By Ryan Bailey
After coaching at youth level in the Carolinas for 15 years, Mark Simpson brought his expertise in soccer data and analytics to Charlotte FC, in his role as Head of Analytics. In July 2020, the former Nottingham Forest player and MLS Scout started coaching the Academy U14 side.
Hi Mark! You hold two key roles with Charlotte FC. What exactly do they entail?
My role as the U14 Academy coach entails the periodization, opposition scouting, session planning, coaching, analytics and feedback.
In my analytics role, I provide an overview of Charlotte FC targets. I create Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) for each phase of the game, and build a library of clips by principles, formations and set pieces. This leads to the creation of Charlotte FC player profiles.
In addition to these two roles, I also perform first-team scouting assignments.
How important are analytics to a fledgling MLS team?
Analytics can provide an objective measurement of performance, and the use of data is quite new, so it can provide a marginal-gain opportunity.
I strongly believe in the use of KPIs and evidence-based coaching. The alignment of all technical staff and players to understand the key data that will help us win is vital. Analytics can be used to improve performance by providing insight for coaches and players to adopt a more effective style.
What does your day look like on match day?
Normally, the day before the match we have a match preparation which includes a review of the previous week, a short scouting report on the opposition, and an analysis of how we can exploit the opposition. On match day, my duties as Head Coach include leading the warm-up, team selection, and coaching of the game. The Academy is very much a collective effort, and all staff have roles during the game, from physical performance to studying opposition shape.
Outside of match days, what does a typical day look like for you?
We train four to five days a week and obviously have games on the weekend, which can include lengthy away trips. I try to spend a lot of time on session planning and player feedback, as I feel these two areas are vital to player development.
We have weekly Academy meetings to review the previous week’s games, operations and planning, and I participate in technical meetings where I may present on analytics.
I am also involved with the bi-weekly scouting team meetings for the first team to discuss scouting reports and targets for potential players. I have three to five player scouting assignments to evaluate each week.
Additionally, I am developing an MLS database that incorporates all key metrics from the previous three seasons, and data comparison from the top five European leagues. I’m also trying to watch every 2021 MLS game this season to gain a detailed insight into the players in the league.
How much development and change have you seen in the U14 group throughout the season?
There has been positive growth in the group in terms of standards, competitiveness of training, and the quality of performance. With most games against U15 opposition, the players have struggled physically and had to work out ways to still be effective. In the long term, this year will provide a brilliant foundation for the future.
Do you think there is something special about the youth talent in the Carolinas?
I have always felt the Carolinas are an untapped area and there is so much diversity and variety of players. We are developing an extensive youth scouting database and player recruitment is so vital.
We have some great personalities within our Academy teams. How enjoyable is it to work with this group?
There are definitely some characters in the group. As U14 players, it is vital to balance the competitiveness and highest level of focus, with times to have fun. I enjoy working with the players who ask questions and are invested in their own development.
Finally, how do you define success?
Success for me will see Academy players graduating through to the first team. When they play for the first team we want them to play with bravery, confidence and intelligence.