Are your association’s small-sided games too big?

Your association’s spring soccer season has begun or is about to begin. Take a couple of weekends of play to review and evaluate your Small-Sided Games. While doing this evaluation, ask yourself, “Are our small-sided games too big for player development?” Your findings may surprise you.

For some time now, coaches, managers, parents, players, league officials and others have recognized the benefits of small-sided games in the process of player development. The debate over small-sided games for youth players has been going on for over 15 years. The tremendous benefit of small-sided play was made obvious by the dramatic increase in our level of play in the 1994 World Cup. For the four years preceding the Cup, the U.S. team trained almost exclusively using small-sided play. 1

For some years, North Texas State Soccer Association (NTSSA) has “strongly recommended” Small Sided Games (Law III – Number of Players) for U6, U8, and U10 age groups as recommended by US Youth Soccer’s SSG recommendations. See NTSSA by-laws 3.15 thru 3.17 at this NTSSA web site.

NTSSA’s Coaching Education department has included a lecture topic, “Using Small-Sided Games to Teach”’ in the traditional classroom Youth Modules Coaching Clinic; U8, U10 and U12. The Small-Sided Games teaching progression is introduced in the National “E” Coaching School and was used in the 2013 National “D” Coaching School for field practice coaching sessions.

The US Soccer document, Best Practices for Coaching Soccer in the United States, “best option” recommendation is almost identical to US Youth Soccer recommendations for U6, U8, and U10. They differ in the U12 by suggesting the “best option” be either the 8v8 or the 9v9 game. The document’s “best option” for the 11-a side game starts at U14.

What are the “clues” that your small-sided games may be too big?
  • Are the fields too big: width and length?
    Observation: The team’s best athletic player on corner kicks can just barely get the ball to the near post or the edge of the goalie area. Goalkeeper kicks (punts or goal kick) don’t reach the half line of the field.
  • Are there too many players on the field for the age group?
    Observation: Are all of the players involved in the game? Do players, most of the time, just “wildly” kick the ball vs. playing to ball to another teammate?
  • Are there too many players waiting on the bench to play, vs. playing?
    Observation: Are 50 percent or more of the players at the older age groups (U8, U10 and U12) in the game, vs. on the bench?
  • Are goals easily scored?
    Observation: Is the process for an opportunity to score a goal the result of an “athletic event” or the results of “team” play?
  • Are all players involved in the game?
    Observation: Are there gaps in between groups of players (defenders, mid-fielders, attackers)? Do players stand in one area waiting for the game to come to them?

These are just a few “clues” that your small-sided games format maybe too big. More are listed in the US Youth Soccer document “Why Small-Sided Games”.

Additional small-sided games resources can be found at this US Youth Soccer web site.

Let it be noted there are several factors that can affect the small-sided games being played in an association: the number of fields, the availability of coaches, other interest of the players, the association’s legacy or heritage, etc.

For the benefit of the players and coaches, take a weekend or two and evaluate your association’s small-sided games. You may be surprised. Remember, in the small-sided games format, “less is more.”

1. Developing Speed of Play, Gary R. Allen, NSCAA Soccer Journal, January/February 2013, Vol. 58, No.1, page 32.

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