The 1-0 game

“We didn’t need a referee; we accepted the rules of the game and stuck by them. For us not to have done so would have spoilt the game for everyone. It taught us that you can’t go about doing what you want because there are others to think of and if you don’t stick to the rules, you spoil it for everyone else. Of course, that was not a conscious thought at the time, but looking back those kick about games on the waste ground did prepare us for life.” Stanley Matthews

“For me, the ball is a diamond. If you have something that precious you don’t get rid of it, you offer it.” Glenn Hoddle

“Keeping possession is a way for a team to get a breather.” Gordon Taylor PFA

Basically this is keepaway by another name and with a real purpose. It’s my favourite small sided game.

The 1-0 game is a possession game, played like a standard 4v4 game but with a twist.

Because of the nature of the game I limit each match to 5 minutes, but may play 2 or 3 games one after the other.

  • Age Group – U11s to adults
  • Pitch Size 40 x 20 – or at the discretion of the coach, but basically a standard 4 v 4 pitch
  • Number of teams – 2
  • Team sizes – 4-6 players
  • Bibs optional
  • Goals – 5 a side or mini soccer goals

The basic rule of the game is that you can only win by one goal.

The game begins as a normal 4 v 4 game with the usual rules.

When a goal is scored, the team that scored must just try and keep possession and can’t score into the goal. If they do, the goal is disallowed and a goal kick ensues.

If the other team then equalise and make it 1-1, either team can then score to make it 2-1. The team leading then just has to keep possession.

This is an excellent possession game and also allows a team to play out time by keeping possession, which is why I limit the game to just 5 minutes.

As well as possession, teams also have to attack with speed when needing to score and the game also focuses on transition.

The Liverpool game

“Liverpool FC was encapsulated in just three words: ‘Pass and Move.’”

Alan Hansen

“A lot of coaches in their fifties and sixties will tell you that with virtually all of the great players of their generation, their success was founded in the hours they spent playing football in the streets. It was an important part of the culture of working – class lads.”

Alan Hansen

In the 1970s and 1980s when Liverpool where at their peak and most clubs idea of training was a lot of running and physical work without the ball, at Liverpool they played 5 a-side games with the emphasis on simple quick passing.

Liverpool was renowned as the ‘pass and move’ team and Shankly made sure that everything was kept simple.

Players were encouraged to make their own decisions and solve problems.

Ronnie Moran, one of the legendary coaches at the club and very much part of the famous bootroom culture at Liverpool football club said of Shankly, “If he looked at a couple of kids juggling a ball, it wouldn’t matter to him which one was better. He would want to see how they played in a game situation. His argument would be that you don’t get opportunities to juggle the ball in a match so it was irrelevant.”

Moran also thinks that today there is a lack of game intelligence. “Players today don’t seem to have that ‘nouse’. I think all over the country now too much is being put in footballer’s brains about what they must and must not do.”

In Alan Hansen’s excellent autobiography ‘A Matter of Opinion’, he talks about a game they used to play at Liverpool. “Every player concentrated on giving the sort of passes that a team-mate wanted to receive, rather than the ones he wanted to play; and every player repeatedly made good runs off the ball to give the man in possession plenty of options.”

Hansen adds, “Liverpool FC was encapsulated in just three words: ‘Pass and Move.’ Liverpool occasionally had a training match rule that a player had to move two yards forwards, backwards or to either side immediately he passed the ball; if he didn’t, his team would be penalized and the ball given to the other team.”

  • Age Group U12s to adults
  • Pitch sizes 40 x 20 or at the discretion of the coach
  • Number of teams – 2
  • Team sizes 4-6 players
  • Bibs optional
  • Goals – 5 a side or mini soccer goals

This game is not suited for younger children and I think should not be tried with ages less than 12. It is very tiring and should only be used in small bursts as perhaps part of a normal 4v4 game.

As soon as a player in possession passes the ball he must move either back, sideways or forward to support the player with the ball. If he fails to do this, possession is immediately given to the other team.

Guard the castle!

guard the castle

guard the castleDrill Objective:

This drill is a great small sided soccer game that focuses on passing in numbers up situations. This is a fun drill and the kids will love it!

Drill Setup:

Set up a grid that is 12 X 12 yards. Organize the team into groups of four. One of the four players should wear an alternate jersey and be the designated defender (guarder of the castle). Take a ball and place it on the top of a disc cone in the middle of the grid, this will become the “castle”. If you do not have disc cones, a tall cone will work just as good.

It will be up to the 3 attackers to pass the ball around the defender in the grid in attempt to knock down the castle with a pass. The castle is considered knocked down when the ball is knocked off the cone or the tall cone is knocked down with a pass.

Drill Coaching Points:

  • Instruct players to get their heads up to find the pass.
  • Make sure the players are passing the ball with proper weight on the ball.
  • Make sure players are moving about the grid in order to find open space. Make sure players know it is ok to dribble the ball to space or beat the defender before making the pass.
  • Make sure players are making the easiest decisions when passing.

Drill Variations

  • Depending on the age level and skill of the players, you can remove the 12 x 12 grid limitations, or make the grid smaller for very skilled players.
  • If players are standing next to the cone, you can build a 3×3 grid and not allow players to step into that small grid.
  • Require players to complete a certain number of passes before they are allowed to knock down the castle.
  • Play 1v1 and focus on dribbling skills.

End Zone game

End Zone game

End Zone game

Objectives: to improve passing, receiving, communication and team work

This 4 v.4 game is free flowing and gives players a lot of problems to solve. It is a good game to use towards the end of the session as it is very close to the ‘real’ thing.

One particularly good thing about this game is that since teams end up attacking in two different directions it forces players to play in different positions. They are at the back of the team when their team attacks one end-zone, while they will find themselves at the top of the team when they attack in the other direction. This is great for their development.


  • Set up the field as shown with a seven yard ‘End-Zone‘ at each end.
  • Score a goal by getting the ball from one ‘End-Zone‘ to the other by passing or dribbling.
  • Once a goal is scored, immediately attack going in the other direction. Do not give the ball to the other team. The ‘End-Zones‘ are free, only the attacking team can enter these areas.

This game also encourages players to “SPREAD OUT” and work together, which, players are starting to be able to do at this age. At first, players will be tempted to just kick the ball up the field instead of passing. With patience, and demonstration of what is possible, this game could have a dramatic impact on their ability to play attractive, skilful soccer.

4 square soccer

4 sqaure soccer

4 sqaure soccer

Number of players: 4v4 (or 5v5 if you use goalkeepers)

Age group: U10 upwards

Set up: divide a 40×30 grid (with a goal at each end) into four quarters using flat cones or lines.

Set up (contd): assign the following positions to the players in both teams: defender, left midfield player, right midfield player and attacker.

Procedure: The defender works in the two squares nearest her goal, the left midfield player must stay in the two squares on the left of the grid, the right mid player works in the two squares on the right of the grid and the attacker plays in the two squares nearest the other teams goal. Otherwise, normal soccer rules apply.

Play to a set number of goals or for a set time. You could also award ‘goals’ for a set number of passes.

Tip: encourage quick shooting and tight defending by not having goalkeepers and making the goals big. The younger the players, the bigger the goal should be.

Why play small sided games?

1. Because we want our young football (soccer) players to touch the soccer ball more often and become more skilful with it! (individual technical development)

2. Because we want our young soccer players to make more, less-complicated decisions during the game! (tactical development)

small sided games are fun!3. Because we want our young soccer players to be more physically efficient in the field space they are playing in! (reduced field size)

4. Because we want our young soccer players to have more individual teaching time with the coach! Less players on the field and less players on the team will guarantee this! (need to feel worthy and need to feel important)

5. Because we want our young soccer players to have more, involved playing time in the game! (more opportunity to solve problems that only the game presents)

6. Because we want our young soccer players to have more opportunity to play on both sides of the ball! (more exposure to attacking and defending situations)

7. Because we want our young soccer players to have more opportunities to score goals! (pure excitement)

Best of all, the game is simple, can be played without adult involvement and it’s FUN!

These are the reasons why we adults must foster “Small-Sided Games” in our youth soccer programs. The “Small-Sided” environment is a developmentally appropriate environment for our young soccer players. It’s a FUN environment that focuses on the young soccer player.

Six simple SSGs

These SSGs are designed to improve passing, dribbling and shooting skills

4 v. 4 The Basic Game


Size of Field

Depends on the age of players. Can vary from 30 yd. x 20 yd. up to 40 yd. x 25 yd.. The goals are 8 feet wide.

The Team In Possession of the Ball

  • Can employ build-up by using the entire playing area in terms of length and width (spread out, possession).
  • Can learn and determine team shape, which, in a group of 4 resembles a diamond.
  • Can create goal scoring opportunities by taking action either individually or collectively.
  • When the Other Team Has the Ball

  • The aim is to prevent goals from being scored by getting behind the ball and to regain possession of the ball.
  • Simple principles of defending are reinforced and amplified since there is no spare defender or goalkeeper.
  • Variations of the 4 v. 4 Game

    Using slightly different sizes of goals, differing methods to score, and slightly altered size and shape of field can guide players to solve problems by emphasizing certain aspects of play.

    4 v. 4 Line Soccer


  • Each team has a line to defend and attack.
  • Score a goal by dribbling the ball over any portion of the line that your team is attacking.
  • The size of the field is the same as a standard 4 v. 4 game, but it is turned sideways. The wider, shorter field allows for maintaining good shape (diamond), but also creates many good 1 v. 1 situations which challenges the player’s dribbling skills.
  • Players need to evaluate and identify when to dribble and pass. This variation highlights: The correct attitude (when to take a risk aggressively) and the technical development and execution of dribbling.
  • 4 v. 4 The Dribbling Game


    The Game

    Same field as the “Line Soccer” game, a wide, short field. teams can score in one of 2 ways. Passing into an open goal or by stopping the ball on the endline between the two goals they are attacking.

    What The Game Incorporates

  • Vision
  • Changes in the direction and speed of play due to the shape of the field and presence of multiple goals.
  • Decision making skills because the player has a variety of options at his disposal (dribbling, passing, “shooting”, changing directions)
  • 4 v. 4 The Passing Game


    The Game

    Since the playing area is longer than it is wide, the emphasis is on creating length (height) in the game. In this game, there is a premium placed on playing the ball forward early. The ball can be played early:

  • To a target player who is coming back for the ball with a defender behind them (as shown in diagram).
  • To a player running forward away from the server.
  • Scoring

  • Stopping the ball anywhere on the line.
  • Passing the ball through an open goal.
  • This Game Emphasizes

  • Vision
  • Changes in direction and speed of play.
  • Appropriate use of firm touch.
  • Long and short passing.
  • Transitions


    The Game

    While one team attacks the large goal, the opposition attacks either of the two smaller goals. When the team scores in one of the two smaller goals, they must change directions and take a turn at attacking the larger goal.

    This Game Emphasizes

  • Attitude and confidence that is essential for scoring goals. (Large net)
  • Passing, shooting and dribbling skills required in the other 4 v. 4 games.
  • Transition awareness since the team can attack quickly in the other direction.
  • Team shape and the roles of each player because when there is a transition, the back becomes the front and vice versa.
  • 4 v. 4 The Shooting Game


    The priority of this game is shooting and scoring. Since the field is wide and short, players should be looking to shoot almost whenever they get the ball. Game played like a regular 4 v. 4 match.