England has strengths and weaknesses that are influenced by their youth coaching system and surroundings after they reach the elite level.
England produces quality athletes and players with a good level of tactical awareness. This shows through when England perform. Youth soccer in England is results oriented, teams play in competitive games and structured leagues from ages as young as nine. A youth team will turn up and play with a referee and a coach on the sidelines heavily invested in the result. It is not uncommon for a coach to be pursuing a career in coaching and starting with a youth team, the team then becomes a step on the ladder and winning things is seen as relevant.
Such an atmosphere can bond teams together and instill a desire to win in receptive players. “Getting stuck in,” and being a ball winner are rewarded in the culture, and as such players of limited technical ability but with the ability to do the hard work can ascend.
A youth player in England will also watch a lot of the game. Team field trips to watch the local pro team are common, and blanket television coverage allows young players to watch games and learn about the game without realizing it. The added role model element helps motivation and enjoyment, players in school yards across the country pretend they are Wayne Rooney or Steven Gerrard after they score a goal. Powerful childhood memories come from this.
A youth soccer player who excels in England will be given the facilities to succeed. The country has 92 professional teams in an area smaller that the state of New Jersey, and each team has youth academy and community coaching. Players will be given technical coaching in a structured environment as well as advice on diet. As a player gets older, academies will introduce lessons on lifestyle and succeeding in the professional game.
The strength of competition at such an early age is also a weakness. This environment being created at such a young age has an impact on the players. Immediately a sense of success and failure is installed, and poor performance is punished with excessive time on the bench. For this reason, players who cannot impact results find themselves in a negative cycle very early. They need time on the field to improve, they do not get it because they are not improving.
Youth coaching in England has been traditionally team based. Teaching group concepts and teaching a player how to excel in a team environment. This leaves England behind some of the major countries in terms of individual ability in possession of the ball. A player like Joe Cole has tremendous technical ability on a par with any country, however the likes of Cole are few and far between. Often a player such as him is encouraged to play safety first, or sacrificed in favor of a player who puts more work in, and wins more tackles.
Check back next week for the conclusion of this interesting article.