Small Sided Games and the Big Picture

In my last post I focused on communication; about using language that kids understand in order to get a message across.  When coaching, it’s not simply the words; it’s how a coach illustrates the lessons – how he “paints the picture.”  Phrasing instructions in ways they can grasp and appreciate will help ensure that players understand.  But particularly with young players, they need to see it – experience it -  beforehand – and that can happen through the use of small-sided games at practice.

Good coaches construct training games that present particular situations in appropriate areas of the field so that players can identify and solve particular problems.  That last highlighted part – in appropriate areas of the field – is paramount, but it is often overlooked.  As an example, all coaches use simple possession games – 3v1, 4v1, 4v2, 5v2, etc.  A mistake that many coaches make, however, is that they neglect to a) play a particular possession game in a specific area of the field; b) make the game relevant positionally; and/or c) fail to make the game directional.

This compartmentalizing of the game prevents players from clearly understanding situations and means that they don’t see the big picture.  Players will be unable to comprehend how the small-sided game translates to the game itself.  There is merit in playing any possession game, but coaches who fail to relate the drill used in practice to the overall game ultimately let their players down.  Their teams may be able to keep the ball, but they appear lost once they get into the attacking third!

Let’s say that a coach wants his team to play the ball out of the back (rather than hoof it upfield).  While he’ll certainly want to emphasize principles of possession, an effective small sided game should replicate conditions from a game – perhaps using players who typically play defense and midfield – and start in front of the goal with a specific target in mind (gates to pass through at midfield; target players, etc.).

We’ve all seen all sorts of things at training sessions.  The question that should always be in the back of your head is, “Does it look like soccer?”  The need to relate what is done in practice to what should be done during a game is paramount.  There are so many facets of the game; separating one while failing to take into account the big picture is detrimental in the long run.  Let’s show kids what the game looks like so they understand it when they see it.  That way they can put two and two together on their own – without us adults bellowing instructions on the sideline all the time!


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