Q&A: New U-17 WNT Head Coach Mark Carr

As Mark Carr takes over the reins of the U.S. Under-17 Women’s National Team, ussoccer.com took some time to speak with him about his transition from his position as the U-15 Girls’ National Team head coach with an age group of players he’s already been coaching for two years, the importance of international competition for this age group and balancing the dual tasks of development and results.

ussoccer.com: What were your main motivations to take this job at this point in your coaching career?

Mark Carr: “Working day in and day out with U.S. Soccer and learning from some incredible people around me while coaching the U-15 Girls’ National Team has prepared me to take on this fantastic opportunity. Moving up with this group is a natural progression that I feel very comfortable with and I’m extremely honored and excited to continue the development journey with this special group of players. My focus will be to help each player grow and develop and continue through our pathway, while at the same time, embracing the opportunity to qualify for the 2018 U-17 Women’s World Cup and then doing our best to win it.”

ussoccer.com: As a Youth National Team head coach, your job is always a balance between helping players move on to the next levels and getting results. What is your philosophy on those duals tasks?

MC: “They are both simultaneously important and the expectation is on me to do both. There is not a better time to be a young female soccer player in our country right now. You see it at the higher levels with the full U.S. Team and the U-23s where young players like Mallory Pugh, Ashley Sanchez, Brianna Pinto, Jaelin Howell and Sophia Smith are getting incredible development opportunities. For any young player, this shows that there is a possibility and clear pathway to the top, if you continue to work to improve your game and perform. It shows the belief of our senior coaches in youth and that’s an exciting piece for me and the players I work with. At the same time, I understand the expectations of U.S. Soccer. We are one of the top soccer organizations in the world, with great resources, great people, players and fans, so our goal is always going to be to compete for championships. While doing this, how we play is very important. We will aim to play in a way that is exciting, forward thinking, creative, sophisticated and thoughtful way using our athleticism, competitiveness, mental toughness and spirit.”

ussoccer.com: You took a group of players born 2001 and 2002 to the CONCACAF U-15 title last year. What are your thoughts on continuing this journey with that age group at the U-17 level?

MC: “I am obviously very excited to work with this group of amazing players again and I know this age group very well. It is a deep pool of creative players, each who all have their own talents and strengths. Our goal will be to highlight those strengths but also look to improve other areas in their game. Although they were successful at the U-15 level, we will only look ahead to new challenges. It will be a new start for all of us. We know that this journey will be different and harder, which is exactly what we need. We will see more cooperative competition for places, more international competition and more meaningful games. I am excited for these development opportunities as it will allow us to get a sense of where we are, but also what we need to improve. I know the pool of players are excited and ready for these new challenges in the months ahead.”

ussoccer.com: The skill level and tactical acumen of international players at this level is continue to improve. Where do you see this U.S. players fitting into this development?

MC: “The game has evolved tremendously on the youth level. What you are starting to see if that youth teams at the international level are starting to mirror what their senior teams look like. With the injection of resources, player development initiatives and coaching education, it will now require us to focus on improving ourselves at every opportunity. We know have a lot of work to do. We must continue to improve our soccer intelligence, game understanding and decision-making while not forgetting about our super factors that our country is built on in terms of athleticism, mental toughness, competitiveness, spirit and fight.”

ussoccer.com: The U.S. U-17s have had some mixed success at the World Cup level, what are the foundations of your plans to get better results?

MC: “This is a complicated answer and I think you can’t look at any one aspect in isolation. For me, it’s about trying to find solutions with my team of people in these areas to maximize the development process for the player and the success of the team. On the field, the focus of our staff will be on developing the player, developing the team and managing the performance environment. I am huge believer in the impact of quality training and this is where it starts for the player. They must have a thirst for learning and an intent to improve daily. That starts in their home environment. Away from the field, it’s important to recognize the other key stakeholders that play an integral role in the player development process. Having worked in the youth game, I understand the importance of the club coach. We have some great coaches at the club level in this country and we must continue to share and collaborate to put the needs of the player first. In the end, we borrow the player during a National Team camp and if we can be aligned and can talk the same language, that will only benefit the player in the long run. Coach and parent education are paramount as they are key stakeholders in the players’ development. Anything and everything from nutrition, sleep, hydration, psychology and rest and recovery will help us if we are all on the same page in regards to putting the player in the center of this process. From the competition standpoint, we will aim to play a highly intensive schedule to challenge the group so we can see what we can learn about ourselves.”

ussoccer.com: How important is the establishment of the U.S. Soccer Girls’ Development Academy to your process?

MC: “We are all very excited about the launch Girls’ Development Academy program in August. I think this will go a long way in aligning us as a nation and improving the development process for the female soccer player. Having this platform will allow us to support all the clubs in the player development process. We will scout and identify players in numerous environments, but the introduction of Girls’ Development Academy is going to be vital in streamlining the female soccer landscape. I am very excited to support Miriam and her team as they get going and our staff will be omnipresent once the matches start.”

ussoccer.com: The U.S. Under-15, Under-16 and Under-17 programs have now become very much integrated. How do you see the relationship between those teams and their coaches?

MC: “The job April Heinrichs has done in the last couple of years integrating and aligning our teams and our of Development coaches has been invaluable. We have not seen the complete results of our work yet, but the future is very bright. We are a close-knit group of coaches who believe in U.S. Soccer’s vision and mission and are committed daily to make sure we are working hard to develop players. We have a great team of coaches who think similarly, are aligned philosophically, understand the needs of the modern player, but all have their unique personalities that can challenge each other and bring out the best in each other. I look forward to integrating the new U-15 and U-16 coaches into our processes and using their skills, expertise and experiences to help our players. Our integration also includes our U-14 Girls’ National Team, our Training Centers, our scouting network and the clubs. We have a talented team of people who are working hard behind the scenes to make sure we identify and develop the right players. We have got more work to do but we have made huge strides and continue to move in a very positive direction.

ussoccer.com: This age group represents a crucial time in the development of these players for the international level. What are your thoughts on creating an environment where they can continue to develop to their best potential?

MC: “I think anytime you are part of U.S. Soccer at any level, the standards and expectations are always very high in terms of developing yourself. We are part of a performance organization and we all understand this expectation. For most these young players, our ramped-up programming which will include many more meaningful competitive games and scenarios is something they have not seen before. This is what we want and these experiences will provide some incredible growth opportunities for all involved. While I am mindful of the intensive environment, it's still important we understand the development journey that all the players are on and where they are at this moment and make sure we all have fun. Being in development, I am always optimistic in regards to what all the players can become through these experiences and won’t focus on what they are unable to do at this point in their careers. It's going to require a lot of hard work and commitment from all involved, but it’s an exciting time that will present new challenges which we will embrace and work on together to bring out the best in each other and our team.” 

ussoccer.com: Can you talk about your plans to identify the core group of players that you will take to qualifying for the 2018 U-17 Women’s World Cup?

MC: “The process has started immediately. We are early in the cycle and our team of scouts will keep an open mind. I have a working knowledge of the 2001 group from my last two years with them and we will be constantly looking for players that can come in and impact the U-17 group. Players develop at different rates, so we must be willing to consider all options and turn over every stone to select the right players. The important piece is to get all these players together, look at their talents and mindset to improve and see how they will fit into our culture and game model. Ultimately, it becomes about three things on their end: their character, their personal performance and how do they fit within the team dynamic. We have a trip planned to Italy here at the end of the month and a camp in May to get some answers and a good sense of who can contribute to the success of this team at this level. There are very exciting times ahead.”