Sport is fun, at least it should be. Think about your own personal journey through sport. I’m going to take a guess that you started playing “sports” or “games” at a young age? From here you may have excelled and moved up the levels as you got older, hopefully still having fun?! If not, you may well still play as a weekend warrior, hopefully for fun! When coaching kids, it is essential to breed enjoying for sport, movement and activity. FIFA suggests the use of small sided games for youth football as do most other governing bodies, but why are small sided games so important for youth team sport?

The Benefits of Small Sided Games For Youth Team Sport

Sticking with FIFA, these are the reasons they put forward:

  • Increased contact with the ball
  • Experience a wider range of football situations
  • You can play in the attacking and defensive positions
  • Increased need for strategic decisions
  • More opportunities to score
  • It can improve your football techniques

Outside of FIFA, many studies on both youth and adult populations have shown that small sided games can often match or better the physical effort of repeated sprint training. So can they be used for both skill work and fitness?

Specific SSG

Football is football, so specific small sided games are exactly that. Football but in a smaller area with less players. This is pretty much as specific as you can get. Essentially the more a game mimics the skills used in the sport, the more specific they are.

Non specific SSG

Now that you now what a specific SSG is you can probably guess non specific. Simply put, these games move away from exact game skill. Generally speaking they will actually contain lower level skills (especially useful for less developed athletes).

The Differences

The issue with sport specific games is that they rely on a high level of skill. If performers cannot successfully complete the required tasks, the game will break down quickly. Sticking with football, if passes keep leaving the area or a lack of control leads to multiple changes in possession, there will be a lack of “flow”. So the more specific you get the more you are relying on skill.

Lower skill non specific games, such as team keep ball or catch will generally be played at a higher pace as there is less risk of mistake. One study found that in 3 v 3 games of team keep ball vs team football, team keep ball players travelled almost twice the distance and had far more contact with the ball. The study also suggested the fast pace of the game meant players had to make quicker strategic decisions, which would positively transfer to football.

How to Use SSG For Youth Team Sport

The main goal is to keep things fun! Next think about what it is that you want to develop. If you are looking to develop specific skills, then yes go for sport specific games. If you are looking to develop general game understanding whilst improving fitness, then non specific may be the way forward.

As a final note it is important to emphasise the “small element. increasing the numbers will ultimately give more opportunity to rest and less contact time with the ball. 3v3 seems to be very effective!