Exclusive Interview with FC Dallas Academy VP Chris Hayden
Breaking The Lines’s Abhishek Mishra interviews Vice President of FC Dallas Youth Chris Hayden.
Q: How does FC Dallas create a culture to prioritize player development vs game results in the younger age groups?
A: We have more than 250 teams in Dallas (both boys and girls) beginning with players at 6 years old. Our first task is to create an environment that kids want to be a part of. The program should create fun and learning environments so that kids want to stay involved in the sport. We try to do that.
We often mix teams for portions of the training in order to have players experience a similar culture and multiple coaches. Our players will naturally gravitate towards the teams and groups that share a similar level and commitment. We cannot separate fun from player development because the player will decide to continue, commit, excel, train, etc. based on enjoyment and interest.
Q: How much do you think the Home Grown rule impacts the need for play development?
A: We have signed 26 Home Grown Players to the first-team roster. Our culture is clear at FC Dallas and we would like to field an MLS team that is comprised of a large number of local and talented players. It makes sense for us to nurture local talent and encourage a pathway into our professional team.
It is more motivating for our academy, it is more interesting for our fans, and it is more engaging for our sponsors. We also can develop our first team playing model and style at a much earlier age within our academy and strengthen our core beliefs in our players. The rule has allowed us to promote young players from Dallas with a clear path to pro soccer.
Q: The FC Dallas Youth Academy has found tremendously talented players, some of whom to name are Paxton Pomykal and Chris Richards. How do you discover/scout these players? Is there a specific philosophy involved?
A: We have a scouting network locally, regionally, and nationally and of course we look for talent wherever it is. Locally, we are working with many young players and we can’t be certain about how players will develop so our goal is to stimulate learning with a large number of kids. As we start to develop our own talent, we do it purposefully with habits that we would like our players to have that will make them more effective on and off the field.
We also look for players not already in the club with a vision of what type of attributes are necessary for success. We have player profiles and even position-specific profiles (for older players) that we use as a guide for selection. We never know with 100% certainty if a player will blossom to a professional talent level until we see how they adapt as they are challenged more. Our profiles do however raise the percentage chance for success.
Q: Data science is a field that is rapidly evolving. How does FC Dallas utilize data science in player development and scouting? Is it an integral part of the processes? If yes, what is the extent to which it is used?
A: We test our own players periodically with movement screens, and speed and strength tests to compare them with one another, with other players of biological age, and with current and former high performing players. Our U14+ players train and play wearing GPS units that can track their total distance covered, high speed running, and their muscular load.
This information helps us plan our weekly training volume and also helps keep our athletes safe (they train every day). We review the load data and share with our coaches to plan sessions that will meet technical and tactical objectives, but also help plan the physical load to increase athletic performance.
We also test incoming trialists sometimes in order to measure their physical capacity relative to our top players.
Q: How does the Youth Academy strive to give back to the communities where the players came from?
A: The FC Dallas Academy has players that are coming from all over the metroplex. We have had some of those players that have signed pro contracts go back into their former schools and speak with kids about the importance of education, or why they must set personal goals for themselves in order to succeed.
We have hosted community clinics in different parts of the city where academy players have gone to teach basic soccer skills to beginning players at a camp. Our club (through our foundation) has also constructed quite a few mini-pitches around town to help provide facilities for soccer to areas that don’t have access for a safe place to play.
Most importantly, I think when a kid comes through our academy and signs a pro contract or gets a full scholarship to play in college, I believe that the impact is great in motivating players to work toward their dreams.
Q:Is there a distinct tactical philosophy that is practiced in the Youth Academy? If so, why does FC Dallas think that the philosophy is important to implement?
A: We have a clear style of play (Game Model) comprised of principles of play with and without the ball. The principles are the foundation of every session and the metric that we measure our development (individual and collective) with all of our teams. Our staff is clear and we use different types of exercise categories that help us to teach the principles in a way that players can learn.
All that being said, the foundation of the methodology is that we would like players that can problem solve and adapt. We teach in a way that players must decide how to resolve a problem. We try to offer challenges, not solutions. We believe that challenges will provide a player with the need to look for and implement a solution. That ability to resolve a problem is much more valuable to him than just being able to “do what the coach wants.”
Photo: Gabriel Fraga