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Small Sided Games and Youth Soccer – Drills Versus Letting the Kids Play
Why would a gender-specific, soccer-specific strength and fitness trainer go off the reservation, so to speak, and post videos about small-sided games and training?
The answer is really very simple! Recently, I was speaking to a group of soccer coaches recently about soccer-specific strength and fitness training. The seminar went well and I thought all questions were answered, when somewhere in the back, someone asked my opinion on the use of short-sided soccer coaching techniques instead of traditional soccer drills. Well, he did, he asked my opinion! For the next 45 minutes, we discussed all aspects of small sided playing technique, pros and cons and let me tell you, it was a heated discussion.
When I wonder what I used, what did I use? The answer is complicated, to say the least. His drills, drills and more drills seem like a no-brainer with the traditional way of training against small-sided games. Frankly, I believe there is room for, and in fact a need for, both. That being said, I lean heavily in favor of small sided games and, as the title suggests, letting the kids play! I used a video, made not by myself but by one of the US National Team coaches, to explain the technique and benefits of the short side game. The video is a very accurate version of what I was doing as a coach. In all fairness to the coach in the above video, he was teaching them a new technique and therefore, the boys weren’t up to speed yet. If used correctly, speed of play can be greatly improved by using short side game coaching techniques.
Speed of play and touch on the ball are important to the development of any soccer athlete. The main advantage of short sided games is to give your players maximum touch on the ball. As the game progresses, the emphasis changes and the restrictions are focused so you have to touch the ball once, twice, three times before passing, and you have to complete two, three, four, even five successful passes before attempting to score. You can go two versus three, you can have a neutral midfielder. In other words, mix it up depending on what your team needs, their weaknesses and their strengths.
The Small Sided Games coaching technique is a fully adaptive model. The real advantage of a small sided game is that it is completely adaptable, quickly and in many instances, on the fly. You can see the need during the training, adjust accordingly and move forward with the training. With drills, kids line up, wait their turn, and have limited touches of the ball. A short-sided game eliminates the draw and keeps kids playing. The latter is in many ways more intense and effective.
The short-sided game was used extensively at the United States Youth Soccer Association (USYSA), Ohio Youth Soccer Association-North (OYSAN) D licensing clinic that I attended several years ago. One of the first advocates of the short-sided technique, Dr. It was a great opportunity to learn from Tom Turner. At the time, the debate about small-sided soccer technique was reaching a fever pitch, with Tom being one of the main proponents, especially in Region II, but also nationally. The emphasis of his classes? You know! Small sided games. Well, by the end of the clinic the crowd was 90-10 against. By then every coach save one had been sold. There’s always one, isn’t there? And it was an intense class, with every soccer coach from every premier club (top level club team) in Ohio-North, and some coaches from nationally ranked high school and college teams like Walsh Jesuit. So, it was a tough crowd, but Tom won over almost every instructor, not by instruction, but by demonstration. Evidence? Awesome!
As short sided games gained in popularity and popularity there were still some hold outs but the vast majority, at every level, now see the benefits of short sided strategies. It’s been almost fifteen years now and the short sided game is the model, hands down. I would have said feet down but that just didn’t feel right and my primary school English teacher would be rolling in her grave!
Past drills? Some things linger and sometimes the terminology remains but the practice defined is different. Unfortunately, drills are firmly entrenched in our lexicon. Although it has a military connotation, the word drill should be put to sleep once. In fact, one of the coaching methods I currently use is the 205 drill! That’s right! But the guy is good and has some really useful strategies. Do I think it could be better? Yes! Are there better programs out there? Not much! So, until we do, we read, learn, study and share. That’s what the soccer community is all about and I’m sure it will continue to be that way for the foreseeable future.
Small sided game coaching techniques are now the primary method of training our youth, and not-so-young, soccer athletes. Evolution has been fast, all things considered, and knowing how long the old model of drill after drill has been around, I’m actually surprised there wasn’t a little more resistance…and there was a lot. Only Dr. Ask Tom! The benefits outstripped the old strategy and made it obsolete and irrelevant. However, like most obsolete and irrelevant things, it has a way of creeping back. In this case, I think the short-sided game is asserting itself as a perennial favorite; Time, and results, will tell.
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