January 7, 2008
The Logistics of Small-Sided Games - Tom Turner
Koach Karl - Here's Part I of Tom Turner's article on small Sided Games…
The Logistics of Small-Sided Games
The small-sided games movement has evolved worldwide in response to the steady demise of street soccer. As a phenomenon, street soccer remains strong in only Latin America, Africa, and in some parts of the Middle and Far East. In street soccer cultures, children as young as five can be found playing with their peers and older “friends” in ever-varying configurations of games. Two or three players are enough to start the days’ play and, on occasion, the numbers may swell to resemble small mob scenes. Goals are made from whatever is available and play is always between two goals, the ball may be nothing more than a bundle of rags, there are no scrimmage vests, no referees, and no coaches. Rule disputes are settled by the players, and the outcome of games is often decided by family meal times, evening curfews, the availability of light, or some agreed upon number, such as “ten halftime-twenty winner.” The severity of the bug bites in the summer was, as I remember, reason to keep moving, not reason to quit! During school days, arriving early meant more opportunities to play in smaller-sided games before the sleepyheads arrived, and the lunch hour game was interrupted only long enough to gobble down food before resuming play.
In the 1980’s, with their street soccer cultures disappearing or already extinct, progressive Western soccer federations turned to small-sided games in an attempt to compensate for the loss of skillful, imaginative players. Given the sheer volume of touches experienced over time in street soccer play, the number of players on the field was never an issue. But when “soccer time” became organized and reduced to only two or three hours each week, it became necessary to maximize ball contacts by reducing the number of players competing for possession. In soccer, dribbling skills are essential, and the creative dribbler was, and remains, the most prized talent.
Young children come into organized soccer at the suggestion or urging of their parents, and “play” to a five or six year-old is not complicated by the adult concept of “competition.” Sadly, while all parents want their child to have a positive experience in sport, for many, the specter of “win now” has become more important that the process of learning and having fun. For many very good reasons beyond the scope of this piece, children below the age of eight should not be placed in competitive situations in which the outcome influences their enjoyment and participation, and their right to learn and dream. For these reasons, this article suggests ways to restructure community youth soccer programs.
At the U-6 and U-8 levels, “Play Days” are recommended as the alternative to forming stable, season-long teams. Young children start to identify with the concept of “team” around the age of eight or nine, so forming stable teams and having coaches and referees and rules for these players is an adult-imposed condition that eliminates most connections to the ideals of street soccer and free play.
To organize Play Days, start by identifying the number of players in each age band. The five and six year-olds should play together, as should the seven and eight year-olds. Any “obviously” dominant sixes should be moved up. Boys and girls should play together, but accommodations should also be made for girls who want to play with other girls. For the purposes of this article, we will assume there are 60 players in the 5-6 group and 100 players in the 7-8 group.
The recommendations for playing numbers are 3v3 for U-6’s and 4v4 for U-8’s. The possibilities for the use of goalkeepers at the U-8 level are discussed below.
Field dimensions, goals, and markings
In reality for five and six year-olds, there is no real practical advantage to marking out “fields” as the small numbers will always bring the game back towards the goal as soon as their skills allow them to turn the ball round. Cones or corner flags can be used for goals, and the goals should be eight yards wide to encourage vision and scoring. Placing the goals 25 yards apart from each other will form the field; however, if sidelines must be used, the rectangle should be 25 yards by 20 yards to reduce the number of sideline restarts.
For the seven and eight year-olds, the recommended field size is 40 yards by 25 yards, with goals six yards in width. While cones can again be used to form the goals, flags are better. Currently, four and six yard wide goals are the most common sizes used for youth play. It should not be thought of as unusual to have a mixture of regular and “corner flag” goals.
At both the U-6 and U-8 level, small cones should be used to mark out the perimeters of the playing areas. While large cones are easier to identify, they are more dangerous and obtrusive when used as part of field lines that are “in-play.”
Part 2 will follow….