England U15 head coach, Kevin Betsy, tells Peter Glynn about how young players in the England set-up are determined to win, but not at the expense of core values.

Kevin Betsy is clear where he stands in the debate between winning and development.
"We play to win, but not at the expense of our core values,” explains England's U15 head coach.

“We won’t accept winning at the expense of players behaving inappropriately, not living the behaviours of an England player or not believing in or applying the playing principles,” adds the 39-year-old, who joined the national set-up from Fulham in 2016.

By focusing on the way England teams play – particularly for those entering into the England pathway at U15 and U16 – Betsy believes winning will be the result anyway.

“The most important thing is the style of play. If we get the style of play right and the players make outstanding decisions in any given scenario then winning will be a culmination of their good work.”

The main thing is our way of playing and giving ownership of the environment to the players


England’s U15s are encouraged to ‘play with freedom’ and express themselves – themes which continue with the U16s and U17 age-groups and throughout the pathway.

“We want the players to play with a smile on their face and enjoy their football. If they are fearful and they feel pressured or the message we give isn’t consistent then we have a problem as players can become confused.

“They are selected because they have shown how good they are at their clubs and all we want is for them to do the same with us. The England shirt must not weigh heavy on them and they have to feel relaxed. We do this through a structure but allowing lots of freedom within it” explains Betsy.

Asking players to be creative and try new things can, however, lead to mistakes and sometimes defeat. It is when things aren’t going well that the former Fulham, Bristol City, Barnsley and Wycombe player believes the true values and beliefs of a coach are shown.

“Everybody can write on a piece of paper what their philosophy is, but let’s have a look at what you do. Let’s see your team play and let’s see how you act under pressure – because that’s where we find out what sort of person you are.

“If we want to develop England players to deal with the ball in high pressured circumstances in high pressured competitions then we have to go through the pain and me and all the staff have to have broad shoulders to do that. The players need broad shoulders too and to have the ability to deal with this psychologically.

“When you’re put into [tough] situations as a coach or player and you’re under pressure you can sometimes revert to a different strategy, such as when you’ve got crowd noise, the opponent provokes you away from your style or you have senior staff watching. But the main thing is our way of playing and giving ownership of the environment to the players. That’s the most important thing.”

coaching staff addressing players
Kevin Betsy pictured working with young grassroots players at the FA coaching conference at St. George’s Park.

Betsy tells the story of an international fixture where he and the U15 staff faced testing circumstances but were adamant they would stick to the plan.

“We played Belgium recently and the score line was against us in the first-half and we were losing by quite a lot.

"At half-time we have a process where the players give feedback and come up with solutions for the second half. We stuck to our idea of player ownership, controlling our inner thoughts and trying to fix the problem with only minimal coach instruction. We didn’t want to change our approach at the first sign of problem.

"The players played really well in the second half – in fact, exceptionally well. The environment we create as a group of staff and players is vital to help them learn through their mistakes.

The England shirt must not weigh heavy and they have to feel relaxed


“Short-term we can all try and solve the problems for them but if we want players who can make decisions for themselves in the long-term then we have to give them the opportunity to do that."

Amid all the talk of process and creativity Betsy is keen not to dilute the determination and focus on producing winning England players and teams.

“Through all the England teams winning isn’t a word that we’re ‘fluffy’ with. We have to get the players into a winning mentality – it is something that all the England national coaches talk about a lot. We have to get the players at U15 all the way through the pathway to the senior team to have a focus on winning,” he explains.

But not at the expense of the core values.


Kevin Betsy is an FA national coach working with England youth teams.

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