Horst Wein, who has mentored more than 11,000 soccer coaches in 55 different countries around the world, believes that small sided games are the most essential element in developing youth soccer players. This comes from a man who knows a thing or two about this vital topic – his book “Developing Youth Football Players” is the official textbook of the Spanish Football Federation, and has also been adopted by the Football Federation of Australia, having sold more than 100,000 copies worldwide.
Small-sided games in Training
Coaches should focus more on games rather than drills in training. Isolating particular techniques and concentrating on them using repetitive drills and exercises is known as the “analytical method” and often poses difficulties when the players come to apply what they have been working on in the real game scenario. The “global method” of training involves creating more game-like scenarios in training that can be more seamlessly integrated into the actual game itself. This is done through creating simplified games, which are scaled-down versions of the real game, but that can focus on particular themes necessary in the real game.
The concept of using games rather than drills and exercises has been studied for many years all around the world. Teaching Games for Understanding (TGfU) has been applied to many different sports and been found to be very effective. In Australia, it is also known as “Game Sense” and “Play practice.”
There are many benefits to this games-oriented method in soccer:
- Most importantly, players prefer to play games than to do drills (especially the younger ones).
- The games can be modified through different variables to concentrate more on specific elements that need to be addressed; The size of the playing area, the number of players, duration of the game, technical rules etc, means that in the hands of a skilful coach, games may be used to achieve all the requirements of playing the real game.
- Small-sided games require smaller pitches and can be suited to any number of players.
- Small sided games provide a much more intense physical workout than larger games.
- Small-sided games allow the coach to develop the players Game Intelligence, as they may focus on the true dynamics of the game of soccer e.g. the 2v1 situation.
Small sided games in competition
This means that the competitions that young people play should be tailored to the specific requirements of their age group.
“The competition you play should be like your shoes, it should fit you perfectly! “
Benefits of small sided games in competition (and training)
- More touches of the ball
- Simpler decisions to make
- Better game-related fitness, short duration of high-intensity vs laps
- More time with coach per player
- Easier to coach especially for parent coaches
- More opportunities to solve game problems
- More attacking opportunities (dribbling, shooting, passing )
- More defending opportunities
- More shooting and more goals = more fun!
- No hiding place, players don’t get lost in these games
- More opportunities for the full range of skills
- Encourages better shape and awareness of team-mates
- Encourages faster play, fast transition from defence to attack
- Easier for young players to have success – which means enjoyment and retention for these players.
Manchester United conducted a pilot scheme in 2005 which compared 4-a-side soccer to 8-a-side soccer, the results were very telling:
Small-sided Games Around the World
All around the world today the value of small-sided games has begun to be recognized and many federations have introduced them successfully into youth development programmes. The Dutch system focuses mainly on 4v4 and later 7v7 games before players are introduced to the 11-a-side game.
All across continental Europe there are variations of either 4v4 or 5v5 for the first game that young kids play. In the British Isles, Wales has been leading the way with small sided games being introduced there in 1996. The FA in England are determined to introduce the following structures by 2013: 5v5 (7-8 years), 7v7 (9-10 years), 9v9 (11-12 years), 11v11 (13+ years)
This map shows the penetration of small-sided games across the USA in 2009. Red areas have implemented small sided games, and blue areas have partially implemented them. In general USYS (United States Youth Soccer) recommends 3v3 for under 6 years and a progression to 4v4 or 5v5, 6v6 or 7v7, 8v8 etc.
Small-sided Games in the Horst Wein Model
In the Horst Wein Youth Football Development Model, the recommended progressive small-sided game structure is:
3v3 for 7-9 years 5v5 for 10 years 7v7 for 11-12 years 8v8 for 13 years 11-a-side for 14+ years
Along with these competition games, each age group has its own complete programme of small-sided, simplified games for training, which emphasize game intelligence and a deeper understanding of the tactical situations of the game of football. The training games can be used for preparing the players for their appropriate competition or as corrective measures for issues identified during play.
The emphasis is always on games for learning rather than drills and running.
The Game is the teacher
Many claim that the revolutionary game of Mini-Football (3v3 on four wide goals) is a revival of street football.
MINI-FOOTBALL VS 4V4
While many advocate the benefits of 4v4, which is undoubtedly far more beneficial than 8v8 (or 7v7), Horst’s own Mini-Football game which is 3v3 on 4 wide goals has the following advantages over 4v4: