How to use small sided games (SSGs)

4v4 can be misused as a tool.

It is not just a matter of putting eight children on a small field and making some random comments. Even with a properly constructed game learning can be left to chance. The following are some ideas, which help to insure that proper learning takes place. In the end though it is the coaches knowledge of the game, the children, the learning process and his role in it that will make the most out of any practice.

Have a clear topic. A correct analysis of the soccer problem must be in mind. This brings into focus certain players at a specific moment in a clear-cut situation.

The starting point leads into the learning point. In small sided games there are numerous restarts. Most of them should lead back into the learning moment. For example, the soccer problem is the sweepers poor distribution out of the back. The rules of the game are that all throw-ins, kick-offs and corners for his team will restart with a goal kick. The sweeper may dribble or pass out the goal kick. This way the coaching moment will be repeated often giving him many chances to succeed or fail and to learn.

Stay on the topic. When things go wrong outside of the topic ignore it if possible. Fix what you came to fix, don’t get distracted.

Freeze the moment. When the problem occurs have the players freeze. Address it with questions. Was that a good pass? Why did you run there? What could you do better? Ask for solutions. Demonstrate. Begin again. You capture the moment and present them a snapshot. After all a picture is worth a thousand words.

Don’t over coach. Experience teaches the coach when to step in. Over coaching kills the game and ruins the fun. Avoid language that the children don’t understand or don’t need. Slogans and mottos work well. Over coaching hinders the development of concentration. Constant stoppages relieves the pressure that is necessary for developing the proper mentality.

Coach those that need coaching. Mass explanations generally waste time and fall on deaf ears. Addressing comments to the parties involved is much more effective and efficient. After all it’s their problem.

Don’t argue against success. If a team has just scored a goal don’t try to tell them how to do it better. In objective based training it’s the result that counts. Wait for the opportunity when the problem presents itself, then it is real.

Ask questions avoid statements. If I say it they tend to doubt it, if they say it, it’s true. Get them to tell you what is wrong and how to fix it. They can’t argue against themselves. Also, by asking them questions they have to think for the answer as opposed to waiting for it to be given to them. They are an active part of the problem solving.

Coach what is real. If the topic doesn’t present itself adjust the game. If it still doesn’t then drop the topic. Don’t coach a coach’s problem, it must be the players problem. Coach the children that are playing the game, not what is convenient at the moment. Coaching must be relevant to the picture and the problems.

Stand where you can see. If you’re interested in the sweeper, stand behind the goal. Try to see the picture from their perspective.

Bring the game to life. The colour of the coach. Enthusiasm, humour, emotion and timing all play a part in making the practice enjoyable.

Think of three stages. First, get the game going. Give just enough direction and instruction to start play. Boundaries, goals, any rules specific to the game. They can learn the game by playing the game. This introduction might take a whole practice.

Next, what are the big mistakes?

Do they understand the soccer problem?

If they don’t, provide clues to the answers.

Finally, by fine tuning you can introduce new demands that require new solutions.


This game is a small-sided game (SSG) that improves teamwork, speed of transition and concentration.

Age group: U5s and upwards.

Number of players: 12 (but can be easily adjusted for different numbers).

Difficulty: Easy.

Set-up: Use a 30×20-yard playing area with a goal at each end.

Divide your players into four teams of three.

How to play: Two teams play 3v3. The other two teams go to the goals where they link arms or hold hands on the goal line.

The teams on the pitch attempt to score past the human chains who try to stop shots with their bodies.

After a couple of minutes play, shout “Charge!”

This is the signal for the teams that are playing to leave the ball where it is and take the place of the human chains in the goalmouths, who unlink arms and Charge onto the pitch!

Scoring: Goals and saves are each worth one point. The first team to 10 points wins the game.

For more soccer coaching tips and products visit Soccer Coaching Club.

Through the tunnel

Through the tunnel

This game was sent in by Chris Hulme of Whetstone Juniors FC

Objective: To improve passing, tackling and communication skills.

Age range: U7s to U10s.

Number of players: Eight.

Set-up: Create a 10×4 yard “tunnel” as shown below.

Through the tunnel

Divide your eight players into a team of six attackers (the Xs) and a team of two defenders (the Ds).

How to play:

Five attackers stand diagonally opposite to each other outside the tunnel while the sixth attacker enters the tunnel with the ball.

The sixth attacker tries to get a point for his team by getting past the two defenders and out of the other end of the tunnel.

He can pass to any of the five outside players and they either return the ball directly to him or they can pass to another outside player first.

The two defenders work together to try to stop the attacker getting through the tunnel. If they can win the ball and can pass it to you (who is standing just outside the playing area), they earn two points. If they can kick it out, they earn one point.

Each attacker takes a turn in the tunnel then add the points up.

Congratulate the winning team then play the game again with two new defenders.

For more soccer coaching tips and products visit Soccer Coaching Club.


This is a small-sided game that will improve your players’ communication and attacking skills as well as their passing and receiving technique.

Age group: U8s to U14s.

Number of players: Ten.

Equipment required: Training vests, cones, two goals and a ball.

Set-up: The goals are set up at each end of a 30×20 yards playing area.

Divide your players into two teams of five – four outfield players plus goalkeepers.

One outfield player from each team waits on the end line next to the goal her team is attacking. These are the target players.

How to play: Before a goal can be scored, the attacking team must play the ball to their target player. He or she plays the ball back and the shot must be taken immediately.

If possession is lost or a shot cannot be taken immediately, another successful pass to the target player is required before the attacking team can score.

Play for five minutes then change the target player and goalkeeper.


  • Limit the number of touches the target player is allowed.
  • The player who passes to a target player swaps places with her.
  • The target players come off the end lines and continue their role in the field of play (harder).
  • Both teams play 2v2 plus two target players, one on the end line and one in the field of play (easier).

For more soccer coaching tips and products visit Soccer Coaching Club.

4v4, no keepers

Objective: improve players’ decision-making skills, passing, receiving and dribbling.

Set up

Use a grid marked out with flat cones with a small goal in each corner.

The size of the playing area depends on the age and ability of your players. Can vary from 30 yd x 20 yd up to 40 yd x 25 yd.

Generally, the younger or less able the player, the bigger the playing area should be.

How to play

The players play soccer with no goalkeepers. They score in one of two ways: dribbling the ball into one of the goals or by stopping the ball on the end line betwen the goals they are attacking.

You can award one point for a traditional goal and two for a controlled stop on the end line or vice versa.

Coaching points

Players need to get their heads up and see the ‘big picture’. They need to pass, move and make decisions quickly to take advantage of the unguarded goals.

Score 4 to win

score 4 to win

This game is an excellent example of the type of conditioned SSG that develops your players’ creativity and improves their ability to solve problems on match days.

score 4 to win

Age group: U8s to U14s.

Set Up: Create a 30×20 yards area with four goals as shown below.

Divide your players into two teams of four plus four goalkeepers.

How to play:

  • Both teams try to score in each of the four goals.
  • The first team to do so is the winner.

For more soccer coaching tips and products visit Soccer Coaching Club.

Find the target player

This very simple small-sided game is one of my players’ favourites. It works on keeping your players’ heads up, good off-the-ball movement and quick decision making. It is suitable for all ages and abilities.

Set-up: set up a playing area 30 yards long by 20 yards wide for every eight players in your squad. Divide your players into teams of four and put two teams in each playing area.

Tip: if you have one or two spare players, have one or two teams of five. If you have three spare players, make them into a team.

How to play: one player from each team wears a distinctive bib. He or she is the target player.

Play “normal” football with one condition: goals can only be scored by the target player.

Change the target player after every goal.

First to four goals wins (or, if you have a team of five, first to five goals).

You’re outa here!

Outa here

Outa here

This is a small sided football coaching game that can be varied from 1v1 to 4v1. It is fast paced and requires good dribbling, passing, shooting skills and teamwork.

Cone off a small rectangular area just a little smaller than the penalty box. Divide the players evenly into 2 teams of about 4 to 6 players.

Start with a player from each team in the area, toss the ball in and have them play 1v1 until one player scores or the ball goes out of bounds. Each score is worth one point and you play to 10 or 15.

Here is the twist. When one player scores not only do they get one point but they also get a teammate to join them in the next scrimmage thus making it a 2v1. If they score again that time they get another point and another teammate to go 3v1 the next time. This continues until they succeed at a 4v1. Then you start over at 1v1 again.

Change the lone defender each time the other team scores with a new player.

Yes, the defender is at a progressive disadvantage as the other team scores because they get an additional player, but remember all that defending player has to do is kick the ball out of bounds (clear the ball) and all the players leave the area to start over at 1v1.

It will amaze you how many times the team with 3 or 4 players will waste their numerical advantage by not passing well, or fumbling the ball out of bounds. They might not talk to each other and sometimes a “ballhog” may lose it to the lone defender while all the others watch. Furthermore, it is refreshing to see the outnumbered lone defender “rise” to the occasion, stop the “odd-man” rush, and clear the ball thus returning the game to 1v1. The team with numbers will have to learn to pass quickly with 1 or 2 touches or “THEY’RE OUTTA HERE!

There is lots the coach can impart in a drill like this especially emphasizing 2 touch passing, teamwork and patience.

If you really want to emphasize the passing game, make it a requirement that each player touches the ball before they can shoot and score. They will learn to work it around the area with square passes and trail passes before they work it in for a shot.

The only real disadvantage to this game is that your kids will want to play it all the time!