Why Small-Sided Games?
US Youth Soccer has thought long and hard about the answer to the question, "Why Small-Sided Games?"
What does "Small-Sided Games" mean? These are soccer games with fewer players competing on a smaller sized field. These are fun games that involve the players more because fewer players are sharing one ball.
All ages can play "Small Sided Games", but it has a definite developmental impact on our younger soccer players..
Here are some of the reasons why we believe, as soccer coaches, administrators and parents must guarantee that our young soccer players play small-sided games:
1. Because we want our young soccer players to touch the soccer ball more often and become more skillful with it! (Individual technical development)
2. Because we want our young soccer players to make more, less-complicated decisions during the game! (Tactical development)
3. Because we want our young soccer players to be more physically efficient in the field space they are playing in! (Reduced field size)
4. Because we want our young soccer players to have more individual teaching time with the coach! Less players on the field and less players on the team will guarantee this! (Need to feel worthy and need to feel important)
5. Because we want our young soccer players to have more, involved playing time in the game! (More opportunity to solve problems that only the game presents)
6. Because we want our young soccer players to have more opportunity to play on both sides of the ball! (More exposure to attacking and defending situations)
7. Because we want our young soccer players to have more opportunities to score goals! (Pure excitement)
These are the reasons why we adults must foster "Small-Sided Games" in our youth soccer programs. The "Small-Sided" environment is a developmentally appropriate environment for our young soccer players. It’s a FUN environment that focuses on the young soccer player.
It just makes sense doesn’t it?
We would like to thank Paul van Veen at Soccer Coaching Net for allowing the use of the following article. It was written by Dave Schumacher, WSYSA Coaching Director and US Soccer National Staff coach. The original article, along with reactions to it, can be found in The Soccer Coaching Nets Articles Archives.
The Evolution of Small Sided Play
Over the past two years I have had the opportunity to experience first hand the benefits of small-sided play for players under the age of nine. During this time, I have coached my son, Sean and his team as U-8's and this year as a U-9 team. I am doing double duty this year, coaching my six-year-old son Christopher and his U-7 team. Both teams are part of the Micro-Mod program in the Lake Washington Youth Soccer Association.
As some of you may remember, from 1989 to 1995 I served as the Coaching Director for Lake Washington Youth Soccer Association. One major change that we made during that time, with the help of many volunteers (Dr. Dan Broughton, John Graham), was to redesign the soccer program for the players under the age of 12. The LWYSA Micro-Mod program was created: U-7's would play 3v3 (without goalkeepers), U-8's would play 4v4 (first year with goalkeepers), U-9's would play 4v4, u-10's would play 6v6 and U-11's would play 9v9. Players would experience 11-a-side when they reached the age of eleven. This system was implemented over a five year period. This way no existing team was impacted by the new system. Only new teams starting in 1990 would experience the new system. This program has remained intact for ten years; the only modification came just this season with U-9 teams playing 5v5.
The proposal to move to small-sided games did not come without it's critics and skeptics. At one meeting one gentleman was most irate; he claimed that by using small-sided games we weren't allowing the kids to play the "real game." This change was a threat to most adults' comfort zones because it violated their concepts of how soccer should be played. Despite their concerns, small-sided play has endured and proven to be a tremendous program for young children.
Even after ten years of success, some Clubs and Associations in Washington State have not adopted small-sided play for U-7 to U-11 soccer players. These groups hold onto excuses, such as there is not enough field space or coaches to make the change. Unfortunately, these are only excuses. Every Club and Association that I have met with indicate that neither field nor coach availability have been issues during implementation. Believe me, making the change is well worth the small risk.
After a decade of small-sided play for children, we need to look at its next evolution of growth. I believe we need to look at how we schedule practices and games for these same ages. Anyone that has coached players six, seven and eight years of age knows that the most challenging days of the week are the practice days. I found that by the beginning of the season, my U-7 team was working best with one practice before their weekly game. For my U-9 team, we practiced twice a week for our weekly game through October, then we cut back to one practice a week.
There is no doubt in my mind that as our season progressed, the players benefited as much from the games as they did from the practice. Other coaches I have spoken with concur with this assessment. If this is the case, why not allow the players at this age to play more games? This can be done several ways. First, just schedule two games a week, one midweek the other on Saturday. The second way would be to schedule a day, at a central location, that would bring together all teams of the same age. During this time, teams could combine to play 2v2, 3v3,4v4 or 5v5, whatever is age appropriate. (See tournament formats). For example , there are six players on my U-7 team. I would join with another team or two and we could play several 2v2 or 3v3 games at one time. That way no player is sitting out. All players will have a chance to benefit from playing other players and learn from the game. It would also provide coaches with an opportunity to network and learn from each other's experiences. The real benefit is for the player getting a chance to play. I had an opportunity to do this once during the season with my U-9 team (when I set it up with another team) and it was great. The players enjoyed playing with and against new players and I didn't have to plan out another practice session. Everyone benefited.
Once players reach the age of nine, they are able to (and should) practice twice a week. They are just beginning the "Golden Age of Learning" and will develop and improve from increased training. However, below this age we need to expand the benefits of our small-sided format and provide our youngest players with the opportunity to play more. The kids will love it and I know most coaches would be much more comfortable organizing and managing another game during the week rather than a practice.
Ten years ago when I helped design and create the Micro-Mod Program in LWYSA it never occurred to me that I would be getting married and having two little boys that now benefit from playing in that program. I can only imagine what the next decade of change might bring.