It’s fair to say that Gareth Southgate’s stock as a coach has increased in recent weeks. A coach initially reluctant to step up from leading the country’s u21 side, he led England to their first World Cup semi-final in 28 years, and despite a disappointing defeat at the hands of Croatia, he has helped restore a lot of pride in the national team.

Southgate was part of the launch of the England DNA in late 2014, the idea being that the FA would look to create a world class approach to developing elite players, with elements including the England football heritage, developing the style of play, profiling the future elite player and improving coaching. If results are anything to go by, the four years since have been encouraging with improved performances at elite level from the younger England men’s teams and the senior England women’s team. The massive improvement in a relatively young men’s senior team at Russia 2018 and plenty of talented youngsters on the fringes bodes well for the next targets of the Euros in 2020 and the next World Cup in 2022. Not only have the results improved, but the players seemed to be a strong, cohesive unit and prepared for any challenge, including the traditional English achilles heel of a penalty shoot-out.

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Southgate’s style of management has developed from the baptism of fire of his first managerial appointment at Middlesbrough, at a time when he hadn’t completed his Pro Licence, through a spell as the FA’s Head of Elite Development and his time as manager of the u21s. His teams are encouraged to take responsibility for their own actions and he puts his full trust in them. He leads by example and displays empathy and decency to his players and opponents alike. Such qualities were on full display in our example session on Game Strategy, which was given by Southgate alongside the FA’s Technical Lead for u17-u21 Neil Dewsnip, at the FA Coaches Conference where the England DNA was launched.

In what was very much a game related practice, both coaches gave the players the opportunity to think for themselves, to make decisions, and Southgate in particular used the Q & A method of coaching. An interesting example was asking the players at the start of the session when they felt they were more dangerous in a game – with the ball or without the ball. The unanimous answer was with the ball. “Ok, we’ll come back to that”, was the reply, and by the end of the session an alternative theory had been discovered.

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The first part of the session saw two sides of even numbers competing, with one side starting with possession, playing out from the back, and the other looking to hit them quickly on the counter-attack if they gained possession. Southgate was strict on ensuring the counter-attacking team moved the ball quickly and effectively, and both teams were encouraged to shoot at every opportunity.

In the next part of the session, Dewsnip reduced one of the teams by one player – this was done by jokingly sending off one of the players for an alleged use of bad language. The players on the team with one fewer then had to work out, in game play, how to deal with the situation. After a few minutes, the game was stopped and the two teams were allowed a huddle to define their strategy moving forward, how one team was going to deal with being a player down, and how the other team were going to take advantage. The latter decided to make the pitch as big as possible and look to switch play quickly and create overloads, the team with one fewer looked to defend deep and hit on the counter-attack. The final scenario saw the teams evened up again and given the situation of one team leading the other 2-1 in a European tie, so the losing team had to come up with a strategy to try and level the scores while being aware of not conceding a killer goal.

The use of different scenarios enables the players to have to consider the way they and the team need to play to achieve the end result. Both coaches gave little tips as well as asking questions of the players to help them reach a positive outcome. Even if used in a small sided game at the end of a different session, this adds tactical and social questions of the players and helps take the session to the next level. Subscribe now to receive a copy of the session plan for Game Strategy, and a bonus session plan as used by Southgate with the England u21s on Creative Attacking Play.

And the final answer to the question posed by Southgate at the start? The players discovered that when gaining possession and looking to counter-attack while the opposition were not organised, they were then at their most dangerous.


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