“In the early years, after training
with the team, I’d go and play on the streets with my mates, using
rubbish sacks as goal posts; I didn’t want to miss that. It’s a way
of playing without rules – much more fun………On the street, you play
in a small space with few players and that changes your approach,
with no rules and little space, you become cleverer, more flexible.
We risk losing that”.
Let Them Play
I have been lucky that I have been able to
observe many fun days over the last six months with children playing 4v4
and other SSGs. Ten minute games with the kids refereeing themselves and
no coaching from the side.
I learn something new about how children play
this wonderful game every time I watch.
At a recent event with kids from 10-13 years
old, I watched a lad who was doing the same two or three moves all the
time. It looked as if these moves were coached, and in several cases did
not work as they were the wrong solution for the problem he had to solve.
By the second game he was only using them a
couple of times and by the third game and beyond, not at all.
He then began to make it up as he went along
and found many better solutions when trying a move or trick. This was not
coached and he was certainly not conscious of the change, he just did it.
I watched another of the teams who for the
first couple of games (10 minutes each) were very vocal, calling for the
ball, before playing in almost total silence. They all seemed to be
playing in the zone and any calling would have broken their deep
concentration. They knew what the other was thinking and what they were
going to do and they played the best football of the morning during that
These are not elite players but kids in grass
roots football being allowed to use their imagination and be creative.
The Arsenal manager talks about this when
describing how elite players learn, but in my experience, this works at
grass roots level as well.
After two decades as
a professional coach, Wenger has come to the conclusion that the greatest
coach in the world is the game itself. His reasons are mind-bogglingly
“Football has many
billion different situations but there are some analogical ones. When a
player makes a mistake he tells his brain: “I have made a mistake – why?”
He works out what he
should have done instead and stores it in his memory. So if he meets an
almost identical situation his memory opens the door and tells him: “You
have met this situation before and you lost the ball, so this time you
have to change it.” It’s basically called experience, and using it is the
sign of a big player.” As he spells it out, the intellectual thrill of the
theory animates him so much he is almost up and out of his cosy chair.
Amy Lawrence (The
French Evolutionary – Le Foot)
In the fun day sessions we play predominantly
4v4 but also sometimes 3v3 and 5v5 for variety as it poses different
problem solving skills.
The Dutch introduced 4v4 as a training tool in
the mid 1980s. It is the simplest version of the game where you have
options forward, backwards, to the left and to the right.
‘4 v 4 generates many match situations,
involves all the players, with small numbers guaranteeing repetition of
opportunity to problem-solve and learn (i.e. see it, make a decision,
execute a skill).’
John Allpress – National Player Development
Coach The FA
The co-founder of GUBOG, Rick Fenoglio from
Manchester Metropolitan University compiled a year long study of
Manchester United’s 4v4 pilot programme (U9s). When comparing it to the
8v8 game he came up with the following findings.
135% - more passes
260% - more attempts on goal
225% - more 1 on 1 encounters
280% - more ‘tricks’
Martin Diggle, a development coach at Bolton
Wanderers has talked to many coaches and academics around the world and
did his own study on decision making in small sided games.
These figures were based on 10 minute line
soccer games with the player in possession.
Kids at all levels of the game need this game
therapy for their enjoyment, their football development and for the sheer
celebration of being a child.
From my own personal observations, from the
research above (and this is just a small section) and from the hundreds of
email I have received from coaches now using these games, the
transformation and enjoyment of players has been nothing short of
Keep them ‘playing’!
“We have to be faithful to the way
we want to play the game”
Thanks to Ryan O’Malley for his help on this