A Perspective on Youth Soccer Coaching: Are Small-Sided Games Better?

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Note: This is a guest writer article, written by Antonio Saviano. It was originally published on the Soccerkix blog.

The activities in the youth sector, 10-12 years of age, have as the main objectives the teaching of all individual abilities that represent the fundamental base of the game of soccer. The individual abilities are what we call, the technical fundamentals, the individual tactical fundamentals and the techniques of the players.

Unfortunately the instructors that work with these delicate age groups do not always incorporate the objectives mentioned above, but instead they turn their attention towards activities related to the adult soccer players. The reasons for these “deviations” may be are because of the desire to reach the “winning” results, which, in many cases can be an easy objective to reach with the young age groups.

They insist by working on the collective tactics instead of the individual tactics, and ignore the development of the individual techniques, as it is an important aspect of the player development growth and require much patience from the instructors as it does not show or bring fast results. It is in fact important that the young players will use their own individual abilities during the game.

The game in fact represents the moment more important for a self-evaluation of the players and an individual player evaluation for the instructors. It does not make sense for example that a player will work and learn all week to dribble but in the game they will not have the chance to dribble and take the opponent’s player on. Therefore playing 11 vs. 11 on a regular-size field will not satisfy the technical needs of these age groups.

Moreover, the regular size field would not guarantee the involvement of all players, especially the ones with less skills, and since the possibility to keep possession of the ball is very slim, it would not allow the constant application of the individual technical and tactical fundamentals.

Is it Just a Game?

In general small sided games help players improve their abilities. Modifying the small sided game format can also help coaches reach precise objectives. I would like to propose some simple exercises of which the space parameters will vary based on different situations of play to coach.

A simple 4 vs. 4 possession game can have different variations, different results based on the dimensions:

  • Larger area will favor the attacking team.
  • Smaller area will favor the defending team. It increases the concentration of the players and team around the ball.

By modifying the field dimension the players learn to evaluate different distances such as, distance between teammates, opponents, ball and the inside perimeters of the field. This can also help develop the ability to occupy or free certain areas of the field to allow situations of play, such as tight area for the defensive phase or open the area for the offensive phase.

By also creating different shapes of field, square, rectangular, circular and triangular we can also encourage the players to improve and understand there major things: spaceshapeorientation.

A more complex 4 vs. 4 possession game can be played for example in a more vertical field. Some of the requirements can be, possession of the ball switching with a long pass. One short pass and the go long. One pass out wide and then look for a pass to the center of the field.

These games favor ball movement, alternating between short passes for ball possession to long pass for switching play. The field can be dived in horizontal sections. Some of the requirements can be:

Possession of the ball with the objective to accomplish:

  • Long pass directly from the defensive phase to the offensive phase;
  • Long pass followed by a short pass switching with a midfielder combination;
  • Progression from the defensive phase to the offensive phase using the center (midfielder) zone;

These games favor ball depth movement, alternating short passes for ball possession to long passes to find depth.

To read more about Youth Coaching in soccer, you can visit the Soccerkix blog.

About The Author

Antonio Saviano is the founder of Soccerkix, Scuola Calcio, Italian Premier Soccer School and Soccerkix Academy, a clearing house for the Italian Soccer experience. He has been the North America Director for many Italian professional soccer clubs, including Ascoli Soccer Academy, AC Parma Scuola Calcio and AC Perugia Scuola Calcio. In that capacity he has been helping, leading and developing coaching and player development programs for over 100 affiliated soccer schools across North America and Europe. He is also a freelance writer for Soccer Coaching Magazine.

Antonio has written several books on youth development, among them, “U-6 – U-12 Development Theory”, “U-8 – U-10 Soccer School Development Manual”. He co-authored “Playing to Learn to Play, Didactic Progression for the Development of the Technical-Tactical Fundamentals in the Soccer Schools” and has produced a training video.

For more information you can visit: soccerkix.com and soccerkix.blogspot.com.


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