5 Ways To Modify Small-Sided Games

Over the past decade, small sided games have become the preferred method of teaching game mechanics in football. Whether for young players or pros, small sided games have been proven to have benefits in allowing players more touches on the ball, more decisions to make but less time to make them, more 1v1 situations, more attacking situations and more shots on goal. Small sided games also have the potential to present the coach with more 1 on 1 time with each individual player.

There are a number of different ways to modify small-sided games to create novel and complex situations for players, as well as learn specific skills and tactics. Small-sided games can go beyond the basics, and coaches can adapt and modify small-sided games to encourage whatever topic they are teaching that week. Here are 5 ways to creatively modify small-sided games and go beyond the basic types of small-sided games mentioned in the article here.

1) 10 Seconds to Score

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One of the many benefits of small-sided games is that they are fast-paced and encourage quick, counter-attacking football. But to take it one step further and encourage even more attacking play, the coach can introduce a “10 seconds to score” rule. After gaining possession, the attacking team has only 10 seconds to score. Although this may encourage players rushing their decisions and subsequently making poor decisions, it can also raise the stakes and get players more personally invested in the game. This modification has the same kind of effect that “next goal wins” has on players. For whatever reason, they just start trying a whole lot harder to become the hero of their team.

Learning Outcomes:

  • Quick build-up/counter-attacking
  • Running with the ball
  • Taking on an opponent in 1v1 situations

2) Switch Play Before Scoring

An increasingly popular tactic in youth football right now is teaching young players the art of switching play and playing across direct game channels. Why is switching play so useful? Often times when the ball is on one side of the field, the defending team overloads that area of the pitch. Although this is an effective method in shutting down attacks, it leaves the attacking team with space open on the far side of the field if players are able to find it. Particularly when teams are very compact, switching play can be an effective method in creating space that otherwise might not exist.

It is an important concept to teach young players and can be worked into small-sided games through a rule whereby players must switch play before they can score. On the reverse end of the spectrum, this can also be achieved by implementing a rule where the defending team is incentivised to shut down space on the near side. For example, a rule could be implemented where after the goalkeeper rolls the ball out, if the team is able to score on the same side that the ball was rolled out to, the attacking team gets two points. This then encourages defenders to shut down the near side, leaving space open on the opposite end of the field and encouraging playing across the game channels.

Learning Outcomes:

  • Creating and exploiting space
  • Breaking apart compact defenses
  • Long passing/crossing

3) Rewarding, not Restricting One-Touch/Two-Touch Play 

One of the biggest mistakes coaches make in instilling restrictions on small-sided games is in causing the game to become unrealistic. One of the most popular ways that coaches restrict player decisions is in instilling a one-touch, two-touch rule. This often causes players to make poor decisions or lose possession unnecessarily. Instead of restricting play by implementing a one or two-touch rule, coaches can reward players for having a one or two-touch mindset. For example, the coach could tell their players “Every time you make a one or two touch pass and it comes off, you get a point.” This encourages players to make quick decisions when the situation is right, without restricting them to make decisions that are too quick. It also encourages players to be aware of their surroundings and scan the field before receiving. This is also a fantastic way to keep the game realistic, helping players understand when it is beneficial to play quick, and when it is more advantageous to slow the game down. Finally, it is fantastic in inciting communication; as indicators like “time” or “man-on” will help players to determine how many touches they can/should take.

Coaches could also use this method of rewarding a certain way of playing in other ways. For example a rule could be implemented where players get a point for every overlapping run they make, every shot from outside the box they make, or for every successful cross. Again it is important to reward players for playing a certain way, not restrict them and force them to play a certain way.

Learning outcomes:

  • Playing quick/counter-attacking
  • The importance of communication
  • Scanning the field/being aware of surroundings

4) Two-Touch or Change Direction

To a similar effect, a coach looking to implement a two-touch restriction on their players can use this modification to force quicker decisions, while still providing them with autonomy. Instead of implementing a two-touch rule, a coach can introduce a rule whereby players have to take two-touches or change direction to reset. After that reset, they can either have unlimited touches, or be restricted back to two more touches before needing to change direction again or offload the ball. Like #3, this restricts players without punishing them or forcing them to make unnecessary errors. Players have the autonomy to play quick, but if they don’t feel it’s a good time to do so, they can change directions through a turn or a bit of skill and reset that touch tally.

Another method of resetting the number of touches could be to force players to pull off a skill move to reset. However, this method is less realistic as you’ll find players doing skill moves just for the sake of it and not to actually beat an opponent.

Learning outcomes:

  • When to turn/change direction
  • Playing quick vs. slowing the game down
  • Switching the point of attack

5) Play Wide Before Scoring 

Many coaches restrict play in small-sided games by implementing rules regarding the number of passes players have to make before scoring. The major problem with this is that it is unrealistic to the game. If a player wins the ball off a defender in the attacking third, they shouldn’t then have to turn around and complete 10 passes before shooting. They should be able to attack right away. So instead of restricting the number of passes or who players must pass to before they can score (i.e. you must pass to the goalkeeper before scoring), it makes more sense to implement a more realistic game-mechanic. This can be created through introducing wide players on the outskirts of the field, either within or outside the field of play. These players can have unlimited touches or a restricted amount, and can be neutral or playing for just one team. The key is in encouraging players to play wide before scoring. Playing wide is essential in creating space and is a tactic most coaches already use with their teams, so it makes sense to introduce it into small-sided games too.

Learning outcomes:

  • Playing with width
  • Crossing
  • Scanning the field

So there it is! 5 Ways to Modify Small-Sided Games. There are many ways to adapt this ever-popular form of training. However the key is in creating game realistic scenarios. Coaches should modify small-sided games through rules that encourage playing a certain way without restricting players to have to play that way.

For more articles like this check out our Coaching section.

Check out the different forms of small-sided games coming soon!


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