N usually says he’s not a football fan. He’ll play in PE, but not at playtimes. He’ll play in the garden with his football obsessed cousin once they get bored of tennis. But he did enjoy the live MK Dons match we went to watch even though he tends to get bored 5 minutes in when football is on the television.. And now we’re at the Euros, he’s changing his mind. The England football team have a lot to do with it, inspiring children with their ethos and performance.

As a child I was a football fan. I had a favourite local team (the Oxford United goalie lived down our road) and supported Manchester Utd because I’d met Bryan Robson walking down the street when visiting friends. We used to watch a lot of football matches on tv because of my brother. Over the years, other sports have taken over. Generally my sports viewing is limited to N’s tennis matches, and big sporting events like Wimbledon, the Olympics, Commonwealth Games or European/World Championships. When the big events are on, I’ll watch most sports, including football because they’re exciting. The anticipation, supporting your country, and getting caught up in the conversations. You just get that buzz and enthusiasm for sport again.

The World Cup 2018

The 2018 World Cup was immense in terms of spirit in our little part of England. As everywhere else it seemed. Our quiet unassuming team of footballers and manager compared with the showy celeb footballers back in my teen years. Ours was a young team. A team who were playing well and looked great for the future. People thought they might start with this world cup and show what they could do in future. There was a quiet hope rather than expectation, that built in momentum.

But this world cup didn’t see the brash showiness of support from the British public that we’ve seen in the past. Over the past month I’ve only seen 4 cars with flags flying. And very few houses with flags hanging from windows. Compared with past tournaments, it’s been understated just like Gareth Southgate and the team who’ve gone about the job in the way they planned, proving their place in the world rankings.

Even N got caught up in the spirit helped by his school supporting the team for every match day by wearing red white and blue instead of uniform (or affiliated country’s kit for children who preferred elsewhere).

For the semi-final match against Croatia, he even managed to stay up until halfway through the second half. Beating his usual 5 minutes threshold.

In the days since we lost that semi-final, there’s be a lot of gratitude to the players, to the team, to the manager. They delivered credible performances, proved their ability, and made us think that England’s football team had a right to be ambitious about the Euros.

The Euros 2020 (2021)

Again we’ve seen a young team come in alongside some of the more experienced players. England had a great run in the qualifiers and followed that up with keeping a clean sheet in 2 wins and a (paltry) draw against Scotland in the group stages to win the group. Gareth Southgate’s kept his team calm but eager, and able to concentrate on the game in hand despite all the change to normality with Covid. Luck of the draw meant most of their matches were played at home at Wembley which must have helped too.

Being 3 years older N has loved the Euros. He enjoys the commentary, giving his opinion and all the conversations at school with football fanatics (and teachers who’ve been taking part in ‘sweepstakes’ with the children). The England matches they’re wearing red and white for school (or alternative countries they support), and he’s staying up much longer for the matches.

While we’re not out and about as much, for me I’ve missed not having the discussions in the office before and after matches. We don’t get out to see as many flags on houses and cars. Despite England having had their best opportunity to progress through the tournament there seems to have been fewer people showing their support.

Apart from inspiring children to play more football and dream big, there’s more that children can learn from Gareth Southgate’s England football team.

inspired by the england world cup team - Bubbablue and me

Focus

To win and achieve dreams you need focus, and the England team have this. They know their goal, and know what they need to try, and know to trust their manager’s decisions. Often in the past we’ve seen teams get a goal then lose concentration and immediately concede one. But our team have been steady in their resolve to stay ahead until the end of the match.

Even when they’ve scored clear winners, Southgate has allowed himself a few seconds celebration before he’s back focused on the next move the team needs to make.

Being able to enjoy but also focus and take each step as it comes is a crucial skill for children to learn as they play sports. There’s no point dwelling on the last point or goal when you need to move on in the same game.

Fair play

While some other teams played dirty, ours mostly kept their heads. Admitting when their falls weren’t free kicks or penalties, and just generally being nice all round. Yes there was a bit of fire at certain times, but generally they were good role models on the pitch.

Sport and competitiveness is important for children to take part in and learn. But fair play is key, and N often goes on about good sportsmanship from what he’s learnt at school and in tennis..

Humility

I’m sure most of them earn a fortune from their football, but maybe beacuse of their relative youth, they still felt like they knew they were still learning. They were there for the experience first, and then to try and win harder as they moved through the tournament.

There didn’t seem to be much ego going on. And we didn’t hear of raucous ‘typical’ footballer wild off pitch behaviour that so often mars a team’s performance.

As for Gareth Southgate’s interviews…I think he’s been a great speaker for the team and the work they’ve done. He seems to have created a team with drive and focus.

Children can learn that quiet and humble people can still win and do well in their own way. (Although we do love showy’ off players like Grealish too!)

Teamwork and knowing their roles

Each person knew their place in the team. It helped they maintained the same team throughout. They had their role to play and played them well. And supported each other in celebration and during the hard times. We won’t forget the photo of Gareth Southgate comforting the Colombian player after they’d lost to us on penalties in the World Cup, Gareth having been in the same situation during his own playing career.

With the Euros, there’s been a really strong bench for England. There are people that my OH thinks shouldn’t have been chosen, but they’ve come on as a sub and played their role. There’s been no sullenness when being taken off the pitch (or not on camera).

However much a loner a child is, they’ll still need friends and support networks around them. But they can also learn how they need to be part of teams as well.

Pride

You really got the feeling they all believed in the team and really wanted to play for England. In knowing the whole country was behind them, they coped with the potential pressure admirably. The work with their team psychologists and the management of Southgate obviously did well in supporting them to cope with pressure.

Having pride in your work, and a want to improve (and win), is something I believe most children should have. Enjoying their work is also something that the England team put across.

Try something different

The England team in the Euros was mixed up all the time in the qualifying, and during the tournament, with different starting line ups and subs each time. The team know that the manager’s picking the side that can play specific roles in different formations needed for each opposition team. And it’s worked (so far).

Even in sport it shows children that you need to think about your opponents and adapt. We all get stuck in a rut, but sometimes we need to break free and try something else. For children they’re always trying something new. But learning this will follow them through life.

Empathy and caring

Not all the teams in the Euros have ‘taken the knee’ as a sign of respect towards players of all types. But the England team have, and are working to be an inclusive and accepting team of all players and fans in the sport.

When England played Denmark in the semi final so the Euros, beforehand they gave the team an England shirt signed by the team as a sign of respect towards the team and Christian Eriksson who’d collapsed during their first match of the tournament. There’s a kind hearted nature and camaraderie, great support amongst the team and their wider management and support team. Many called them a family, and they’ve seemed much calmer and more ready for the Euros than in other tournaments. You also see the shoulder touch or handshake consoling their losing opponents. They’ve been in that position before.

To enjoy sport

Watching the England team, most of their matches they really looked like they were enjoying every moment. And we all want our children to enjoy the sport they play.

When N plays competitive sports he wants to win (he’s very quiet in his competitiveness), but hopefully he learns from the sportsmen and women he’s watched play.

Been inspired by them.

Enjoyed watching their passion for their game.

Been magnanimous in defeat and humble when winning.

And be ready to try again a second and third time.

Have you and your children been watching the big sports tournaments? Are your children inspired to see the England football team play the way they did?

Why not take a look at these similar posts.

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2 Comments

  1. Amen to all of that! It’s great to see footballers being role models for kids and lovely that the whole country got behind them. We were all gripped by the World Cup and will be sad to see it over after the final today.

    • For someone who’s not really a fan of football, N is already planning Euros watching and has been working out what the next big sports events are. I love to see him so excited.

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