Small-Sided Games in Zone 1
“The tragedy of coaching young players focuses on the fact that many coaches may know a lot about the game, but they don’t know their young pupils.” – Horst Wein
Players such as Neymar, Alexis Sanchez, and Zlatan all of something in common other than being world-class professional soccer players, and that is they all grew up playing street soccer. Due to the soccer cultures that they grew up in (Brazil, Chile, Sweden), competing with friends in the streets was the norm, while dreaming of becoming a professional player. Brazilian player Juninho said, “We all grew up playing in the street. That’s the custom. With small goals in the street. And from there we got better” (Kevin Baxter and Vincent Bevins, 2014). The idea is that young players around the world first begin playing soccer through small-sided games with friends (street soccer).
The implementation of small-sided games for players in Zone 1 has many benefits for player development, both over the short and long term. In the short term, small sided games meet the demands of the youth. Horst Wein stated, “When children play football, they are primarily interested in four things: action, personal involvement in the action, close scores, and opportunities to reaffirm relationships with friends” (Horst Wein, 2007, pg. 11). By implementing small-sided games with the appropriate number of players, field dimensions, and ball size, players in Zone 1 can meet their “football interests”. With the reduced number of players and field size, the players are constantly involved in the game, and subsequently, growing their joy for the game while improving as players.
Over the long term, small-sided games help players become more competent in the “adult” version of soccer or 11 v 11. According to the US Youth Soccer Small-Sided Games manual, the educational reasons behind the implementation of small-sided games in the US Youth Soccer curriculum include, individual technical development, tactical development, and more opportunities to play on both sides of the ball to name a few (Sam Snow, 2014). By creating simplified situations at younger ages, players can progressively improve their technical and tactical abilities in order to increase their chances of succeeding during the 11 v 11 game.
There is no question that small-sided games help players improve technically and tactically, but playing 3v3 and 4v4 does not guarantee sound technical and tactical executions. The idea is that coaches must be able to create simplified games in training that stimulate thinking, while also meeting the players “football interests” as previously mentioned. Horst Wein (2007) stated, “Football’s traditional teaching methods often fail to adequately stimulate the right hemisphere of the brain, which harbours the creative capacities, intuition, and space- and time-orientation. Each training session should stimulate the body as well as both hemispheres of the brain.”
Furthermore, competing in 3v3 and 4v4 situations does not teach players sound technique. In the game of soccer, tactics cannot be executed without proper technique, and at the younger ages, players should be taught the technical aspects of soccer. Romeo Jozak, the technical director of the Croatian Football Federation stated, “Up until the age of 10 you should be focusing only on individual technique, with a lot of playing time but with individual technique as a base. From 10-14 they should be mastering individual technique, meaning you should be able to detect what are your deficiencies, your strengths so we can take advantage of them (James Davies, 2015). In order for the coach to transmit sound technical instructions to the players, a deep understanding of the game is needed. Also, the coach must have a creative brain in order to construct fun and enjoyable games that reinforce the technical aspects.
There is no question that players in zone 1 should be participating in small-sided games to grow their enjoyment and soccer abilities. However, playing traditional small-sided games alone in zone 1 is not enough to create competent players in zone 2 and 3, due to the complexity of the sport. The challenge for all coaches in zone 1 is how to teach players sound technical executions while activating both hemispheres of their brain, in a fun and enjoyable way.
Baxter, K., & Bevins, V. (2014). Retrieved September 1, 2015.
Davies, J. (2015, January 18). Romeo Jozak on Technical Training – Soccer Anywhere. Retrieved September 1, 2015.
Snow, S. (2014, July 9). Small-Sided Games Manual. Retrieved September 1, 2015.
Wein, H. (2007). Developing youth football players. Champaign, IL : Human Kinetics.