Marques Cardiel (M.S. in Kinesiology 22) is a performance coach with professional soccer team the San Diego Loyal. The Loyal was founded by Warren Smith and Landon Donovan and competes in the United Soccer League (USL). Last year, the team hosted a playoff game for the first time.
Cardiel had his first opportunity to work with the Loyal while he was a student in PLNU’s Master of Science in Kinesiology program. Thanks to a partnership between Point Loma and the Loyal, the team trains at PLNU’s Balboa Regional Center and benefits from working with PLNU faculty and students while they are there. Meanwhile, students get the opportunity to assist professional athletes while they are still in school.
“The partnership is a means for the Loyal to have access to the Point Loma facilities as well as our sport performance students, staff, and equipment,” explained PLNU’s Master of Science in Kinesiology program director Brent Alvar, Ph.D., CSCSD, TSAC-FD, FNSCA, FACSM. “The Loyal comes to PLNU and does preseason testing with all of their athletes. We run them through a battery of tests that are an example of what we teach our students. The tests relate to injury prevention, player readiness, and gauging where they are in terms of sport performance.”
Alvar and his colleagues in the College of Health Sciences have developed partnerships and opportunities with many agencies in addition to the Loyal. Among them are San Diego Fire, the U.S. Navy, the San Diego Legion (rugby), USA Rugby, Chula Vista Elite Athlete Training Center, the San Diego Seals (lacrosse), UCSD, and the San Diego Padres.
Interacting with these organizations often leads to internship opportunities for students. That’s what happened for Cardiel, who was selected for an internship with the Loyal.
“The job was completely different than I thought it was going to be,” Cardiel said. He said he was treated as a professional right away and was able to see the inner workings of how a team prepares outside the public eye.
“They really liked my work ethic there and the relationship I was developing with the team and coaches,” he said. After a few months as an intern, Cardiel was offered a full-time position as a performance coach — which is a soccer strength and conditioning coach. Cardiel traveled with the team all the way to the playoffs. After the Loyal lost in the first round, Cardiel was re-hired for the 2023 season.
Cardiel’s position requires a diverse skill set, including interpersonal skills, technical knowledge, flexibility, and communication prowess.
“The way I like to describe it is I am kind of like a middle man between the coaches and the medical staff,” Cardiel said.
For example, Cardiel works with both medical staff and coaches on rehabilitation plans when an athlete is injured. In addition, he does a lot of technology-based work with the athletes such as GPS monitoring, force plate analysis at PLNU’s Balboa Regional Center, NordBord hamstring testing, and ForceFrame strength testing. If he finds that an athlete has a weakness or injury risk, Cardiel helps craft a plan to strengthen and protect the athlete.
In his first offseason with the Loyal, Cardiel designed a strength and conditioning program for each athlete, individualized to their needs and position. He also worked on projects such as a warm-up template, periodization chart, and data management. He also facilitated the team’s transition to a new GPS system that allows the coaches to analyze athletes’ movements during training and games.
“With GPS we look at a couple things,” he explained. “Basically, we’ll look at how far the athletes are moving and how much they are moving. Knowing the distance they’ve run as well as their speed, acceleration, and deceleration is important for me as a strength coach. What we want to do is mimic what they would do in a game over the course of a week.”
GPS monitoring was something Cardiel became familiar with at PLNU. The system the Loyal is moving to is also being used by the university, which means that the interns from PLNU Cardiel is bringing on this year will already be able to use the system as well. Overall, the job is an ideal fit for him.
“If I had to pick one thing that I enjoyed most, I just love the interactions I have with the athletes,” he said. “I love the team setting. I love the camaraderie. Traveling, you get really close to the athletes, coaches, and medical staff.”
Although traveling with the team is one of Cardiel’s favorite parts of coaching, it’s also one of the most challenging. The work doesn’t stop on the road, and it can be harder for Cardiel to take care of his own workout needs. Still, in the offseason, he has done as much of his own traveling as possible, including to Japan and Mexico City. For him, the chance to experience new places is worth the effort, and being a “digital nomad” in the offseason works for him at this stage of his life.
As far as the future is concerned, Cardiel says both he and the team have big aspirations.
“We want to win a playoff game,” he said. “Going forward I have many ambitions. I want to be at a higher level.”
“We’re very proud of Marques,” said Alvar. “He is a good representation of what we are trying to do with our students and a clear example of how our graduate program is a good preparation ground for young professionals. One of the aspirations of our program is to prepare our students for leadership positions in sport performance — whether that be in settings of high school, college, or university athletics, professional sports teams, or municipalities such as San Diego Fire, the Navy, etc. We want to prepare them for more than just entry level work. We want to prepare future scholars and leaders.”
“We’re very proud of Marques.
He is a good representation of what
we are trying to do with our students
and a clear example of how our
graduate program is a good preparation
ground for young professionals.”
Cardiel’s interest in athletics started with his own experience. He played tennis, football, golf, and soccer at different times during high school and continued with intramural soccer in college. After attending community college in Modesto, Calif., Cardiel moved to San Diego and attended SDSU where he earned his undergraduate degree in exercise science. While a student, Cardiel worked as a sushi chef and personal trainer. While he was still an undergrad, Cardiel met PLNU kinesiology professor Arnel Aguinaldo, Ph.D., who was also teaching at SDSU.
“Dr. A taught a research class, and everything I learned there I carried on with me,” Cardiel said. “He told me there was a [master’s degree] program to become a strength and conditioning coach at PLNU.”
Cardiel then met Alvar. After having much of his undergraduate experience at SDSU impacted by Covid, Cardiel was excited to learn that PLNU’s program would be in-person and that the professors would be accessible and invested in him personally.
“Having the teacher know your name and developing a personal relationship was really big for me,” he said.
“One of the differentiating parts of our graduate program is the small student to faculty ratios and the fact that we do take a very personal role in the mentorship and development of our students in the field,” Alvar said. “It’s not just a one year commitment that we are making to the students. If a student works with a faculty member, it’s a lifelong commitment.”
Once at PLNU, Cardiel flourished not only because of his internship and professors, but also because of his classmates.
“I made great friends when I was at PLNU. Other than getting my master’s, that was the best thing about going to school there.”
“I made great friends when I was there,” he said. “Other than getting my master’s, that was the best thing about going to school there.”
Due to Covid restrictions, Cardiel’s whole family wasn’t able to see him graduate from SDSU. In December 2022, when he walked at PLNU after completing his Master of Science in Kinesiology, they were all there cheering him on. Wherever his career takes him next, Marques Cardiel is grateful for the preparation he received at PLNU and the experience he is gaining with the San Diego Loyal.