Michael Chabala: Team Player

From playing pro soccer with the Houston Dynamo, to reeling from a lost contract, to discovering himself as a fitness entrepreneur, the many phases of Michael’s life have taught him the value of relationships.

Interviewed by Sara G. Stephens

HFM: Describe the path that led you to playing pro soccer for the Houston Dynamo.

MC: I started out like most kids, thrown into my elementary soccer team where I ran around with the pack and chased a ball. I don’t know the exact time, but it was around the age of 5 that I felt this burning passion and desire for the sport. I had never experienced this type of emotion, but it felt as if my body was possessed. My only focus and attention was directed towards that ball and game. I played all sports in elementary school but only craved soccer.

As I got older, other sports faded, with me only playing golf and soccer. I started playing on more competitive teams and by high school found myself traveling around the country and world, playing for youth national teams and training with European clubs. Making the decision to stay in the states and attend college, rather than sign pro, led me to the University of Washington on a full scholarship where I played four years. After graduating early with a degree in Economics, I was drafted in 2006 to the Houston Dynamo in the fourth round.


HFM: What did you find most rewarding about your time on the team?

MC: I learned a lot playing professionally and find myself reflecting on experiences I played through on and off the pitch. There are many great benefits of playing professionally for 9 years, but the most rewarding were the relationships and experiences I created along the way. I was able to travel the world with players that I consider family and do the one thing I loved the most–and got paid for it. Winning two championships and meeting the president of the United States twice are great, but it’s the experiences and relationships that have helped create a better version of myself for my future.


HFM: You no longer play with the Houston Dynamo. Tell us about that transition and how you worked through it.

MC: It has been the hardest thing I have ever had to deal with, besides the death of my grandfather. My career, in my mind, is not over, but to most, perhaps on paper, it is. My contractual situation with the club was handled so poorly in 2014, and I was left halfway through the season without a contract. It’s hard to explain the emotions and sequence of events, but I was determined to come back to Houston for a reason. To help the club and city after so many great years playing here. The team did not help, so I took time to figure out what I wanted to do. I took random jobs to make money and found myself lost, alone, broke and heartbroken. All of those emotions masked by a fake smile and facade to hide the chaos happening internally. I have a lot of great friends, and the real ones were there for me as I figured life out. I look back on the experience and realize why certain things happened and how they now make sense.


HFM: How did you come about the inspiration and decision to launch Sphere?

MC: I was coaching players all over the city of Houston and was tired of driving. I coached like most former pros but had a bigger idea and different approach than most regarding the sport and outlook on it. My personality mixed with my training and professionally experience created the perfect storm and Sphere.

I didn’t want to be 35 years old one day on my hands and knees coaching kids at parks to make a living. I knew I always wanted to run my own business. I was tired of traditional soccer experiences, stadiums, training sessions and games without music and energy. I began having all players meet me at one location and focused on a group class rather than privates. I then noticed family members hanging on sidelines, all wanting to workout, so I incorporated them into both.

I also was asked to join so many recreational leagues but turned them down and offered to coach/train instead. There was one session with a group of 30-something-year-old players that gave me the best feedback. “We loved the workout, but our girlfriends and wives don’t care about how many goals we score or how good our first touch is. They care about our bodies and how we look!” I then changed direction and let the wheels turn.

Like soccer, you are always told to play what you see, and the first best is usually your best option. Don’t over think things, and let the game come to you. You have an idea of what you want to do, but it will change, and so did my model and business. I’m 86 weeks into Sphere and still adjust the concept, workouts and future plans.

I could talk all day about the little things that happened along the way that motivated me to start Sphere, but there are a few simple points as to what really motivated me to create Sphere. My early departure from professional soccer and the lack of help or empathy from my former club and league left me angry and outraged. I wanted to help my future teammates with their transition and hopefully make it smoother than my own. I missed the locker room. I wanted to bring that back and create that family and feeling. I wanted to stay in shape because I wasn’t done, and there is no fitness like soccer-fitness. I wasn’t getting the same results trying everything in the fitness market, so I resorted back to 25 years of hard work.


HFM: Describe Sphere’s soccer-inspired fitness concept.

MC: Sphere is the first ever soccer-inspired fitness concept. We use a ball to do more than just score goals, as I’ve created different classes (full body, skill, yoga, hiit and pick-up game) to fit the needs of every player. Our concept is sexy and fun, while requiring no skill or soccer experience to participate.


HFM: For whom is this type of workout most appealing/effective?

MC: The concept is designed for young player and beyond. We offer unique classes to allow players of all ages and skill to be able to kick it and work at their own speed of play.


HFM: What makes soccer the ideal foundation for total fitness?

MC: Soccer-fitness is well rounded and more appealing to the general fitness community than any other sport. Our cardio-based sport burns the necessary calories to keep players lean and trim. Our game offers high- intensity movements but with a consistent aerobic base. But what separates soccer from the rest is the teamwork, community and personal interaction. Goals are easier when they’re reached together, and I believe that is the foundation of my concept.


HFM: Why is it important for parents to develop a fitness strategy for the whole family?

MC: Parents lead not only by voice, but also by example. I was raised by two extremely hard-working parents that focused on providing for my sister and me, while putting their health and fitness on the bench. We live in a different season where health and wellness is a premium in daily life, so it’s much easier to eat and live well, but part of that is working out. Parents have the ability to make this happen: to pull families together, get healthier together, interact without distractions, create a fun experience, and build a culture and lifestyle that will benefit themselves and families long term.


HFM: How do fitness goals and methods differ for different ages (pre-k, elementary, middle school, high school, college, adult)? Does Sphere cater to all ages?

MC: We are products of our environment, so each demographic is different, but I believe the focus on battling childhood obesity is a bigger focus so we’re seeing more fitness programs created for pre-k and elementary students. Middle school and beyond focus on social media to find inspiration and motivation. My focus for Sphere is to engage players of all ages away from the phone and into each other. To engage and interact organically while having a great time and even better workout. I believe the value of human interaction is fading and finding time to interact and sweat is becoming the new happy hour or quality time as life just seems to get so busy. Our unique approach, class structure and variety in workouts will cater to all players!


HFM: What are the pro’s and con’s of team vs. individual sports?

MC: Playing golf and soccer to this day at very high levels offers unique skill sets that are acquired over time, and I believe that both have tons of value. Where playing a sport that is only about yourself, you tend to develop a strong self belief and confidence, whereas in a team sport you learn to lean on teammates and understand how to win as a team. Both teach you how important hard work, confidence and discipline are but just articulated differently.


HFM: What’s your advice to parents who might be having a hard time motivating their kids, tweens, teens to work out?

MC: Tough love is better than no love. Park farther away from the grocery store, take the stairs. Delegate chores around the house and consider removing electronics. I would also lead by example and initiate some activity. Demanding participation in sports or some activity will keep kids engaged, learning, moving and out of trouble.


HFM: How did your parents support your athletic career?

MC: My parents did everything for me, and I don’t mean spoil me or get in the way of letting me figure things out, but they did the necessary things to provide me the opportunity to do what I love. They paid fees, drove thousands of miles around the country, sat on sidelines and cheered, gave me a hug when I got hurt and helped me heal. Above all they were just there. They took the initiative to find the best coach, team and training so that I could progress. I always use the analogy that my parents built a ladder and they left it up for me to climb it. I hope to be half the parent they were to me.


HFM: If you could share one life lesson with our readers of parents and families, what would it be?

MC: My parents made the ultimate sacrifices to help achieve my childhood dream. Health, time, money, friendships and love were casualties lost along the way for them. Through that experience I learned what unconditional love and sacrifice truly meant.

I will also add that in that time I believe some identify of family was somehow lost in practice, games, privates sessions, travel and school. Life seems to always get busier, and I believe that my youth flew by so fast, and I forgot what being a good brother or son was all about. Oh, how bitter-sweet aging truly is, but I have stepped back enough to see that there are more important things than winning and losing.

I’ve been in a long-distance relationship with my family for almost half my life now, and it pains me daily to think that text messages, occasional facetimes and a handful of return visits keep my relationship together. I’ve learned that your real team is the one you started out with from the beginning and the ones that will never change jerseys over the years. They will always be there for you, no matter how good or bad you play in life.

As I transition from professional sports and into becoming a entrepreneur, I aspire to help my family and build up my team as they once did for me. Find the time for the ones that matter most and create healthy opportunities to interact and engage. Put down the phones and focus on what is in front of you! The game goes fast, so make every pass count!


HFM: Any other fitness-related or parental advice or tips for families?

MC: Be creative and lead by example. Figure out a time to do something as a family and be active and encourage a healthy lifestyle. It’s a great opportunity to talk and engage while working on becoming healthier as a family. My family holds a yearly soccer game at Christmas time. It’s a great opportunity for us all to enjoy each other, sweat and laugh.