Small-Sided Games in football
Posted by Dean Holden at March 16th, 2013
From a scientific point of view, Small-Sided Games (SSG) provide reliable internal- (such as HR, RPE, and blood lactate concentration) and external responses (such as total distance covered) and therefore can be used as a conditioning format (1).
As mentioned on previous sites, SSG seem to have many advantages (such as football specific movement, technical training, possible tactical improvements and inherent high motivational factors for training) over other conditioning formats (2-6). It seems that coaches, who in particular have only limited amount of time with the players, might benefit from SSG as they might increase the efficacy of training (1) and even reduce the total training time because of the multi-functionality of SSG (2, 7).
Besides improvements in the aerobic endurance (4, 8-11), and anaerobic endurance (10) changes were also seen in change of direction performance (12) of players.
Before we provide examples of SSG that will benefit the players’ aerobic endurance we would like to discuss regulations and rules that will influence the efficacy of the training.
Regulations and rules that affect outcome of SSG
a) Regulations of SSG
Certainly, the pitch-size needs to be linked to the amount of players involved.
Table in accordance to (2, 14-16).
|Number of players
||Pitch-area (m squared) (16)
|1 vs. 1||10 × 10||100|
|2 vs. 2||20-28 × 20-21 (15)||400-800|
|3 vs. 3||25 × 18 (17)||240-2500|
|4 vs. 4||30-40 × 20-30 (1, 15, 18, 19)||240-2208|
|5 vs. 5*||32-62 × 23-44 (20)||240-2500|
|6 vs. 6||49 × 37||240-2500|
|7 vs. 7||50 × 35-45||875-2200|
|8 vs. 8||60 × 40-45 (19)||2400-2700|
|9 vs. 9*||60 × 50 (1)||3000|
|10 vs. 10||90 × 45||~4000|
*Note: games were played with goalkeeper
When the number of players are kept constant and the pitch-size is increased, exercise intensity increases as well (13).
A smaller pitch size affect physiological aspects of the game (20-22) and technical training compared to a larger pitch size (14, 20). An increase in pitch size resulted in a decrease of passes, turns, dribbles, interceptions, target passes and changes were significantly different for shots and tackles (1, 14) and heart rate response (7).
Generally, an increase of up to 10 meters caused heart rates to increase (and therefore the intensity), while a change of only 5 meters did not alter intensity (7).
Amount of players
In order to compare the effect of different amount of players during SSG, the relative pitch size (the square area of the pitch divided by the number of players) was kept identical whilst changing number of players (15).
There were no goalkeepers involved, no restriction on the number of touches, mini goals to score and all players needed to be in the oppositions half (15).
The smaller SSG (2 vs. 2) showed greater physiological demands (heart rate, lactate accumulation (23) and RPE) compared to bigger SSG (4 vs. 4; 6 vs. 6; 8 vs. 8), although the players had lower sprint duration, lower average maximal sprint duration, lower sprint distance and greater time between sprints (3, 4, 13, 15, 24, 25).
If coaches include goalkeepers in SSG, players’ heart rate responses and therefore the intensity of the game was lower (8, 26) compared to no goalkeeper involvement.
We believe that the lower intensity is not only due to the goalkeepers, but as a result of specific direction of play. Therefore, a lower intensity will also be present if no goalkeepers are involved and the game has a specific direction of play.
Rules of SSG
Offside vs. no offside
Including offside rule will lower the intensity non-significantly (Unfortunately we cannot find that reference again!).
Number of touches
If coaches incorporate a restriction about the amount of touches per players, several effects will result from this restriction (18, 27).
The outcome of the SSG session for the players’ aerobic endurance will depend on a) the technical ability of the players, b) the fitness level of the players.
If the technical level of the players is not sufficient enough for the restriction demanded, no real play will result and therefore no/lesser outcome for the players’ aerobic endurance will be achieved (27).
The fitness level of players will also have an impact on the flow of a SSG (27). If the player inherent no or limited aerobic endurance capacity (for example during pre-season or lower level players) a low amount of touches might result in a bad flow and possible no outcome for the aerobic endurance.
Player numbers up or down/neutral players
Most of the time, games with uneven numbers (such as floaters and/or attacking team can add players to attack) did not change the physiological responses of the players, however increased RPE (– meaning how the players perceived the intensity) for the team with lower number of players (28).
Neutral players outside the pitch lowered the intensity of the game (28). Man-marking increased the intensity of the game in 3 vs. 3 (17).
Rules that require the attacking team to have ALL players in a specific pitch was also shown to increase lactate production, however did not change heart rate or high intensity running.
The pitch size was divided into thirds and in order to score a goal ALL attacking players had to be in the “front” two thirds (28).
Coaches encouragement was also shown to increase the intensity of SSG (13).
Fitter players will cover more distance and get greater conditioning in SSG compared to un-fitter players (27, 29).
Most (nearly all) of the SSG reviewed, utilized a 4 × 4 minutes with passive recovery (2-4 minutes) protocol. However, a 3 × 5 minutes with a passive recovery of 4 minutes (1) or 10 × 4 minutes with 3 minutes passive recovery (25) protocol was also used.
In a nutshell
- SSG as a tool to train multi-functional (technical and physiological)
- Pitch-size changes the technical aspect of the game and the actions performed during the SSG
- Amount of players on similar pitch-size changes technical aspect as well. The lower the amount of players the greater the amount of dribblings, shots, tackles and touches for each player
- Direction of play results in a decrease of intensity
- Restriction of touches will change the demands of the SSG. The lower the technical ability the lower the effect on the physiological system
- Interval training was proven to be more controlled and training can be prescribed more individually (2)
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