The Three Lions, Teaching us More Than Football

Away from the headlines and incredible stories, there are still lessons to learn from these players on and off the pitch that I think are worth highlighting and discussing with the young people around you

There’s a whole lot to love about this England squad, you’ve seen it everywhere and rightly so. They have personality, ability, attacking flair across the squad – so effervescent in the likes of Grealish and Foden, and even that all so strange feeling that maybe wearing the Three Lions is actually…fun?

I sat down to write this thinking simply of qualities that players have shown throughout the tournament and how it could help coaches in supporting the players they work with or even parents with their own kids, but first, it would be remiss of me not to mention the incredible work that the likes of Marcus Rashford MBE, Raheem Sterling MBE and co. have carried out throughout these pandemic times. These young men have supported those less fortunate than themselves, stood up to governments, companies and stood with campaigners and volunteers passionate about their causes. To me, that’s a space that international sportspeople should always try to find themselves, using their influence for good and showing young people that they too, can stand up for what they believe in. I am incredibly proud of this England team.

Away from the headlines and incredible stories, there are still lessons to learn from these players on and off the pitch that I think are worth highlighting and discussing with the young people around you. There are all some incredible characteristics to pick up here, from the most relatable England squad we’ve seen in years.

Jordan Pickford – Maturity – If there’s anything that is repeated over and over about Jordan Pickford, it’s that he’s always ‘got a mistake in him’. I’ve been one of those people for sure, thinking he’s ‘overhyped’ as Joe Hart was once or focussed too much on doing something with real gusto and power, which then becomes his downfall. This tournament feels different and in fact off the back of a tough season or two, Pickford has shown a mature side to his game, self-control and an innate confidence in his own abilities, all whilst not causing a worry for his own back line. Think how that could impact on your young players in controlling their emotions.

Kyle Walker – Adaptability – I have no doubt that Kyle Walker would love to be up and down the wings in this England side, but when needed he’s played as a 3rd centre half as he did in 2018 and has arguably been England’s best defender when doing it. Adaptability is important for players adjusting to systems, playing out of position and ultimately learning the game and so think how you could use this example for that player you have who fancies themselves as a number 10 when we all know in reality, they might be best suited in the back 4! This is about understanding that you do your role for the team.

Declan Rice and Kalvin Phillips – Effort – Good old-fashioned effort. Two players often seen as ‘shuttlers’ or maybe ‘not up to scratch’ with the likes of Jordan Henderson, have carried this team at times and shown the old-fashioned spirit and characteristic so aligned to England teams of old. A lot of the energy for the performances of this side so far have come from the energy shown from these two, both on and off the ball, particularly their urgency to get it back. This is surely a teachable moment that however good you may be or may think you are – you need to work hard on and off the pitch.

Jordan Henderson – Leadership – Gareth Southgate spoke several times pre-tournament to say that Jordan Henderson would be a part of the squad because he brings so much more to the group than just his on-field abilities and so his injury troubles wouldn’t matter. There are a lot of ‘leaders’ and club captains across this group, but for me Henderson shines as someone who really cares about each individual and the success of the team. Look at how he encourages players, communicates both vocally and physically and the joy he takes in their success (see the video of him celebrating before entering the pitch v Ukraine). Think how you could use this to show young people the impact they can have on others by being a good person and a caring, driven leader.

Jack Grealish – Understanding – So many have clamoured for Grealish to start, and we’ve heard the reception he gets whenever his face comes on the big screen, but Jack Grealish’s biggest quality is knowing his role and doing it well. Clearly a player with such talent wants to be on the pitch, but he’s showed patience and understanding in knowing that he is a game changer and so can set games alight coming from the bench and terrorising the opposition – and he is doing it so well. Just ‘doing your job’ is something which is much more prevalent in American sports and in rugby union where Eddie Jones refers to his substitutes as ‘finishers’ rather than replacements, players entering the field knowing exactly what they need to do to help the team. Outstanding. In the England camp you could also see this in Kieran Trippier, Jadon Sancho, the backup keepers too, but think how you could relate this to your players who may not be starting but can still have an impact.

Harry Kane – Resilience – At the beginning of this tournament, England’s main man was struggling to score, not playing great and many were calling for a change of plan, a change of tact and maybe taking him out of the team. Harry Kane didn’t stop. Eventually scoring a goal, even in another game where he didn’t perform brilliantly, Kane turned it around and now even has a chance for golden boot. Harry Maguire has a great claim to be in this section too, give the year or so he’s had and an injury! Think how your players can learn from a dip in confidence or a bad game…if the England captain is having one why can’t they?

Raheem Sterling – Belief – In my mind this might be the nicest one. The boy from Brent, a player who is living his own dream (which he has tattooed on himself for good measure) and demonstrating that with enough work, talent and humility, players can get to where they want to go. I think that’s an easy one to explain to young people and the fact that Sterling has played so brilliantly at Euro2020 just makes it even sweeter.

Mason Mount and Phil Foden – Enjoyment – An undervalued characteristic in players in the love of the game. The excitement and creativity is clear to see within these two players and much like Bukayo Saka and Jude Bellingham, they really are making the most of seizing an opportunity they may not have had were Euro2020 played when it should have been. It’s certainly been a benefit to the team technically having them there, but in terms of performance and attitude, the freedom these players show in everything they do and the obvious enjoyment in playing football is so exciting to watch. Make sure your players just love playing the game before anything else.

Within the rest of the 26 there are of course more qualities to be found, but these few are a great place to start – with big names showing even bigger qualities. As a collective, I love their nature to seemingly prove doubters wrong as it appears that every player named as a ‘Southgate favourite’ by the media and Twittersphere or blamed for being selected, ahead of someone else appears to have gone on to be the best player in each game in question and for the group, that will be an incredible source of energy and drive that togetherness even further.

Of course, the credit for all of this must go to Gareth Southgate and Steve Holland for the environment they have been able to create, an important factor in allowing people and players to be themselves and express how they feel. Throughout this tournament Southgate has spoken like a true statesman (arguably more so than a lot of actual statesmen and women of late), but it really is inspiring to see someone in the top job with so much humility, control and perspective on the world around them.

Let’s just hope that they can bring back the trophy they all deserve… and another in 2022.

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