Restricted vs. Conditioned Games – Coaching Soccer


Many coaches often add restrictions to games. Restrictions like needing to complete three passes before the team can score or players being locked into different zones on the field can be valuable to teaching certain topics to young players. But restrictions need to be used wisely. Instead of restricting behaviours, coaches should look to encourage behaviours and do so more carefully through encouraging something to happen, rather than restricting it. In this article I will outline why restricted games should be more scarcely used, and why the term ‘conditioned game’ should possibly have a change of meaning to urge coaches to encourage the behaviours of their players in games without restricting their players.


There are loads of restricted games out there that coaches frequently employ. The most common are the two that have already been mentioned – players being locked into zones, or a certain number of passes needing to be completed before the team can either progress into another area of the field or score a goal. Restricted games can be valuable and encourage coaches to creatively think about how they can bring about their session topic or key factors/key coaching points. However, it must also be remembered that restricted games restrict players. They do not allow players to have full autonomy on the field and limit their ability to make what they might deem to be the correct decision in the moment.

Restricted games also constrain the ability of the players to participate in game-realistic situations. After all, not even the best tiki taka teams of all time would dare to attempt to complete ten passes under immense pressure before advancing forward. There are no restrictions on the matchday. So unless your players absolutely cannot grasp a topic or key coaching point without a restriction first, a game without restrictions should always be used instead. If your goal is to emphasize passing and moving, and nobody is passing and moving, it might make sense to tell players they must complete a certain number of passes before they can advance. But you can also bring out the same coaching point by encouraging the players to pass and move more in a game-realistic setting, rather than restricting them to pass and move more. Restricted games should be by in large abolished, in favour of what I am calling ‘conditioned games’ or simply playing the game itself.


In the U.K. and likely many other parts of the world, the term ‘conditioned game’ is often used interchangeably with ‘restricted game’. But I would like to suggest that we should change the meaning of the word ‘conditioned game’ to be one that does not restrict players, but encourages them to engage in a behaviour instead. For example, in a session all about attack-minded defenders, I might tell my defenders (and the whole team) that a goal scored by a defender is worth three goals. Now I am encouraging my defenders to get forward and attack, without restricting them by saying for example that a goal must be scored by defender. Now the defenders can pick and choose when to go forward and join the attack based on what they believe is best, rather than being forced to do so. If I was to implement a rule where only defenders could score, you’d have situations where a striker wins the ball right in front of goal and instead of shooting, is forced to turn around and make a bad pass. You’d also have situations with defenders shooting from range when there are better options available in front of them. This is not game-realistic!

There are plenty of “conditions” that we can implement in games. Rather than saying “You must score within 10 seconds of regaining possession”, you can simply say “If you score within 10 seconds the goal counts for two.” Now you’re encouraging a behaviour in a game-realistic way, allowing the players to make the decision if they want, without being obliged to if it is not the right decision. In a conditioned game, the player decides how they want to take advantage of the rule without feeling restricted by it. Liverpool FC use this kind of formula in their rondos with the James Milner rule. Essentially, in a 6v2 or 5v2 rondo, if you can win the ball back within five seconds, both players get to exit the rondo, rather than just the one that won the ball. This encourages the two players in the middle to press not only faster, but also as a collective unit, working together to get out of the middle.

The word ‘conditioned’ has many different meanings. One of those is basically to restrict: “To set prior requirements on (something) before it can occur or be done.” (Oxford Dictionaries, 2019). But there are two other meanings to the word which I believe make ‘conditioned’ a great fit for this type of game that encourages behaviours….

  • “To bring (something) into the desired state for use.”
  • “To train or accustom (someone or something) to behave in a certain way.”
    (Oxford Dictionaries, 2019).

Both of these definitions outline a desired behaviour that we as coaches want our players to understand, without saying that we need to restrict their behaviour in order to get them to do it. Admittedly, the word is already used interchangeably with ‘restricted’ in many parts of the world. So perhaps this type of game should be called a ‘Guided game’ or ‘Adjusted game’. I am open to suggestions. The important thing is that restricting players in games is a far less effective tool than finding ways to encourage their behaviour without restricting it. And remember, if the players can grasp the concept without a restriction, don’t implement a restriction. There are, after all, no restrictions on a matchday.

Thanks for reading and see you soon!

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