to learn new strategies from every game played. He applied that same mindfulness to his recovery, learning new rehabilitation exercises and stretches, and incorporating them into his daily practice.
These days, Smith has retired from professional soccer and coaches in the Westchester County area. His coaching practice, High Touch Football Academy, was founded in March of 2020, and the focus of the training is to give students a complex understanding of the physical and mental demands of soccer. With either one-on-one or small group training sessions, Smith's goal is to equip young players with many of the professional skills he picked up in the dozens of games he played across the globe.
In addition to private coaching, Smith has recently begun working as a senior coach for the New York City Football Club. There, he also serves as a talent scout within the organization, looking for the top athletes in the tristate area in order to propel them through the NYCFC program, and ultimately, towards the hopes of a professional career in the sport.
As far as Smith is concerned, the skills that are needed to be a good athlete are only one part of what his students should be learning. "Alongside basic training, I also incorporate a lot of hip and leg mobility exercises," he said. "I think it's important for young students to understand full range of motion and agility exercises; I was lacking in that area of training when I was that age."
His experience is not unique. "I see injuries while coaching," he explained. "These students are coming to me and relying on me for expertise. Everybody is soccer-specific, but they're missing on physical elements of how to prepare the body for high-level intensive training. I'm different."
That difference is something he credits Dr. Valente for. When asked about the future of his soccer training, Smith acknowledges the importance of equipping young athletes with the skills they need to avoid and treat injuries, and how he hopes wholistic approaches like that of Dr. Valente's may continue to catch on among athletes.
"Long term, I could see a school of students that have direct connectivity to his training methods," he said, "It would be great to see a generation of athletes who are influenced by Dr. Valente and like-minded physicians and professionals."
It's safe to say that Smith has all his bases covered between his detail-oriented coaching style, his determination to give students the confidence they need to fully enjoy the sport, and the knowledge to help these soccer players unlock their full mobility. With each hour he spends on the field guiding athletes, he brings each student closer to their ultimate goal.
Keep an eye out for upcoming blog posts as we continue to track Smith's work coaching students, as well as his full-time business career as a sales manager for SABX.