Small-Sided Games (SSGs) is one of the most common training methods in soccer at all level or ages; from elite teams to children, as it allows to develop the technic and tactics (TT) such as situations of numerical superiority, defensive retreat or third man play, among others, keeping the physical objectives programmed in that training session (1). However, it should be noted that practitioners need a good knowledge of SSGs in order to properly carry out these tasks adapted to coach’s objectives (2). A good teamwork and communication between the technical staff are essential. In addition, the S&C Coach must hold good knowledge of TT elements.
Benefits of SSGs
SSGs allow to train with the ball and achieve an exercise intensity of 95% of maximum heart rate (HRmax), which has been shown to improve the soccer-specific endurance, develop the specific muscle-groups involved in game, improve the TT elements in the specific conditions of game, and keep an effective transfer to the game (1–6). Therefore, SSG seem an effective task to combine the behaviors and motor patterns, the cohesion of the team in addition to aerobic training (1).
Design of SSGs
Increasing the playing area dimensions means an increase of HR, lactate concentration (La-) and RPE. This is caused to the greater area per player, with player having more space to move. Thus, larger SSGs is used in training to maintain high-intensity (HI) throughout exercise.
On the other hand, there are also differences in number of shots to goal, rebounds and passes between smaller and bigger game-area. In addition, lower number of assists, steals and turnover are found in big game pitches.
Big game area vs smaller game area
The greater the space, the greater intensity. Larger pitches involve covering a greater HI distance, speed-running and sprint frequency; whereas smaller pitches involve a greater number of accelerations, decelerations or changes of direction (4), in addition to a greater number of TT actions.
On the other hand, work-to-rest ratios are lower in the smallest areas. The work-to-rest ratio was only >1 on medium and large pitches, which indicates that activity prioritizes over recovery (4).
Number of players
The fewer number of players, higher HR, La- and RPE.
No intensity changes have been found when teams play with unequal number of players, excepting with the inclusion of floaters players, who attain much higher intensity than other players.
Choosing the appropriate number of players, several authors recommend using a reduced number of players and alternating equal and unequal number of players.
Relationship between the pitch area and number of players
The intensity of game is highly affected by the interaction between the pitch area and the number of players and it is considered a critical factor for an appropriate SSG design. The interpersonal playing area (IPA) arise from this relationship. IPA is defined as the available game area for each player into the total game area. Increasing the IPA might be useful to increase the intensity of SSG (3). Contrary, reducing the IPA results in a reduction of playing area and the time available for the task, so the decision-making process and technical execution should be faster.
4v4 SSGs are considered the most appropriate game format (1,3). Caro et al. (3) concluded in its study with elite soccer players belonging to the Spanish First Division that 4v4 SSGs should be played in smaller spaces for a better recreation of match situations, and in addition these should be wider than longer. Also, the author found differences in the playing space depending to the area of the field where these actions take place. 4v4 game situations are played on reduced spaces for areas close to the goals while they are played in open spaces in the central areas. Caro et al. (3) proposed areas of 15x17m or 17x20m. However, the areas should be adapted to the level and age of players.
It should be noted that only 10v10 SSGs allow players to obtain similar running distances covered in match (2). The higher number of players, the higher distance per minute. Therefore, Lacome et al. (2) recommend 4v4 SSGs for strength-oriented training sessions and 10v10 SSGs for endurance-oriented training sessions.
Number of touches, man marking and presence of goalkeepers affect the physiological, technical and tactical responses of players, so they should be considered to modify the intensity. The free play rule produced greater number of duels, lower number of sprints and high-intensity running, and preserved the effectiveness of TT actions compared to 1-2 touches SSG. On the other hand, there are more intense actions when combining the offensive and defensive playing situations together than in isolation.
Presence of Goalkeepers (GK)
Including small goals in SSGs increase the motivation of players. The presence of GK in these tasks might modify the intensity of SSG. There are opposite results in the literature at present; several authors showed an increase in the %HRmax and others found a reduction. Therefore, coaches should avoid to include GK in SSGs and only use small goals to keep a high motivation of players and consequently higher intensity of training.
The direct involvement and supervision of coach leads to an improvement of task intensity in addition to a higher adherence of players to the training.
Duration of SSGs
There are not clear conclusions about the appropriate time of SSGs due to the scarce literature analysing the effect of time duration on the physiological responses of soccer players. However, a systematic review did not show different physiological responses between continuous and intermittent training methods (1). Both methods can be used effectively to produce adaptations for soccer-specific endurance and coaches may alternate between the two in SSGs. However, it should be noted that other factors can affect the exercise intensity. Nonetheless, Fanchini et al. (7) concluded that 4-minute series may be a positive stimulus for SSGs.
Casamichana & Castellano (4) consider the variable ‘distance per minute’ the most representative intensity marker for this kind of HI tasks.
Differences with Competition
SSGs show greater distance per minute and high-intensity activity in all positions compared to competition, showing higher HRmax, La- and RPE. Also, SSGs show a greater number of duels and ball losses, in addition to a lower percentage of successful passes and total possessions (1).
Differences between positions
The SSGs show different physical demands relative to the playing position. Therefore, the intensity of the task should be programmed according to the specific demands of each role throughout modifying the rules, including floaters players, etc.
SSGs vs traditional intervallic-training methods
No differences on physiological responses have been found between SSGs and traditional intervallic-training methods. It is logically understood that the magnitude of response normally depends of the intensity, frequency and duration of training, as well as the total duration of training program and conditioning of players.
SSGs seem lightly more demanding than traditional approaches, which may lead to an improvement of the cardiorespiratory capacity of players. The increased responses can be caused by the higher motivation and enthusiasm of player for SSGs.
- SSGs are an effective training method to develop the aerobic capacity of players and obtaining an appropriate readiness to real situations occurring in match.
- The conditioning training should not be exclusively based on SSGs.
- It is of paramount importance to keep an elevated motivation of players in training sessions.
- A reduced IPA results in faster decision-making process and technical executions.
- 4v4 SSGs is the most effective training format. However, 10v10 SSGs allow better simulation of match physical demands.
- Contact injuries seem to most prevalent injuries of this kind of tasks.
- It is recommended to vary the SSGs training formats (number of players, pitch size, etc) over the season phases to obtaining the adequate training stimuli (intensity).
- The higher intensity is obtained reducing the number of players and increasing the pitch size.
- The coach encouragement and feedback during SSGs are effective to increase the intensity of game.
- The suitability of using GK on SSGs is unclear. However, the presence of GK in bigger playing areas could motivate players and therefore increase the intensity of task.
- 4vs4 SSGs seem the most effective game format.
- Manipulating some rules such increasing the number of players, number of touches or the type of marking can increase the intensity of SSGs and adapt it to the specific demands of each playing position.
- Halouani J, Chtourou H, Gabbett TJ, Chaouachi A, Chamari K. Small-sided games in team sports training: a brief review. J Strength Cond Res. 2014; 28(12): 3594–618.
- Lacome M, Simpson BM, Cholley Y, Lambert P, Buchheit M. Small-Sided Games in Elite Soccer: Does One Size Fit All? Int J Sports Physiol Perform. 2018; 13(5): 568–76.
- Caro O, Zubillaga A, Fradua L, Fernandez-Navarro J. Analysis of Playing Area Dimensions in Spanish Professional Soccer: Extrapolation to the Design of Small-Sided Games With Tactical Applications. J strength Cond Res. 2019; 1–7.
- Casamichana D, Castellano J. Time–motion, heart rate, perceptual and motor behaviour demands in small-sides soccer games: Effects of pitch size. J Sports Sci. 2010; 28(14): 1615–23.
- Silva B, Garganta J, Santos R, Teoldo I. Comparing tactical behaviour of soccer players in 3 vs. 3 and 6 vs. 6 small-sided games. J Hum Kinet. 2014; 41(1): 191–202.
- Beenham M, Barron DJ, Fry J, Hurst HH, Figueirdo A, Atkins S. A Comparison of GPS Workload Demands in Match Play and Small-Sided Games by the Positional Role in Youth Soccer. J Hum Kinet. 2017; 57: 129–37.
- Fanchini M, Azzalin A, Castagna C, Schena F, Mccall A, Impellizzeri FM. Effect of Bout Duration on Exercise Intensity and Technical Performance of Small-Sided Games in Soccer. J Strength Cond Res. 2011; 25(2): 453–8.
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This article has been made based on the references showed, other studies reviewed but not showed and according to the experience and knowledge of the author. In this way, it may include subjective ideas and opinions not contrasted in the research.