The transition from 7 a to 9 a side can be a difficult one for children. With both pitch and goal size increasing from 7 to 9 a side, children can suddenly find themselves in a much larger area than what they have been used to playing previously. This change for us as coaches may appear minor, however, for young children adapting to larger spaces and goals can sometimes feel major to them. Therefore, coaches will need to understand these challenges and consider how they can best support their players with the transition.

In this analysis piece, we will be exploring some strategies that may help you as coaches to help the players transition from 7 a side to 9 a side.

Formations

In previous analysis features, we have explored some examples of the formations in 7aside and 9aside and how they can link. Whatever the formation you are using with your players, there is always a way to link it to other formats. Coaches should consider the formations that they’ve played previously and approach the transition into 9aside with a consideration of what they have worked on previously.

7 A Side Formations: https://footballdna.co.uk/features/formation-analysis7-a-side/

9 A Side Formations: https://footballdna.co.uk/features/formation-analysis9-a-side/

As covered in the formation analysis piece, there will be ways coaches can link the formation from 7 a side into 9 a side. The best way for coaches to approach this is by mapping out the formation they wish to play at 11 a side and removing players as they transition back from 11 a side into 9 a side and finally onto 5 a side. An example of this could look like this:

The orange players represent how you can remove players from 11 a side to 9 a side, moving you from playing a 1-4-3-3 to a 1-4-3-1. The red players represent how you can remove another additional two players to transition from 9aside (1-4-3-1) to a 7 a side formation (1-2-3-1). This exercise can help coaches understand how the formations link from 7 to 9 a side.

Pitch Size

In our recent Podcast with Sigrid Olthof, we explored the importance of pitch size. In our Podcast with Sigrid, we discuss the importance of area size and the impacts it could have on players. As we transition from 5 into 7 a side we find ourselves now with four additional players on the pitch. Generally, pitch sizes at 7 a side move into a 60 x 40m area with 12 x 6 goals. This area is significantly larger for players as they progress from 5 aside from them previously playing on 40m x 30m pitches. This pitch size is a rough guide for coaches, with coaches being able to explore ways they can adapt the size of the pitch and goals to help support the players with the transition.

As we move into 9 aside we see another significant jump in area size. Most notably, goal size also changes significantly with players now playing with much larger goals than what they have played with previously. 9aside pitches start to be approximately 80m x 50m with additional length in the pitch being the biggest change. Players will have a lot more depth on the pitch, allowing for more space behind players to defend. Goal size also changes now with players playing in 16×7 goals.

The diagram above highlights how the area size can change from 7 a side to 9 a side.

Practice Design

Now that we are considering both the changes in the formation as well as area and goal size we can begin to start thinking about how this can inform us as coaches. Coaches will begin to need to think about how they can design their practices to an area that is relevant to the format they’re playing. As space expands significantly from 7 to 9aside, coaches will need to ensure they think about how they can add space into their practices.Adding depth and width to your sessions, you will begin to challenge your players in different ways across the four corner model.

An example of this is shown below in a practice where you might add or reduce the space based on what you want to challenge the players on.
In this practice, we have a 3 v 3 in one half of the pitch and a 1v1 in the other half of the pitch. The attackers must transfer the ball from one half to the other before and two attackers and defenders can move across to the other half of the pitch before scoring.

In the diagram below the area in blue would provide players with a much larger space. By adding width and depth, you will provide your players with different challenges in this practice.

Coaches can often use smaller areas to increase the ‘intensity’ of their sessions as well as the level of success that the players have. However, coaches should be content with their sessions not always looking ‘successful’ and be comfortable with the sessions looking challenging for the players. Additional space is a simple way coaches can adjust their practice design to enable their players to practice in areas that are relevant to what they would usually be playing on.

Understanding Growth & Maturation

With the above in mind, we must also consider the changes that are taking in their lives outside of football. Not only will they be going through a significant transition on the pitch this transition will be taking place off the pitch too. Children will often enter his change in format alongside moving from primary to secondary school. This transition will challenge children to become more independent and build a stronger sense of peer and self-awareness.
Additionally, some children may begin to see changes in their growth with some early matures starting to have more success in larger spaces compared to those that haven’t matured physically. Understanding these changes can affect how coaches add their players in both training and games and support them in the transition from 7 to 9aside. Coaches need to understand these changes and be patient with the children as they begin to adapt to their ever-changing world.

Variety

Variety in pitch size, format, and goal size is vitally important for children in these younger age groups. Children will continue to engage with the opportunity to explore and learn on different formats, pitches, and goal sizes as they begin to learn how to adapt to the larger formats. Coaches must ensure that they enrich players with a wide variety of different games and formats that help players to be adaptable. We should not approach 9aside as an opportunity for them to grasp the X’s and O’s of how to play in a 9aside game, but instead, find ways of solving problems and making decisions in their environment.