Small Sided Soccer Games: Their Effect on Training

Nowadays, using small sided games as a training tool is very common among team sports, also known as situational sports.
Small Sided Soccer Games: Their Effect on Training

Last update: 27 March, 2020

In today’s age, using small-sided games as a training tool is very common for team sports, especially in soccer. Let’s learn about the advantages of this training modality within the discipline.

Soccer as a situational sport

It’s important to understand soccer as a sport as well as a game. Since soccer is a global game, the ability to solve cooperation scenarios with our teammates and opposition scenarios with our rivals is the determining factor for higher or lower performance. These situations generate a game synergy that makes the ‘whole’ greater than the sum of its parts.

Obviously, if those are the parameters that make a difference in the competition performance, it makes a lot of sense that the training revolves around them. This is a reference back to the principle of specificity when training. Therefore, small-sided soccer games act as amazing training exercises.

What are small sided soccer games?

Different authors use the concept of small-sided games to explain and define a specific term within the soccer world. In their studies, they talk about situations that players commonly use during soccer training for different purposes. For instance, they can target physical, technical or tactical goals.

They consist of training exercises that take place in different dimensions of the game field. These exercises increase the participation of the players, as well as their decision-making. Another characteristic is that they help to maintain the variability properties of the game.

Advantages and disadvantages of small-sided soccer games

Before designing this type of training activity, it’s important to know the pros and cons of their application. Therefore, let’s take a look at some of the positive consequences that we could find:

  • Greater motivation and involvement of the players.
  • Training to improve efficient movements.
  • As well as decision-making training.
  • Possibility of training the team’s game model.
  • Improvement of the tactical component in the team.
  • And there’s also an improvement of technical abilities.
  • Optimization of training time and physical load.
  • Reproduction of real game situations.
  • As well as training activities that are totally integrated.

On the other hand, we must also list the possible disadvantages:

  • Need for technology to quantify the training load.
  • The intensity of the work is hard to control.
  • Difficulty to organize an optimal training structure.
  • Increases the risk of contact injuries.
  • There must also be a set number of players for each training session.
  • Difficulty to draw comparisons between players.
  • It also requires a certain level of technical ability.
Children playing small sided soccer games

How small sided soccer games affect performance

Using this kind of activity for work and training tools makes it necessary to quantify, evaluate and control in what ways and how much small-sided games can affect the performance of an individual soccer player as well as the whole team’s performance.

Therefore, through that analysis, we can design and use those activities that contribute to the necessary stimuli to attain the desired improvements and goals.

Using this training modality to make progress on the player’s physical condition is getting a lot more scientific back up lately. For this reason, a great number of authors explain that an important characteristic of this type of training is that it improves technical and tactical aspects at the same time. It also helps to optimize the training time.

Variables in the configuration of training activities

It’s important to know the effect that manipulating certain variables can have on the player. Hence, modifying the rules, the dimensions of the field, the number of players and the duration of the activity provoke different responses on a physiological, motor and technical-tactical level.

Because of this, experts have studied the effect of manipulating numerous dependent variables that compose these training activities. These are the ones that stand out:

On a physiological or internal level

  • Heart rate
  • Lactate levels
  • The athlete’s subjective perception of effort

On a motor or external level

  • Distance covered
  • Distance covered in a sprint
  • Frequency of accelerations and deceleration

The effect of small-sided soccer games on a physiological and motor level

Now that we’ve gone through the literature and observed the results of different studies (see bibliography), we can draw conclusions regarding the effect that small-sided games can have on the physiological and motor variables.

Below, we have a summary of the effect caused by this type of activity (reduced, moderate or high), as a result of manipulating the dependent variables that compose these training tasks.

Space orientation

Oriented

-On a motor level

  • Total covered distance: reduced effect.
  • Total covered distance in a sprint: moderate effect.
  • Frequency of accelerations and deceleration: high effect.

-On a physiological level

  • These activities cause low effects on the athlete for the dependent variables that we mentioned before.

Not oriented

-On a motor level

  • Total covered distance: high effect.
  • Total covered distance in a sprint: moderate effect.
  • Frequency of accelerations and deceleration: reduced effect.

-On a physiological level

  • Meanwhile, performing activities with not oriented spaces can cause high effects on the player for the three studied variables: heart rate, lactate levels, and subjective perception of effort.
A group of soccer player training with small sided games

Game space

More space

-On a motor level

  • We can see reduced effects on the total covered distance and the distance covered in a sprint.
  • Also, there’s a high effect on the frequency of accelerations and decelerations.

-On a physiological level

  • Playing small sided soccer games with a wider space has a moderate effect on the three dependent variables mentioned in the studies.

Less space

-On a motor level

  • Small-sided games have high effects on the total covered distance and the total covered distance in a sprint.
  • However, the effect is reduced for the frequency of accelerations and decelerations.

-On a physiological level

  • Designing activities with less space has a high effect on the player since it causes elevated heart rates, lactate levels and subjective perception of effort.

Number of players

Less than four

-On a motor level

  • These types of activities have a high effect on the total covered distance, and the same goes for the frequency of accelerations and decelerations.
  • Meanwhile, it has a reduced effect on the distance covered in the sprint.

-On a physiological level

  • These activities have high effects on the three variables that we mentioned.

Between four and seven players

-On a motor and physiological level

  • Activities carried out by this many players have moderate effects on the studied variables, both on a motor and a physiological level.

More than eight players

-On a motor level

  • It has reduced effects on the total covered distance and frequency of accelerations and decelerations.
  • On the contrary, the total covered distance in sprint suffers a high effect.

-On a physiological level.

  • Meanwhile, the variables of heart rate, lactate levels, and subjective perception suffer a reduced effect by activities carried out with this number of players.
A group of soccer players training

Use of dissymmetric

Inferior team

-On a motor level

  • Playing for an inferior team has high effects on these variables: total covered distance, total covered distance in sprint and frequency of accelerations and decelerations.

-On a physiological level

  • On this level and the aforementioned dependent variables, small-sided games also have a high effect.

Superior team

-On a motor and physiological level

  • Playing for a superior team has a reduced effect on these variables.

Established marking

-On a motor level

  • The effect is moderate on the total covered distance variable.
  • As for the variables of total covered distance in sprint and accelerations and decelerations, the effect is high.

-On a physiological level

  • Meanwhile, all the dependent variables studied suffer a high effect from using this type of training.

Time

  • A smaller training time, with recovery pauses, causes a greater number of short but high-intensity efforts.
  • As the training time increases without any recovery pauses, the subjective perception of effort and heart rate also increases.

Contact limit

One and two contacts

-On a motor level

  • There are moderate effects on the total covered distance and the distance covered in a sprint.
  • There’s a high effect on the frequency of accelerations and decelerations.

-On a physiological level

  • The effects are also high on the three dependent variables.

Free contact

-On a motor level

  • Total covered distance: reduced effect.
  • Distance covered in a sprint: moderate effect.
  • Frequency of accelerations and decelerations: high effect.

-On a physiological level

  • There’s also a reduced effect on the three studied variables.

In conclusion, it’s important to know how this type of training affects the different variables in order to create situations and training activities that align with our conditional proposal.

Likewise, these games are also a good way to improve the physical aspect and the physiological demands as a whole (like the technical-tactical aspect). Lastly, small sided soccer games can help optimize the training time.

It might interest you...
What are Aquatic Sports?
Fit PeopleRead it in Fit People
What are Aquatic Sports?

You probably know about some of the more popular aquatic sports such as swimming and diving. There are many others to explore too! Read about them here.



  • Hill-Haas, S. V., Coutts, A. J., Dawson, B. T., & Rowsell, G. J. (2010). Timemotion characteristics and physiological responses of small-sided games in elite youth players: the influence of player number and rule changes. The Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research, 24(8), 2149-2156.
  • Fanchini, M., Azzalin, A., Castagna, C., Schena, F., Mccall, A., & Impellizzeri, F. M. (2011). Effect of bout duration on exercise intensity and technical performance of small-sided games in soccer. The Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research, 25(2), 453-458.
  • Gómez, P. (2011). La Preparación física del fútbol contextualizada en el fútbol. MC sports.
  • Casamichana, D., Castellano, J., & Castagna, C. (2012). Comparing the physical demands of friendly matches and small-sided games in semiprofessional soccer players. The Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research, 26(3), 837-843.
  • Casamichana, D., Castellano, J., Blanco-Villaseñor, A., & Usabiaga, O. (2012). Estudio de la Percepción Subjetiva del Esfuerzo en Tareas de Entrenamiento en Fútbol a través de la Teoría de la Generalizabilidad. Revista de Psicología del Deporte, 21(1), 35-40.
  • Casamichana, D. & Castellano, J. (2009). Análisis de los diferentes espacios individuales de interacción y los efectos en las conductas motrices de los jugadores: aplicaciones al entrenamiento en fútbol. Motricidad: revista de ciencias de la actividad física y del deporte, (23), 143-167.
  • Aguiar, M., Botelho, G., Lago, C., Maças, V., & Sampaio, J. (2012). A review on the effects of soccer small-sided games. Journal of Human Kinetics, 33, 103–113
  • Dellal, A., Hill-Haas, S., Lago-Penas, C., & Chamari, K. (2011). Small-sided games in soccer: amateur vs. professional players’ physiological responses, physical, and technical activities. The Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research, 25(9), 2371-2381.