How To Set-up A Small-Sided Game

The following is an excerpt from The Ultimate Youth Coaches Training Guide; A Complete 6 to 10 Year Old Developmental Coaching and Training Program.

This program is perfect for youth coaches wanting practices to start their soccer coaching education and it is also for those more advanced and experienced coaches wanting to train their players as best they can at these wonderful open minded ages for development and education of both the mind and body. Our plan is to help all coaches at whatever level of experience they are at. Find Out More


This is a game of less than 11 v 11 that can be any number from 3 v 3 to 9 v 9. The general sizes of a game to establish team coaching themes are usually 6 v 6 or 8 v 8. I have included two examples of set ups for these sizes of games and information on U.S. Soccer's small-sided games standards.

Session Plan

  1. Only coach one team at a time.
  2. Try to work with all the players on the team you are coaching, affecting each performance in a positive way.
  3. Stick to one theme / topic at a time don’t jump from one to another during the session this will only confuse the players.
  4. Divide the field into thirds; defending, middle, attacking third, for easier points of reference (for 6 v 6 and upwards). Cone the thirds of the field off to show the boundaries.
  5. Use specific start positions to get the session going.
  6. Develop your theme using the key coaching points and use them as a base for referral to check you have covered them in the session.
  7. List the key points in the order you perceive them in the process of building the session. For example in defending, pressure on the ball comes before support.
  8. Move from simple to complex as you develop the session, for example in the theme defending from the front, coach individual play within the team concept first (working with one striker), move to coaching a unit of players (it could be the two strikers working together), then extend the numbers (it could be working with the strikers and midfield players then finish with coaching the whole team (strikers, midfielders, defenders, keeper).
  9. This is individual, then unit, then team in this order building up the session from simple to complex in a logical order.
  10. This is just an example to how it can be done in a logical order; it is up to the individual coach to develop his / her own method to suit their own style of coaching.

How to Build a Functional Session

  1. Coach only one set of players.
  2. Work with all the players but work primarily with those players in the specific areas you are trying to affect. On a percentage scale consider 75% of the time with the specific players and 25% of the time with the supporting players on the same team.
  3. Stick to the same theme.
  4. Try to isolate the area of the field and the players who function within that area that you are trying to affect. For example the area to work in with central defenders would be centrally around the edge of the penalty area up to the half way line. For wide midfielders it would be on the wings of the field.
  5. Use start positions to determine how the session begins. Servers can be used to start the session and also double up as targets to play to.
  6. Develop your theme using the key coaching points and use them as a base for referral to check you have covered them in the session.
  7. List the key points in the order you perceive them in the process of building the session.
  8. Work with the individual then the pair or unit building up the number of players you work with at any one time.
  9. Use the functional practice to work with a small number of players in key areas of the field. A functional practice is more specific than a small – sided game, phase play or an 11 v 11 and it isolates the players being coached.

How to Present a Phase Play

  1. Only coach one team at a time. 
  2. Try to work with all the players on the team you are coaching, affecting each performance in a positive way.
  3. Stick to one theme / topic at a time don’t jump from one to another during the session this will only confuse the players.
  4. Include key coaching points you want to get into the session and list them with the session plan. Try to cover each point within the session itself.
  5. Use specific start positions to begin the session.
  6. The phase play is attacking one set of goals only with target goals for the opponents you aren’t working with to play to, should they win the ball.
  7. In defending phase plays where you are working with the defending team who protect the only goal, the team that needs to have the ball most of the time is the attacking team as it is the defending team’s job to win it back. Once they win it they should get the ball to a target goal quickly and in as few passes as possible as we are coaching them when they haven’t got the ball not when they have it in their possession. As soon as they have won it and have got it to a target the ball goes back to the attacking team and they begin a new attack. You can condition this by allowing the defending team only so many passes (maybe 5 passes) to get the ball to a target then they lose the ball and a new phase play is set up.
  8. It can be numerous combinations of numbers of players ranging from 4 v 4 to 9 v 9, this can depend on the number of players you have to work with on any given day. Often the best number is a 7 v 7 or with an overload with the team you are working with perhaps to help gain initial success in the session (it could be a 7 v 5). For example in an attacking phase play have 7 attacking players against 4 defending players and a keeper to help the session have the chance be a positive experience for the players you are coaching and the theme to be successful.

Coaching Styles

Command, question and answer and guided discovery are the three methods of coaching to be used preferably the third one; guided discovery being the most used as it gets the players to think for themselves though there are always situations where each style is required to be used. Command is telling and / or showing them what to do (doesn’t leave a lot of room for the players to think for themselves and understand), question and answer is just that; asking them to tell you what they think should happen, guided discovery is asking them to show you they understand a coaching point by moving themselves to the position you require them using their own decisions.



The following is from U.S. Soccer's 2015 Player Development Initiatives Release. Read on USSoccer.com here.

From U.S. Soccer:

The small-sided standards are focused at players from the U-6 to U-12 age groups. The field size is based on age groups, providing a more age appropriate environment that will allow players with a better opportunity to develop heightened soccer intelligence and on-the-ball skills.
The field dimensions and number of players on the pitch will increase in size from 4v4 to 7v7 to 9v9 as players age, up until they reach the U-13 age group and begin to play full 11v11 matches.
Age U6 U7 U8 U9 U10 U11 U12 U13
Maximum Field Size (yards) 30x20 30x20 30x20 47x30 47x30 75x47 75x47 112x75
Number of Players 4v4 4v4 4v4 7v7 7v7 9v9 9v9 11v11
GK No No No Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes
Playing Times (minutes) 4x8 4x8 3x15 2x25 2x25 2x30 2x30 2x35
Break Times (minutes) 5 5 5 10 10 10 10 15
Ball Size 3 3 3 4 4 4 4 5
Goal Size (feet) 4x6 4x6 4x6 6.5x18.5 6.5x18.5 6.5x18.5 6.5x18.5 8x24
Offside No No No Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes
“In general we would like for players to be able to process information faster, and when they are in this environment they are going to learn to do that over a number of years," Ramos said. "When you have young players in an 11v11 game there are only so many involved in any one play at a time. By taking numbers away and playing 4v4, 7v7, and 9v9, you are multiplying their chances on the ball, increasing their touches and making it overall more for them by making them an active participant at all times. Fast forward 10 years and there are thousands of game situations added to a player’s development.”
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