Northampton native Ed Lippie takes turn as strength coach on world soccer stage

  • Northampton native Ed Lippie, center, with his wife Corinne, left, and children Cayden, right, and Julia, foreground, at Estadio Olímpico in Rome on May 20. It was Ed Lippie’s last home game as strength coach at AS Roma after three years with the club. Courtesy Inger Norman

  • Northampton’s Ed Lippie, left, chats with AS Roma’s Radja Nainggolan in the weight room during te 2016-17 season. Lippie was the strength coach at Roma for three years and helped players like Nainggolan with their workout regimen and injury recovery. Courtesy AS Roma

  • Northampton's Ed Lippie, center, with son Caden, right, and daughter Julia, left at the Stadio Olympico in Rome in 2017. COURTESY ED LIPPIE

  • Northampton’s Ed Lippie runs with Roma midfielder Kevin Strootman during his ACL rehabilitation in August 2015 in Rome. COURTESY ED LIPPIE

  • Ed lippie on the sidelines at Stadio Olympico in 2017 for the last mach of Francesco Totti’s career. COURTESY ED LIPPIE

  • From left, Corinne Lippie, Ed Lippie, and their children Julia, front, and Caden, right, at St. Peter’s Square in Moscow on Christmas Eve. COURTESY ED LIPPIE

@kylegrbwsk
Published: 6/23/2018 12:01:57 AM

Those in Stadio Olimpico held their breath, muted after 81 cacophonous minutes.

The crowd in Rome’s largest stadium silently watched as Roma’s Cengiz Ünder’s corner kick lofted toward the mass of bodies in front of FC Barcelona’s goal for two seconds. Roma forward Kostas Manolas glanced the soccer ball off his forehead and past Barca keeper Marc-André ter Stegen, depositing it cleanly in the bottom corner.

Pandemonium.

Roma strength coach Ed Lippie, a Northampton native, watched the April 10 UEFA Champions League quarterfinal from the perfect vantage point. He was on the track surrounding the pitch with other Roma staffers, and even with the goal.

“It was this almost surreal moment,” he said. “You couldn’t believe it was happening.”

The header completed a three-goal comeback. Roma trailed Barcelona 4-1 after a disappointing first leg at Camp Nou a week earlier. Manolas’ goal tied the overall score 4-4 on aggregate, but Roma would advance in the most prestigious club soccer tournament in the world if nothing else happened because it had scored more goals on the road.

Eight minutes remained in regular time plus stoppage time, which is added by the referee to make up for pauses in play.

“These next 13-14 minutes are going to be the longest of your life,” Lippie said. “You’re still playing one of the best teams in the world.”

After 94 minutes, the referee blew his whistle and ended the game. Manolas ripped his shirt off. Roma’s players mobbed him followed by its coaching staff. Lippie, 45, joined on the outskirts for a moment with his arms over colleagues’ shoulders before peeling away and absorbing the scene.

“I’ve been in sports a long time, but that was the most momentous evening I’ve ever had in sports,” he said.

A change in direction

Lippie’s path to Rome that night — to Roma, soccer and strength training — was neither smooth, straight nor expected.

He grew up in Northampton and played football under coach Frank Tudryn. Soccer didn’t cross his mind much, especially not in a positive light.

“It was this feeling that the kids who went out for the soccer team couldn’t hang with football, and I’m almost embarrassed to admit that now,” Lippie said. “Personally, I thought American football is by far the superior sport, and it came from me not understanding the nuance.”

American football took him to Union College in 1991. Lippie played defensive back and studied political science with a minor in English. Union operated on the trimester system, so Lippie spent his breaks in Boston with his twin brother, Jim, who played football at Boston University.

BU strength coach Mike Boyle allowed Ed to work out with the Terriers at their facility.

“He noticed his brother Jim was making better progress in the weight room and as a player, and that made him curious about the process,” Boyle said. “(Union) didn’t have a full-time strength coach, and it was what I would have considered very old school.”

After graduating from Union in 1995, Lippie worked for Northampton’s state representative William Nagle Jr. at the State House in Boston.

“I thought I was going to follow a career in politics,” Lippie said.

But in 1997, after a year and a half in Boston, he and his girlfriend, fellow Northampton grad Corinne Locke, decided to take a detour. They moved to Hawaii with little money and no jobs.

“It was very uncharacteristic of me and Corrine. At that point in our lives, we had always done the things that were expected of us,” Lippie said. “We felt like this was the one opportunity in our lives where we could do something on a whim.”

During their first week in Honolulu, Lippie enrolled at a health club called 24-Hour Fitness. They were looking for personal trainers and asked Lippie if he was interested since he looked the part.

“I enrolled in their training program, which wasn’t very good,” he said.

Six weeks later, he was a certified personal trainer.

A year later, home beckoned. They felt distant from friends and family, including aging grandparents, and felt they were postponing “real life.”

Trainer in the making

The couple returned to Boston where Lippie sought to continue his personal training work. He called Boyle, who, coincidentally had just started a training business.

“That was definitely my first big break,” Lippie said.

Boyle added him to a small staff at his company, Mike Boyle Strength and Conditioning, in June of 1998.

“It was a very natural kind of thing. It was perfect timing,” Boyle said. “I realized what I needed more than anything else were people who understood what we were doing from a programming standpoint and were good, quality people. He was both of those things.”

Lippie trained athletes from Red Sox shortstop Nomar Garciaparra and Bruins defenseman Ray Bourque to local college athletes and uncoordinated middle schoolers.

“Some of the other guys we had were louder or a little more ‘ra ra.’ He was quieter, more thoughtful, and I think I liked that about him,” Boyle said. “Going to Union he was probably a little smarter than the average guy that was going into strength and conditioning. He easily understood the concepts.”

Teaching many different kinds of athletes made Lippie a better coach. He showed the professionals a workout, and they easily replicated it because many were visual learners. Explaining the same motions to 12 year olds was a different undertaking.

“There was such a broad spectrum of people we were working with, which as a young coach is an incredible way to learn the field,” Lippie said. “You learn how to work with everybody.”

It was a transformative time both professionally and personally, as he married Corinne in 2000. Lippie worked for Boyle for five years and became an equity partner in the business in 2003.

A new opportunity

Outside interests took notice. A business partner of James Pallotta, the manager of Raptor Group, one of the largest hedge funds in Boston, approached Lippie and another colleague at Mike Boyle Strength and Conditioning about starting a corporate fitness program. Pallotta employed many type-A personalities and former college athletes and felt his company would benefit from a more structured workout program.

Lippie split his time between Boyle and the Raptor Group for three years before Pallotta asked him to dedicate all of his time to Raptor.

“That’s the way things were going for me,” Lippie said.

Raptor acquired Roma in 2011, and the board of directors installed Pallotta as president in 2012. He took stock and asked Lippie and then-Celtics strength coach Bryan Doo to perform an audit of Roma’s strength and performance department.

“We were very behind the times,” said Alex Zecca, Pallota’s right-hand man and Roma’s director of football development. “The performance standards we have in America were much higher than what I saw.”

The results of the audit were not good. Lippie and Doo found antiquated methods and ideologies.

A makeover

“In our opinion, they were not allowing the players and the club to put the best foot forward,” Lippie said.

Pallotta asked Lippie to stay involved with the club while still working for Raptor. Lippie continued consulting for two years, traveling from Boston to Rome for four to five days every six weeks.

“We certainly made some progress, but it was very slow going,” Lippie said.

After two years of consulting, Pollatta made Lippie the full-time strength coach at Roma. Lippie recruited Darcy Norman, who worked at Bayern Munich and with the German national team. They began planning a full-scale facilities renovation in the United States in March 2015, and Lippie started officially at Roma on June 1.

“We had to pull everything into the 21st century,” Lippie said.

Settling in

His family, which by that point included Corinne, his son, Caden, and daughter, Julia, joined him in August.

World-class soccer didn’t give Lippie much time to find his bearings. Roma played Real Madrid in Australia for its first preseason friendly that year. He walked down the tunnel to the Melbourne Cricket Ground pitch shoulder-to-shoulder with Christiano Ronaldo.

“I still remember his concentrated but calm attitude in that situation where everyone else would be extremely nervous,” Roma physiotherapist Valerio Flammini said in an email.

There was a lot to adjust to at Roma. Training athletes independently in their offseason differs wildly from constructing daily workout plans and helping players return from injury.

“When you’re with a team and you’re part of the apparatus, it’s a whole different mentality,” Lippie said. “You have to convince them that what you’re asking them to do is going to be helpful for them as a professional. It’s a completely different way of reaching people, which I’m very comfortable with in my own language.”

Lippie doesn’t always speak his own language. There are 28 players on the roster from 16 countries with 14 native languages. Two languages are common denominators: Italian and English. Half of the players speak a level of English with Lippie, and the others use Italian. Lippie is not fluent in Italian.

“My Italian is good enough to communicate what I need to the players in a coaching context, but it is not good enough to always have more nuanced conversations with some of my Italian colleagues about sensitive issues,” he said.

In those cases, Roma translator Claudio Bisceglia helps mediate.

“Ed has consistently shown great interest in the Italian language and culture, which he considered, and rightly so, as two pivotal elements in his adaptation process,” Bisceglia said in an email. “He often made sure we would sit next to each other so that we could chat about language or cultural issues.”

Forging relationships

Lippie’s coaching style starts with answering, often pre-emptively, “why?” He tries to explain how workouts benefit athletes professionally and how movements translate to the pitch.

“When you can help guys make those connections, they’ll give a better effort,” Lippie said. “They understand that ‘why.’”

The relationships he builds with players don’t end at Roma. Liverpool forward Mo Salah credited his time with Lippie at Roma for making him stronger on the pitch in the Sports Illustrated World Cup preview. Salah is Egypt’s captain in Russia.

“Salah is one of the players I was closest with and spent a lot of time and energy helping him reach his potential during his two seasons with us,” Lippie said. “And he is one of my favorite people I have ever worked with.”

Lippie’s schedule is not routine, but it is predictable. He plans the team’s workouts based on the current day’s proximity to a match day. Roma plays its domestic matches in Italy’s Serie A on the weekends and had Champions League matches in Europe during the week.

“I don’t even know what the days of the week are anymore,” Lippie said.

His family has been able to embrace and explore the culture more than he has. The Lippies live in northern Rome on a street called Via Cassia. It’s 12 minutes north of Stadio Olympico but, more importantly, 200 meters away from his kids’ school: The American Overseas School of Rome. While he works, Lippie’s family has taken advantage of the Italian and European experience. Corinne, Caden, 14, and Julia, 12, sometimes spend long weekends in other countries.

The next chapter

“On balance it’s been a tremendous experience,” Ed Lippie said. “It’s been great for my family.”

But now it’s over. The Serie A season concluded May 20 with a win over Sassuolo. Roma lost to Liverpool in the Champions League semifinal in early May. Lippie’s tenure as Roma’s strength coach ended June 15.

Just as the timing lined up for the Lippies to move to Italy, it worked out the same for them to return to Massachusetts. Caden will go to high school next year, so it represents a logical breaking point academically. Pallotta also wanted Lippie back in Boston to work on other projects.

“I’m sad (he’s leaving Rome) on one hand but happy we get him back in Boston, too,” said Zecca, who splits time between Boston and Rome. “I’ve gained quite a bit of weight without him.”

Lippie isn’t done with Roma, though. He’ll maintain an advisory role with the team from Boston.

“It’s something I take pride in and want to continue to be a part of,” Lippie said.

But first, a break. Lippie’s children will finish school this month, then he’s taking a vacation. The family will visit France, the Netherlands and Sweden before returning to the U.S. around the Fourth of July.

“The closer we’re getting to actually getting on the plane to go back the sadder I get about it,” Lippie said. “It’s the right time to go back, but that doesn’t make it easy.”




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