Small Sided Games

Question to coaches: When organising small sided games are you randomly splitting your players in to teams / games or are you setting up one game amongst one group of equal ability and one game amongst players of a different ability?

Pros & Cons to each; does playing against a better play enhance learning or does it restrict?


Coaching Day 15: Whiteboard unleashed

Tonight’s session went pretty well and I’m pleased with that because it was the first session I’ve been at since completing Youth Award Module 1 and it also saw me using a whiteboard at training for the first time!

Due to being away I hadn’t had a chance to implement some of the things I’d learnt from the Youth Award and I was keen to trial a couple of the games which the course introduces.

Session Plan

I’d planned my session out in advance and had it printed and folded inside my sock for reference. After watching the tournament on Saturday I’d decided I wanted to work on the players technique and ultimately, allow them to become comfortable with the ball at their feet which is what tonight’s session focussed on.

The plan:

  • Warm up (Phil our manager took this whilst I set up the parts I wanted to run)
  • The Great Escape (Youth Award Module 1)
  • The Skills Corridor (Youth Award Module 1)
  • Work on turning with instep, outside of foot etc
  • SSG – 4 v4

How it went?

The Great Escape

I used the board to demonstrate the game and started with the players simply trying to run past the guards. I then progressed this by asking them to run backwards through the gates before introducing a ball. Once the ball was introduced we allowed them to focus on getting through the gate normally before progressing it to award “2 point” for going through with a skill or trick. This game went pretty well, although it wasn’t as clean as the demo in the YAM DVD by any stretch of the imagination – I was worried at one point that it looked like organised chaos but I remembered what Tom Bates said at the Grassroots Demo so I allowed it to continue rather than stop it). I think most of the players enjoyed the game and we had fun hearing how many points the players had scored  – one boy doing particularly well by scoring a thousand million points (credit where it’s due!).

Skills Corridor

I really saw the value in the whiteboard when I drew what we’d be doing for the skills corridor game because the players all sat around me as I drew it out with the whiteboard on the floor. They started to ask questions and probe about what they could do with the football which was fantastic. I started by simply asking them to take as many touches as possible before progressing the game to them needing to visit the sides three times (and trying different turns) before finally doing start-stop-start-stop with a change of direction.

As with ‘The Great Escape’ it wasn’t always neat & tidy but the players were trying step-overs and a variety of turns which Phil & I were quick to encourage & praise. As with the previous game it was also important that it provided more time where they’re dribbling with the ball, keeping it away from other players and trying new skills. At one point I had 3 players asking me to demonstrate a step-over which was great fun.


I didn’t do this as I felt the above two had provided more than enough time on their technique, we were running out of time and they were itching for a game.


Rather than finishing with one big game I setup two pitches and we played 2 x 4 v 4 SSGs with the teams swapping over at 5-7 minute intervals. I wanted to do this so that each player had more time on the ball and encouraged them to try the skills they’d practised earlier in the session. It was great that one parent who helped us said he really preferred 4v4 as it allowed “them all to be someone”, I think that’s a great statement.

What will I change next time?

  • The whiteboard was really powerful and it was most effective when the players were all sat down. When I progressed a couple of the games they were standing up which meant some of them weren’t paying attention. I think in future (during the summer at least) I’ll ask them to sit down whilst I explain any progression so I can ensure they all understand what we’re doing.
  • Make the skills corridor a bit bigger – slight adjustment but it was probably a bit too short tonight which meant it got a bit crowded as they all piled in at one point. Not a big problem but a larger area will increase their space and allow them more opportunity to try new skills.

So, overall I was pleased with the session and felt it had the right balance of ball-work and game-time. A couple of the players didn’t enjoy the Youth Award parts but I’m less inclined to worry about that (although it does play on you at the time) because the majority enjoyed them.

As we packed away at the end a passer-by commented that our session had looked quite professional and that her son would like to join in next time, it’s amazing what a few cones do!

Coaching Day 9: No Shooting, No Fun.

I’ve got mixed emotions about tonight’s session. On the one hand I tried a couple of new games and experimented further with what sort of stuff the kids do and don’t enjoy, but on the other hand I don’t feel the kids got as much out of the session as they have done in previous weeks.

I’ll explain.

In recent weeks I’ve concentrated quite a bit on dribbling, control & shooting and this has ultimately led to games focussing on shooting but with the other attributes built in around them. However, tonight I wanted to work on the kid’s passing because it’s something we’ve not worked on much in recent weeks and hence I felt it’s something which it’d be good to focus on – this meant the games didn’t evolve around shooting at one goal.

I’d canvassed both Twitter and the World Wide Web for ideas and selected a couple of games which I felt would work well – that is, they incorporated passing & shooting.

Game 1 – having completed a quick session on heading the ball, I split the boys up in to two teams and had them playing a SSG which had only one rule, “All players had to touch the ball before a goal could be scored”. I’d hoped that this would require the boys to pass it more but the game went a long time without a goal being scored, the kids were finding it difficult and therefore I decided to change the game.

Game 2 – no goalkeepers and goals could be scored in one of two ways. Number 1, “Stop the ball on the line” or number 2, “Pass the ball through the goal and to a player on the other side of the goal”. To be fair, I probably hindered the success of the game as I hadn’t provided a demonstration of the two types of goal but the idea of the game didn’t go down well with the boys and they started to lose concentration during the match (presumably because they found it too difficult and success was limited).

Game 3 – a simple SSG with no rules, but players encouraged to call for the ball and pass it where they could.

We ended with a match but unlike previous weeks I hadn’t had much of a chance to work with the players on parts of their game which they could apply to the match.

So, mixed success because I’ve learnt a bit more as part of improving as a coach and whilst the success wasn’t as tangible as recent weeks the kids were being challenged throughout and I learnt that they enjoyed working on headers 🙂

Complexity of games aside, we (the other coach & I) also felt that an increase in the number of kids at tonight’s session had reduced the quality of our coaching. Instead of the usual 6 or 7 kids in a group I had 10 tonight and two of them were fairly disruptive which in turn meant the other kids lost concentration. The milder weather will no doubt see an increase in numbers so I guess it’s up to us to learn quickly and adapt!

Roll on next week.

Coaching Day 6: SSG Success

One of the challenges I’m finding with coaching so far is the need to be able to think on your feet and adapt to the numbers of players who either turn up, or the number I’m going to directly work with. For a new coach it can certainly be difficult to come up with a game which is appropriate to the level of players at your disposal, the equipment, the number of players and the weather (e.g. you don’t want them standing still for any amount of time in the very cold weather). So it’s something which is proving one of the biggest challenges so far.

We had 11 boys at tonight’s session which started in the usual way with a game of sharks v minnows to warm them all up. At this point I must point out that I still find the challenge of running a game or session with 12+ kids a bit daunting, especially given the presence of onlooking parents and Phil, who I joined to help coach these U7s. I find I’m far more comfortable with a group of 5 or 6 and although these smaller numbers make the games easier to manage it does mean there are certain games I can’t use. Undoubtedly, this is down to experience and I think with more experience and understanding kids will come the confidence to deliver larger sessions.

I only ran a couple of games with the 6 kids I took (Phil & I took half each), one being a small shooting game and the other being a 3v3 SSG. I’m seeing real value in SSGs and I continue to understand why so many people advocate their use. With a SSG, such as 3v3 tonight, I found the benefits tonight were as follows:

  • It was quick to set-up and with just 6 players I found it very easy to set my expectations for the game (rules etc)
  • All of the players got plenty of touches and lots of opportunities to dribble, pass, shoot, take throw-ins, corners and so on
  • As we played on a relatively small pitch I, as coach, had ample opportunity to keep talking to them and either offer them help or challenge the better players
  • Because it’s continuous action it gave me lots of opportunities to catch them in and offer praise
  • They enjoyed it

The rewarding part, as ever, comes with helping them improve in small ways. For example, I had one boy who’s excellent at talking (asking for the ball) but is a bit greedy and so I work with him to get him thinking about passing it when faced by a couple of players infront of him, and then I have another boy who won’t talk so I work with him and encourage him to ask for the ball when he hasn’t got it. In amongst that is more generic advice, such as helping them to be more aware of who they could pass to, when to pass and also how to take a throw in etc.

If we split the group up we also keep the same sides for a small match at the end and I’ve realised this gives me a great opportunity to take the things we’ve worked on during the session in to the game. Tonight I pulled together a quick huddle with the boys and we talked about what we’d worked on and what we were going to do in the match (focus on passing & calling for the ball were the main two). I’m going to use these pre-match huddles to build more dialogue in to the sessions (as I’d mentioned in a previous blog).

So another enjoyable hour with the U7s tonight, more experience gained as a young coach and more opportunities to help develop young players with some small tangible success stories in there! Roll on next week!