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Benefits of small sided games for young players

The results of several studies clearly demonstrate that the small-sided games (SSG) principle is based on sound educational and developmental evidence. Children learn in a progressive and sequential way using a building block approach through a combination of technical and tactical skill development as well as physiological and psychological development of the young players involved.


In terms of the key differences of the small-sided game over the eleven-aside game and the benefits of the 5v5 and 6v6 formats, please read the following very closely.

  • Far more repeated touches of the ball by all players

  • More touches throughout all areas of the pitch

  • More passes attempted are in a forward direction in the Small Sided Game. In the 11-a-side game, the majority of passes are in a backward direction

  • More attacking 1 v1s, final third and penalty area entries

  • More shots on goal and technical skills by goalkeepers

  • Repeated decision making experience

  • The ball is in play far more in the in the Small Sided Game

  • Repeated experience of basic tactical situations

  • More active participation is directly related to fun and enjoyment

  • More experience in all phases of the game. There is no hiding or dominant player hogging the ball.  Every child has to participate in all facets of the game, attack and defend.  The emphasis is on PLAYER DEVELOPMENT.

  • More active participation leads to an optimal fitness load

  • Better success rate leads to better quality of play and player retention

  • Better success rate leads to better self esteem and self confidence

  • More individual responsibilityevery player must attack and defend

  • The game is easier to understand

  • Freedom of expression – no positions in early stages

  • Less perceived stress on the player when playing the small-sided game

  • Less negative comments on the small-sided game

  • 80% of children believe that they touched the ball more often in the small- sided game

  • There was less perceived pressure from parents in the small-sided game

  • It is apparent that children enjoyed all the game formats


Research shows that the ability of children to make decisions in a difficult, ever changing environment will be dictated very much by their developmental age, their preparation and the complexity of the situation. Clearly within this study, the children who participated had a better opportunity to develop in line with the Long Term Player Development model, where more touches, more attacking play and decision making experience amongst others will lead to increased development of their technical skills through appropriate activities based on age and stage of their development.


The small-sided game allows coaches the best opportunity to observe and analyse the individual and group responses of players under quick game-like conditions. If fundamental motor skill training is not developed between the ages of eight to eleven and nine to twelve respectively for females and males, the opportunity has been lost, compromising the ability of the young player to reach his/her full potential. Professionals are agreed that the small-sided game is advantageous to coaches and players in a number of ways:



  • The evidence from the research clearly demonstrates the benefits of children playing small-sided games at U12 age group as opposed to the full eleven-a-side equivalent.

  • In agreement with a number of researchers and the Long Term Player Development Pathway, the 11 v 11 game is a game designed by adults for adults and should be seen as the last part of the learning journey. The 5 v 5 and 6 v 6 game is the first step in the ladder and the 8 v 8 game is the intermediate step.

  • The use of the 5,6 and 8-a-side games are the best means of teaching the technical and tactical [decision making] parts of the game in preparation for the adult game.

  • The physiological benefits of participating in small-sided games are a valuable physiological training tool for all players, also allowing the improvement of technical, tactical and psychological skill development at the same time.

  • Next stage of research must look at different age groups and effectiveness of small-sided games, whilst ensuring a longitudinal approach to the development of youth level football in the USA.