We couldn't be more excited to bring you all this amazing interview with former NCAA Division One national champion and Clemson standout George Marks! The current Charlotte FC netminder shares a wealth on knowledge on dealing with adversity, preparing for the next level, and the mentality needed to reach your potential. You definitely won't want to miss this interview; read it all below.
1. You spent a significant amount of time in the North Carolina FC Academy, even signing with the first team on an amateur contract at one point. How did that experience help your goalkeeping development and prepare you for the next level?
It helped immensely. The level was definitely a bit over my head when I first began training with the professional team at the start of my junior year, but the everyday grind of trying to keep my head above water really forced me to take my game up a notch. I made it my mission to soak up everything from the environment whether it was things I wanted to take from the older goalkeeper’s game to implement into my own or even how to live the life as a professional on and off the field. Coach Nic Platter, and goalkeeper’s Akira Fitzgerald, Alex Tambakis, and Brian Sylvestre were big influences on me.
2. You ended up going to one of the best collegiate soccer programs in the country at Clemson University, talk us through your recruiting process. Did you always know you wanted to go to Clemson? Was it a difficult process for you?
My recruiting process was surprisingly quick as I was a little bit of a late bloomer. I only made the academy team my sophomore year after years of trying out. It was then that I started getting exposure from top colleges. I grew up always wanting to go to Duke and I always went to their summer camp. I was pretty dead set on being a blue devil until I went to a Clemson ID camp the summer after my sophomore year and received interest from the coaches. I went up for a weekend recruiting visit in September. They played in front of a packed house against UNC on Friday night and I was committed by the end of the week. I fell in love with the elite culture and feel.
3. What was the adjustment process like once you got to college? Were you surprised by the level of play? What were some of your biggest challenges?
It was a bit harsh but something I really needed. I came into college with a really loud ego and wanted to let everyone know how good I was. I had just come off a camp with the U20 national team and I thought I was above the level of college. That first summer and fall were trying times as I only played 5 games behind a 5th year senior and we went 7-9. I learned that I didn’t have it all figured out, to approach the experience with a growth mindset, and how to deal with adversity.
4. You were extremely successful in your career, winning the national championship in your last season. What do you attribute most to the success that you experienced in college?
I attribute most of the success that I had individually, and that we had as a team, to establishing elite processes and systems. I learned throughout the years that if we put standards in place then the level consistently stayed higher and we made our own luck. Some examples on a team level were team wide accountability groups, goal setting, and a leadership group. On a personal level; a consistent bed time, mobility routines, analyzing film, and always taking notes. I found that these daily processes eliminated decisions that could be impacted by daily emotion such as the stress of the student-athlete life and it led to consistent results.
5. After getting drafted by Charlotte FC in MLS, how did your first preseason go? Were you nervous going into it? What were some immediate differences that you noticed between MLS and college?
My first preseason was very successful. The style of play fit my attributes and since it was the club’s first preseason it meant that all players came in the door at near equal standing and were judged only on their performance. There were definitely some nerves but I was confident in my ability to make the jump and just wanted to give my all and see where I’d stand. An immediate difference I recognized was how much more unforgiving the professional game was on goalkeepers. Attacking players in the league have such quality that if you are unbalanced in your set for a split second or take up a disadvantageous position, they will punish you.
6. How was the adjustment period your first season as a rookie? You're coming off a national championship season in college where you were the main man and you're now in an environment where you're playing back up. How did you deal with that?
It was frustrating at times since I’m a competitor and always want to be the guy but I had to take a step back and redefine what success was going to look like for me. It was a great opportunity to learn everyday, whether that be getting 1% better everyday in training or watching from the bench during games to make sure I was ready when my number was called. Ultimately it was about having the understanding that this was a temporary adversity that should not take me off the path I chose to maximize my potential as a goalkeeper.
7. You're now in your second season and getting some significant minutes. How has your mindset shifted now that you've become the starter? As a young starter in MLS, how do you deal with the responsibility of commanding a back line full of more experienced players?
I’d like to say it hasn’t shifted too much since I try to keep the same mentality whether I’m in the stands, on the bench, or playing but there are naturally some differences. Making sure I manage my body has been a big emphasis because after picking up some knocks at the end of last year I learned how important it is to stay healthy as much as possible down the stretch. Another big emphasis has been on growing my presence in the back and trying to play with experience and maturity while I’m still a relatively inexperienced goalkeeper on paper. I think I’ve gained more respect from the guys by just making sure my own life and game are in order before trying to lead anyone else. By conducting myself in a top professional manner consistently, even before I got a chance, and then making the plays that need to be made in the games, the guys' confidence in me naturally grows.
8. How do you best deal with mistakes, whether in training or games? What are some tips you would give younger goalkeepers to help them bounce back from mistakes?
The power of the present moment is something that I’ve really discovered over the last few years. Growing up I was always a kid who hated to fail and dealt with failure very poorly. As I went through college I started to read and study sports psychology and worked with a sports psychologist at Clemson, Cory Shaffer. He taught me that the mental game is a learnable skill just like any technical or tactical one and is something I could make a strong suit. Whether in training or games, when a mistake occurs, I do a quick analysis to see if there is a correction I could make to help myself or the team avoid the situation from occurring again, take a few deep breaths, and tap myself 3 times on my stomach. That’s my cue that I’m not allowed to dwell in the past and must play my role for however much of the game or practice is left. Afterwards, there is ample time to analyze but my focus on the moment is how speedily I can transition from adversity to present-mindedness.
9. There are plenty of goalkeepers reading this that would love to play in MLS one day, what advice would you give them to help them on their journey?
I would just say that truly anything is possible. If you truly give your all, and align as many of your daily actions with your goals as possible, you’ll find yourself in a good place. I’m not a special talent or case, just a player and human on a journey to maximize my potential. And if I reach that ceiling I can sleep well at night with the outcome.
10. Name one goalkeeper around the world who you think most resembles your style of play?
Yann Sommer or David Raya!