Small-sided game formats

Football basically consists of two ideas: score goals and prevent the opponents scoring. The best manner of emphasising these objectives is to use adapted small-sided game formats applied to different exercises.

  • The smallest format of play is 1 v 1.
  • In this format, the focus is on the technical aspects of dribbling and protecting the ball.
  • The children must also learn to impose their presence and use their body correctly.
  • It is simply “me and the ball”!

As soon as another participant is added to the exercise (2 v 1), the situation changes. The child can now pass the ball and must decide (by him/herself) which option to choose: keep the ball or pass it?

The next level, with several team-mates and opponents, necessitates improved vision, a better concept of team play and creativity. The greater the number of participants, the more complex the play becomes. For this reason, it is important to take the children’s ages into account and allow them to progress from small-sided games to matches on larger pitches.

Another key point: in small-sided games, children get many touches of the ball and cannot “hide”. On the contrary, they have to actively seek the ball.


Small-sided games are very intense. They should not be underestimated and a match should not last too long. Substitutes should be available at the side of the pitch and used regularly; this allows the rhythm of play of the game/exercise to continue at a high level. Depending on the age and skills, formats without goalkeepers can also be used. Initially, it is important to make sure that goals can be easily scored. This encourages the children to shoot at goal and also teaches technique.

Examples of organisation


Four to six 5-a-side pitches can be arranged on a fullsize football pitch (11-a-side). Matches can take place simultaneously on these pitches as well as relays and school games.


Two or three 5-a-side pitches can be arranged on a half-size football pitch. Matches can take place simultaneously on these pitches as well as relays and school games. It is recommended that:

  • The existing lines are used: touchline, goal line and goal area of the 11-a-side pitch.
  • Cones are used to finish marking out the 5-a-side areas (additional lines need not be drawn).


Initiation to playing systems on small-sized pitches

One player coming up against another is at the very heart of the game as the players’ individual qualities come into play. In our game philosophy, we have to take team spirit into account and we do recommend playing football as a team, but it is also necessary to adapt and discover different match situations by using certain exercises in which a duel is a specific objective.

Consequently, a 1 v 1 game gives two children the opportunity to develop their basic tactics: attacking and defending. We will talk more about advanced positioning once the players have acquired enough experience to be able to take up a position in open space. To begin organising a game on a small-sized pitch, we give general information in relation to the age of the young children and the different pitch measurements.

It must also be borne in mind that the level of understanding and ability to read the game will often determine the size of the pitch.

The suggestion regarding the number of players in relation to the pitch depends on the philosophy developed during the development plan. Depending on the objectives, one could argue that every type will help to improve the quality of the level of play.

The number of players essentially depends on the infrastructure available as well as on the objectives to be reached. Consequently, all types of organisation are seen as positive if there is a direct link between the objective and the type of game played.

A logical development of playing systems will see a 3 v 3 game eventually become 9 v 9, passing through all of the various confi gurations in between such as 4 v 4, 5 v 5, 6 v 6, 7 v 7, 8 v 8. Having a numerical advantage also requires a great deal of tactical flexibility.

Only the coach-educator is able to judge the players’ level and therefore the game formats to be used.