What the statistics say?  

  • Players touch the ball five times more often in 4-a-side football and 50% more in 7-a-side. 
  • Players are three times more often in one-against-one situations in 4-a-side football and twice more often in 7-a-side. 
  • Goals are scored every two minutes in 4-a-side football on average and every four minutes in 7-a-side. 
  • Goalkeepers are involved in the action two to four times more often in 7-a-side football than in 11-a-side football. 
  • The ball is out of play 8% of the time in 4-a-side football, 14% in 7-a-side and 34% in 11-a-side. (Courtesy of fifa.com) 

So what are the benefits of Small Sided Games and why? 

Whilst the statistical data makes it clear that small sided games will not only provide players with more game time as well as increasing the volume of actions per game i.e. technical, decision making etc. With so much evidence readily available which backs up this approach, how can you use Small Sided Games to maximise your coaching programme and if you do, what are the benefits?  

  • Time to observe – what do the players need? Through observing in small sided games as a coach, you will be able to clearly highlight what players are best at and what they need to work on. This an evaluation tool will enable you to put together a programme for your group but also for the individuals within your group to design a syllabus and sessions that will meet the players needs.  
  • Games allow you to challenge the group, small groups and individual players. The better you understand the individual and what you need to put in place to support them, the clearer you can be with how you create challenge for that player within the games. An example of this may be limiting the touches they have. 
  • More time learning the skill, less time learning the game (simple practises, maximum benefits). As youth developers, it’s important to be brave with being willing to put the same practice on knowing what the returns will be. As coaches, often we can get used to delivering different practises from one session to the next which sometimes can lead onto you as a coach explaining rules, conditions and limiting play time. Some of the best organisations I have seen across different sports use a bank of sessions and deliver only these. Why? This is because they will know the exact returns of that practise, but more importantly the players will go into that practise knowing exactly what they need to do.  
  • Increased opportunities for children to practise what they’ve learnt. Another benefit of Small Sided Games in training is that you will be able to recreate pictures of what they’re practising ahead of a match day. 
  • Children play football, to play football! It’s important to remember why children come to your sessions… They want to have fun, they want to learn but they also want to play! Children learn through playing and you cannot as a coach limit their opportunities to play.  

How to develop through Small Sided Games 

Small sided games can be used as a great tool for developing young players. In order to maximise the benefits of using small sided games (considering my point from the previous section about more time learning the skills and less time learning the game) I am going to explore the following:  

Variables in Small Sided Games: 

  • Pitch Area 
  • Player Numbers 
  • Rules Modification 
  • Games Duration 
  • Maturation / Player Needs 
  • Player Ability   

Principles of practise design: 

  • Definition i.e. what scenario 
  • Decisions – link to match days 
  • Difference i.e. topic of focus 

The ingredients: 

  • Pitch type – use different shapes / areas 
  • Player distribution – how does the game link to the system/style of play i.e. use positions to support learning/recreate pictures 
  • Parameters – clearly defined areas (channels, zones etc) 
  • Constraints – restrict, relate and reward. 

Restrict players to enable them to practise a certain skill/technique.                                  

Relate the challenge to the position or outcome you want for that player            

Reward players for delivering what you want them to achieve i.e. if you play between the lines double points . 

How do these games change? 

Whilst using small sided games is an excellent tool for younger players, it’s also important to remember this is something that you can continue all the way through into the older age groups. Here are some great ways of comparing how small sided games can be used with both young and older players: 

Focus of using SSGs with younger players: 

  • Free play (allowing players to experiment and try). 
  • Conditions / challenges to be given. 
  • Individual coaching (targeting players needs). 
  • Less focus on tactical returns / style of play.  
  • Learning the tools… 

Focus of using SSGs with older players: 

  • Position Specific (individual/units). 
  • Teaching is focused more on how the game will benefit the player and their position. 
  • Bigger emphasis on tactical returns (teaching the game) 
  • Begins to become more team oriented(style of play). 
  • Link to analysis of individual/team performance as well as opposition.  
  • Developing and using the tools…