Team tactics using small-sided games: How can we change rules during training to improve team tactics?
A research review from the Performance Digest
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By Adam Kerr
25th November 2019 | 3 min read
Contents of Research Review
Before the use of formal learning environments children used unstructured practice and play developed by themselves to learn the game of soccer. This way of learning has been shown to enhance the cognitive skills of the players (see HERE) and, therefore, an important place to help teach and learn the game. Researchers have proposed player-centred and game-based approaches for effective learning in these more formal environments (see HERE), but it is important to try and understand how player’s best learn different tactical behaviours in these scenarios.
Very few studies have looked at how different game conditions impact teams’ performance, and how these rules affect tactical behaviour. As such, this study examined how teams tactical behaviours varies between age groups and also how different smallsided and conditioned games affect style of play.
Twenty non-elite male soccer players (10 x U15s, 10 x U17s) took part in a combination of 36 small-sided and conditioned games consisting of a 3v3 and 4v4 with the following rules included:
⇒ Normal games with no offside line.
⇒ Possession games, with the aim of keeping the ball.
⇒ Progression to a target games, where the teams were rewarded for playing forward passes
⇒ Better at maintaining possession, more comfortable with ball circulation, and attacking dynamics in the 4v4 games compared to the 3v3 games.
⇒ Better at attacking in the target games compared to the U17s group, however, attacks were performed for shorter times.
⇒ Worked better as a team in the 4v4 games compared to the 3v3 games, however, they had more individual effectiveness in 3v3 games, characterised by more individual ball touches and ball circulation.
⇒ Were more direct in their playing style in the 3v3 games, compared to the U15s, due to more individual ball touches and a higher rhythm of ball intervention. This could highlight that the older players could deal with more complex rules and set-ups.
It was also reported that when looking at the rules and configurations as a whole:
⇒ Possession games allowed more players to be involved, and more passing exchanges.
⇒ The more rules that were applied caused the players to have less variability in their attacking actions, which could limit the team’s exploratory behaviour to solve tactical problems.
Changing the rules in different small-sided and conditioned games can greatly affect the tactical behaviours shown by players, and should be planned carefully when looking at training sessions. If a coach wants a more attacking and direct style of play, different rules would be needed compared to wanting more possession-based tactics. If a coach changes the rules excessively, it can be harmful to younger teams, preventing their ability for exploring different attacking patterns.
It is important for coaches to understand their tactical game model, the level, and age of players they are working with, and then carefully use rules, numbers of players, and pitch sizes to ensure the players can perform what is being asked of them tactically.
Coaches wanting to develop certain tactical behaviours, should pay close attention to the rules and constraints they put on the different small-sided and conditioned games in their training sessions.
Changing the rules too much, or putting too many rules on each practice can prevent the players from developing the tactical outcomes desired by the coach. 4-a-side games can be used to improve the team’s tactical performances, whereas the smaller games can encourage more varied attacking patterns of play.
Want to Learn More?
The full study can be read here.
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