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Small Sided Games: Good for Player Development

Small-sided games are good for player development and should be utilized more in practice.

When players compete in age-appropriate, small-sided games, they have greater involvement in the action. For players, this means doing more of what they love most about soccer — shooting, dribbling, passing, scoring goals, blocking shots, and simply running after the ball. In terms of their development, this increased involvement results in improved technique, clearer decision-making, active participation in both the attack and defense, and a greater appreciation for game.

In order to develop their skills, players need opportunities to try them in games. Players who compete in small-sided games have significantly more contacts with the ball. In a pilot study, the California Youth Soccer Association-South, compared the number of passes attempted by a U8 player in an 8v8 game to the number attempted by the same player in a 4v4 game. In the 8v8 game, the player attempted 12 passes, completing three. And in the 4v4 game, that same player attempted 46 passes, and completed 18. While the increased contact with the ball is clearly a benefit to skill development, it also translates to more opportunities to hone decision-making.

Soccer is often referred to as a player's game, and the best players stand out for their ability to solve the problems the game presents. In small-sided games, players are exposed to many of the same problems presented by the 11-a-side game. There are decisions about when to pass rather than dribble, and decisions about where to run to support the ball. However, in small-sided games, players confront these problems more often and, with fewer players, the choices are more clear. With only four players on a team rather than eight, it's easier to see where there isn't a player to support the ball and then to run there to help out.

Having fewer players on the field also allows each player to take an active role in both the attack and in the defense. With fewer players and a smaller field, the game often demands that players move quickly from an attacking position to a defensive one, as a single pass and short run can often result in a chance at goal. The result is that players begin to feel free to move into different areas of the field, and in the long run that can only result in better and more complete players.

At first glance, it may appear that by competing in games of 3v3, 4v4, 6v6, and 8v8, it will take players longer to adjust to 11v11. However, given that small-sided games provide increased contacts with the ball and more opportunities to hone decision-making while transitioning quickly from attack to defense, by organizing and utilizing these games, our players will be better prepared to play 11 a-side in the future.

Happy playing, training and coaching this fall.

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