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Vaqueros Insider Interview with Academy Director Mark Snell


Part 2 of 3



How did you get involved with the Vaqueros?

When I was at FC Dallas I coached both Vaqueros owner’s Michael (Hitch) Hitchcock and Brian Miller sons for several years. We became good friends and we shared the same playing philosophy. When we spoke about this project we all had the same long-term vision of a club. It was a unique opportunity and a good fit.


So the plan was always for you to be the Vaqueros Academy Director?

What sold me on this project was the commitment from Hitch and Brian to start up a free youth academy. They knew player development is a huge passion of mine as I had a lot of experience from my time at FC Dallas. So the plan was for me to coach the Vaqueros minor league (NPSL) team until we built a facility. That took longer than expected, but this facility will be much better than we ever anticipated.


How long were you at FC Dallas and what ages did you coach?

I was at FC Dallas for eight years. When they first started their Juniors Academy (6-10 year olds) they asked me to develop it and work with the most talented players. I designed a player development model and a coaching curriculum. It was very challenging and rewarding because this age is considered the most critical in youth soccer development. I have many fond memories of all the families I had coached and we still keep in contact through social media.


Did you enjoy coaching the younger ages?

I always thought I would coach at the professional level, but I fell in love with the younger age groups (6-10) because you can have such an impact on them. I coached six teams every season, 95-100 players every week. I was fortunate to coach some very talented young boys. I also spent a lot of time educating the parents on development because they also have a huge impact.


Did any of the players you had coached get to play at a higher level when they got older?

I have coached 10 players that have gone on to play for the Youth National Teams of USA, Colombia, Mexico, and Guatemala at various age levels (U13-U17). I coached two brothers for a short time that went to Spain: one was with Barcelona and the other Espanyol. Recently both have moved to France and signed with PSG in Paris. I have many former players that are playing in the United States Soccer Development Academy (USSDA) league which is the highest level in the US. Also have one former player signed a professional contract with FC Dallas at age 16.


Why did you leave FC Dallas?

Philosophically we grew apart and I became more and more dissatisfied with the pay to play club system. It was time to move on and create an academy model that was based on the top academies in the world. Those academies are basically free for the most talented players. Here so many players are excluded due to their financial status and never have a chance.


What did you do after leaving FC Dallas?

I took 18 months off and researched academies all over the world and read a lot of coaching books on youth player development. The internet is a great tool, and through Facebook and Twitter, I was able to meet a lot of top coaches and access a lot of information. I also put in writing all of my training sessions with diagrams, etc. It’s a very detailed curriculum on elite youth player development that will continue to evolve based on how the game changes at the highest level. It was something that takes a lot of time and difficult to do when you coach six teams.


What coaching licenses do you have?

I am very big on coaching education. I have a USSF “A” License, an NSCAA Premier Diploma and a USYSA National Youth License. I have also taken all of the World Football Academy webinars (youth development, periodization, etc.) as well as several webinars on “Juego de Posicion” (Positional Play) which is Pep Guardiola’s preferred system of play.


What is your philosophy and playing style as a coach?

My teams are always known for a possession and creative style. I like players to have the freedom to solve the problems with passing, using their tricks and dribbling rather than just kicking the ball aimlessly down the field. I am always asking the players questions to help them find the answers and make them think. The modern game demands that players must have the ability to solve problems and make quick decisions. Some coaches “joy stick” players around the field like robots and scream at them all game long. That is not my style at all.


What coaching methods do you use?

A famous coach once stated: “To be a great piano player you don’t run around the piano or do exercises with your fingers. To be great you must play the piano as much as you can.” In short, my methods are “game based”. Everything is done with the ball in some form of a game where decisions have to be made. I am a firm believer that dribbling around cones only makes you better at dribbling around cones. Training sessions must be fun, challenging and competitive. Normally I split the groups up into three teams and play games where the “winner stays on”. I also use a “guided discovery” and Socratic approach when teaching different concepts. I am a firm believer that age-appropriate tactics need to be taught starting around 8 years old. Playing in a triangle, diamond, pentagon shapes are all taught between 8-10 years of age in my curriculum. Throwing a ball out and letting them play doesn’t do it for me. Also, players need to practice on their own at home, which usually is ball mastery activities.


Have you been watching youth soccer games in Fort Worth?

I have watched a ton of games U6-U10 all over Fort Worth. I have identified many very talented players. I have been watching all the leagues and as well as the independent leagues that don’t have websites, etc. You only hear about these leagues by word of mouth and getting to know people in the community. I recently found out about a league and there were 5-6 players that really caught my eye. I have been always known as a coach that looks under every rock to find talented players. Fort Worth has some incredible talent from what I have seen at these young ages. These are the type of players our Academy will be looking to develop.


What do you look for in a player?

The first thing I look for is technique: how skillful is he? I also look to see if he has “game sense”, and how does he solve the problems. I am always drawn to the “street baller” type of player. That kid that learned by playing every day after school, etc. I also observe how the player moves, runs, etc. Unlike some coaches, I do like the “little guy” because that player usually has to be more creative and clever to play against the bigger players.


Who was the greatest influence in your coaching career?

As a kid, I remember my Dad talking about the innovative coaches he had while playing semi-pro baseball and football so I think that put the coaching bug in me. I experienced it firsthand because I played hockey for five years in high school during the winters and he was my coach. He used some really innovative ideas back then that are commonplace now. But the greatest influence was my college coach Jim Lennox, who I was very fortunate to mentor for five years as his assistant.

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