Are Your Association’s Small-Sided Games Too Big?
Your association’s Fall 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.
For the U12 age group, NTSSA is silent, thus leaving the number of players on the field (Law III – Number of Players) up to the local associations, with many playing 8v8, or 9v9 as well as 11v11. US Youth Soccer for the U12 age group “strongly recommends” the 8v8 game be played. See this US Youth Soccer web site for Official Rules for Small Sided Games.
NTSSA’s Coaching Education department has included a lecture topic, “Using Small-Sided Games to Teach”’ in the traditional classroom Youth Module Coaching Clinics at the U8, U10 and U12 level. The Small-Sided Games teaching progression is introduced in the National “E” Coaching School and is used in the 2013 National “D” Coaching School for field practice coaching sessions.
The U.S. Soccer document, Best Practices for Coaching Soccer in the United States, states that the “best option” 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?
Are there too many players on the field for the age group?
Are there too many players waiting on the bench?
Are goals easily scored?
Are all players involved in the game?
This is just a few “clues” that your small-sided games may be 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.
The Pitch is a publication of North Texas Soccer