Tri-Cities Soccer Association recently names Mark Jones as its new Youth Academy Director. He will specialize in mentoring youth soccer players from ages 5 to 9, a big change and more family-friendly gig for the native Californian, who has college coaching experience at his alma mater, Cal Poly, and more recently at Northern Illinois. Jones also spent time working on a project in Brazil with Steve Sampson, former coach of the U.S. men’s national team and the Los Angeles Galaxy. In this week’s Weekend Chit-chat with Chronicle sports editor Jay Schwab, Jones discusses his soccer background and how he will apply it to working with local youth players. The following is an edited transcript:
What brings you to Tri-Cities?
I was recently with NIU, had a great experience over there and learned a bit of a different style of soccer than I was used to over in California, so it opened up some new avenues, new coaching techniques as well as made me more well-rounded, but I realized through all that my true love was development of players, getting players to that level and trying to make our youth a little bit stronger since that’s a little bit of a concern of our country, that we’re a little bit behind.
What was that year at NIU like?
Well, it was a tough season from a results standpoint. It was full of ups and downs. We had a little bit of lack of leadership through the season but they are rebounding. We did a lot of good recruiting in the offseason so this year should prove to be a little bit better.
What was it like working under Steve Sampson?
Steve Sampson, he’s a legend. I can’t say enough good things about him. Aside from him being a phenomenal coach, he’s an exceptional businessman and people person, manager.
He’s got a lot of different things he’s doing on the side as a consultant to so many different clubs, just a ton of knowledge to be gained from him, and being under him for the better part of four years really helped [develop] me … He took me down to Brazil and we took a group of American kids down to Brazil and trained down there and had a pretty good experience with that, an enlightening experience with him and his staff at Global Sports Institute.
Coming from California, let’s be real here, do people look down on soccer in the Midwest?
Their impression of soccer in the Midwest is very hard-working, blue collar, less tactical in its design. They would consider it not so beautiful to watch, more just driven for results of how to win the game. That’s the impression they have, but being here, I don’t think that’s the reality, but definitely some of that holds true. … There are a lot of multisport athletes out here. High school is still a very big thing for them where on the West Coast they’re told at a very young age you have to play one sport if you’re going to make it, and that was kind of the message being sent.
How would you characterize the mission of the Youth Academy?
The mission is to develop players, period. Develop them on the field and develop them off the field. Establish a culture of how to present themselves at training to how they approach the game, try to instill discipline in them they may not get from just going through a regular program where it’s just roll out the ball out and play. … It’s kind of an all-encompassing thing.
There are people who want to learn a lot about soccer and they don’t have an avenue to do it, and that’s kind of the [void] we’re trying to fill. … I think kids can absorb a ton of information, and to not give it to them when they’re capable of learning it is a disservice.
What are the most important fundamentals for that age group to focus on?
The overwhelming one is definitely individual ability with the ball. It’s hard to add tactics and strategy if players can’t perform the tactic or strategy you’re implementing. I always look at is a well-written novel where each chapter tells a story or teaches a concept, and they build off each other. You can’t just start a book and open to chapter 10 … kind of taking that approach, kids who are at chapter one, starting at chapter one and making sure it’s very well learned before moving on.