Small Sided Games




In soccer, the term “small sided games” generally refers to establishing two teams, with fewer than 11-participants on each team, playing against each other on a down-sized field.  The format of small sided games, or SSGs for short, can apply to two very different environments:  practice or competition.

In both practices or competitive small sided games, the main objective is to provide a scenario where, because of the reduced number of players on each team, any given individual should get more touches on the ball.  This is consistent with national standards promoted by US Soccer and represents a logical follow-on to Soccer Fun Games for young children.

In practice, small sided games are most often used to address specific tactical aspects of the sport.  Small-sided practice games are used all the way from youth to the highest levels of soccer.  Small-sided competitive games, however, represent a logical, age-appropriate progression to soccer for youth from U6 to at least U12.


Small sided games for practice generally range from 3 v. 3 up to 9 v. 9 and target game situations and instruction.  Most of these games are fast-paced and require players to respond quickly to rapidly changing circumstances.  In addition, these games are almost always played in restricted areas, causing players to improve the performance of their ball skills (techniques) due to reduced time and space.

There are countless numbers of small sided practice games/drills on-line.  (Simply search for “soccer small sided games.”)  Most of them specify a coaching theme and an age group.  Themes may address such things as attack, defense, possession, passing, ball movement, player movement, shooting, transition, crossing, fast breaks, support in attack, support in defense, the overlap, switching fields, and goalkeeping.  It may also include rondos.

Younger ages require fewer players, smaller spaces, and less-complicated games, while each age progression can handle more. The age progression is generally recognized as U6, U8, U10, U12, U14, and U16.  Spaces might be square or rectangular.  Squares can range from 20-yards, through 40-yards, to 60-yards.  Rectangular spaces are most often used for “directional” – attack and defense – games.  Rectangles may range from 20 x 40-yards, through 40 x 60 yards, to 50 x 70 yards.

The example of a small sided game below, one of the “four-goal” games, is excellent for encouraging switching the direction of play.

4-Goal Small Sided Game

4-Goal Small Sided Game

Small sided games do not have to have an equal number of players on the two teams.

Competitive Youth Games

In August 2017, U.S. Soccer issued new standards for small sided competitive youth soccer games.  The following is directly quoted from, and attributed to, U.S. Youth Soccer:

“These standards are known as Player Development Initiatives (PDIs). A key component to these PDIs is new standards of play for small-sided games. Here are five things you need to know about the new regulations for youth games.

What are small-sided standards?

“Small-sided standards are youth games played with less than 11 players on each team. Playing with less players on the field means that players are constantly involved in play and provided with more opportunities for touches on the ball and overall player development. Not only are there fewer players, but small-sided games also use smaller fields, goals and balls, shorter game times and some different rules to optimize the game for younger players.

Fewer Players, More Development

“With fewer players on the field, players have a greater opportunity to play more meaningful minutes. They will be involved in the game, with or without the ball, much more than in a full-sided game, creating more chances for learning and improvement. Reading the game and decision making are some of the most important qualities for a player that will benefit from playing small sided games. The new standards also cater to the physiological needs of each age group. Having consistent standards across the country allows players to develop on a level playing field and allows U.S. Soccer to better serve and educate parents, players, coaches and referees and clubs.

What ages will this affect?

“PDIs affect youth players from age six and under (U-6) up to 12 and under (U-12) with different standards for each age group.

National Standards, Local Implementation

“Small-sided game standards will be implemented by all U.S. Soccer youth member organizations, including state associations, U.S. Youth Soccer, U.S. Club Soccer, AYSO, SAY and others. Local organizations will lead the charge in carrying out these national standards to ensure uniformity in the youth game across the country.

Additional Changes

“In addition to the number of players and varying physical dimensions of fields, small-sided games will also have some different rules. Starting at the U-9 level, games will use build-out lines. A horizontal line drawn from sideline to sideline 14-yards in front of each goal, build-out lines will encourage possession and playing the ball out of the back. When a goalkeeper has the ball in hand or takes a goal kick, the opposing team remains behind the build-out line until the ball is put into play. This line also indicates where offside can be called, as teams cannot be called for offside between the midfield and build-out line. As part of small-sided standards, there will be no offside infraction before the U-9 age group. New rules also ban headers as well as punts and drop kicks from the goalkeeper.”

In addition to the standards identified in the “Small-Sided Games Chart” above, U.S. Youth Soccer has provided standards for field markings, substitutions, footwear, referees, linespersons, kickoffs, types of free kicks, kick-ins versus throw-ins, goal kicks and corner kicks, as they apply to U6 through U12.

Soccer Coaching Tips:

See “Local Rules” for examples of changes that can be made for different age groups.

See “Introduction to Offensive Goal Kicks” for a more detailed discussion about build-out lines.

© Copyright, John C. Harves