The Small Sided Game

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Focusing on a 3 versus 3

From time to time we get an email or a question asking for tips when playing a small side game, but what holds true in the big, eleven versus eleven game also holds true in a small side game.  Check back to the ball, angled runs, shielding, not diving in on defense, dragging the player away from where you want the ball, and so on.

During a real match there are small sided games going on all the time: the three or four players in the back trying to mark the attacking players, or when there’s a counter attack and players must try to defend three when only two are back. Then there’s the duel of a winger trying to beat a defender and get the cross in while a midfielder comes up to support, and a fullback shuffles over to cover the player stepping to the pressure the ball. Throughout the game, there are moments when you could focus in on a patch of field and see a small side game going on.  Small sided games and indivudual duels are what soccer is all about.

With small sided games everything’s accentuated. In a big game, a there’s time to make up for some mistakes in certain parts of the field.  If you play a square ball and it’s cut out, it might lead to a counter attack, but a poor pass into the middle of the field in a small sided game of 3 versus 3 can lead directly to a shooting opportunity. One misstep by a defender can lead to a goal, whereas in a big game there’s a bit more room for players to recover and get back on defense.

Small sided games are much like indoor soccer or futsal, except of course there are no walls as with indoor soccer. But the strategies are very similar, from making sure to make subs when your team has procession of the ball or when there’s a dead ball situation, to the speed of play, to the need to play quick one and two touch soccer.

In a smaller space there’s just less time and room, you’re under pressure much faster than in a regular sized pitch, and need to release to ball and know what you’re going to do with it before you get it.

The Setup

  • Use small portable goals, roughly 3-4 feet high to 5 feet wide (some 3v3 tournaments only count goals hit on the ground – useful if you’re just using cones)
  • Substitutions on the fly or when there’s a dead ball
  • Penalty kicks are a length of the field kick with no goalie of course, one goal to the next
  • Penalty kick shoot outs follow the same pattern, free shot with no goalie
  • Play with kick ins no thrown ins
  • Have an area in front of the goal that is out of bounds or where no players are allowed to enter, that way you don’t get someone acting as a keeper or players huddling in front of the goal mouth
  • Keep the game flowing, demanding quick goal kicks, corners and plays from the side lines (maybe you only allow short kicks, otherwise every ball out of bounds will become a corner kick)

Keys of the Small Sided Game

  • Shoot often since the field is small
  • Make sure one player stays home or in the back, doesn’t get too sucked up into the attack, acts sort of like a sweeper
  • Practice shielding, players need to learn how to hold on to the ball and use their body to protect it, especially in small spaces
  • Sub when the moment is right and not when the opposing team is attacking
  • Last player back must be able to distribute (really, the beauty of small sided games is players learn to play both offense and defense, and in roles they’re not used to, defenders become attackers and forwards defenders)
  • Spread out when on offense and become a compact unit on defense
  • Make angled runs back towards the goal, recover when you lose the ball
  • Don’t dive in on defense and know where your supporting cover is
  • Communicate – talk to one another on the pitch

Rules & Dimensions

  • Field Size: 40 yards by 30 yards
  • Game Duration: 40 minutes (18-20 minutes per half)
  • No offsides and no slide tackling
  • Kick-ins – instead of throw ins when the ball goes out on the side
  • Goal kicks – taken from anywhere along the goal line but not in front of the goal (7-8 yard distance when there’s a kick – no standing in front of the ball by the opposing team)
  • Flying Substitutions – exchanges are done at anytime
  • No direct kicks except corners and penalty kicks


NIKE’s Version of a Small Sided Game

Not quite but you get the idea.

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