England's Steph Houghton brings the ball out from the back during the game against Germany at Wembley Stadium.

How to use England's playing philosophy with 12-16 year olds

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'How we play' is the strongest demonstration of the England DNA. In essence, it’s the underlying philosophy for how the game is played.

The way players are developed across the country will determine 'how we play' now and into the future. This applies to England teams but it also applies in whichever setting you coach.

How a team performs is dependent on the individual and collective capabilities of the players, the style of play adopted and the strategies and tactics employed in each moment of the game. Read more about the playing philosophy for the England teams by clicking here.

It’s also dependent on the ethos and environment created, especially with young players in the Youth Development Phase. Value must be placed on individual and collective craft, intelligence and creativity as well as work ethic, roles and responsibilities. In the Youth Development Phase it's important to create the conditions for players to develop as individuals while becoming good team players.

In this video, England Women's head coach Phil Neville discusses the playing philosophy that our England national teams are working towards.

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How we play

An aim of our England teams is to intelligently dominate possession and territory, so we need to develop players with the skills and characteristics to do that. Every player’s journey importantly starts in the Foundation Phase and is then built upon through the Youth Development Phase and beyond.

How players are encouraged to play through their developing years and the experiences they gather will play a big part in shaping how they play as adults. This makes it important to not only value what they do, but also the way they do it. Whilst not everyone will play for England, we must strive to ensure every player loves the ball, loves the game and has the opportunity to explore and fulfil their potential.

Start from where the individuals are at, bearing the future in mind 

For this to happen, players must be allowed to gradually develop within positive environments appropriate to their stage of development, with no stages being skipped prematurely. Only then can players develop into teams that are:

  • excellent in building, creating and finishing attacks when in possession
  • able to use high, mid or low blocks when out of possession
  • using transition moments to their full advantage.

Play with Freedom

In the Youth Development Phase, 'playing with freedom' within the team framework is a priority for the U15 and U16 England teams. Players will have roles and responsibilities in possession, out of possession and in transition moments, relative to their position and system of play. But in order to develop players who can come up with creative solutions in the game, individualism and self-expression must also be embraced and highly valued – especially in the Youth Development Phase when players continue to explore their individual and collective capabilities, with and without the ball.

Kevin Betsy, England Men's youth teams coach, discusses what ‘play with freedom’ means to the England teams in this age phase:

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Play with freedom

So how does this link to grassroots football? In the video below, England Men's manager Gareth Southgate talks about styles of play and what it means to the game as a whole.

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Styles of play

Every coach, parent and player has a role in shaping our footballing culture across the country. Regardless of the setting, coaches strive to develop players full of imagination; who can take the ball under any circumstances; who are hungry and intelligent in winning it back; and who play with a love of the ball and a love of the game.


To find out more, explore our Youth Development Phase DNA playlist.


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