Small Sided Games for Optimal Training via Play with Purpose

Friday, April 29, 2016

By Shane Pill, Flinders University and Dave Reynolds, SANFL

Small sided games (SSG) and designer games are used to optimise the transfer of skill learning (both tactical and technical) from practice to game day performance by developing the information-movement coupling, that exists during game day performance, during practice tasks.

Unlike 'running off markers' and the set running patterns of most closed and open drills, SSGs and designer games stimulate the movement dynamics and thus the cognitive decision making and physiological demands of game day.

Unlike the movement patterns of drills that both reduce the perceptual demands and narrow the vision of players by reducing the complexity of the workspace players are in, SSGs and designer games provide a complex game representative workspace for players to conditions that train the mind to focus on what matters and thus work effectively in the natural complexity of the play.

By manipulating the task, player and environment constraints of the games coaches develop play with deliberate educative purpose. Different conditioning effects can also be encouraged, with research showing that SSG's can promote aerobic, speed and agility adaptations often comparable to conditioning training.

For young and developing footballers, SSGs such as 6-a-side and 9-a-side football promote a higher volume of game engagement, which means the potential for accelerated learning through more opportunities to think, make decisions and act in the game compared to 18-a-side football.

The Evidence

Children perform skills better when the equipment and play area is scaled, and acquire skills faster
Buzzard, Reid, Masters and Farrow, 2016

Modified smaller scale versions of Australian Football, such as 12-a-side on a smaller field, provide more technical and tactical actions per player and therefore construct a better educational experience for game development than 18-a-side games on a full field, for junior players.
Pill and Elliott, 2015

Constructing the correct type of SSG may enable coaches to optimally prepare players physically, technically and tactically – thus increasing the efficiency of training.
Owen, Wong, Paul and Dellal, 2014

In the same playing area, coaches can use a lower number of players to increase aerobic demands or increase number of players for higher velocity.
Aguiar, Botelho, Goncolves and Sampaio, 2014

Periodised SSG training is capable of improving elite-level players’ physical fitness characteristics.
Owen, Wong, Paul and Dellal, 2012

SSG’s can improve agility performance by enhancing speed of decision-making, and when well-designed are more effective than change-of-direction drills for improved agility performance.
Young and Rogers, 2013

Key Points

- In general, intensity is increased as player numbers decrease in the same relative play space
- Well-designed SSG’s can exceed match intensity and stimulate similar training intensities as high intensity interval training
- Fitness and skill (both technical and tactical dimensions) can be improved with well-designed SSG’s equal to the more common ‘generic’ training drills
- Children prefer playing games, but want to touch the ball and score goals – both of which are more likely to occur in modified smaller-sided game forms
- Youths that go on to be elite players have generally accumulated more hours in playful game-like activities
- Random and variable practice activities (like small sided and modified games) are better for skill learning retention
- The duration and number of SSG activity periods during practice is an important variable in determining the training stimulus using SSG’s
- Tactical behaviours in SSG’s are constrained by field size and dimensions, and player skill level, which need to be considered in the design of SSG’s for training activities.
Silva, Duarte, Sampaio, Aguiar, Davids, Araujo, and Garganta, 2014

How to Do It?

Manipulate the constraints on player performance 
- TASK: What is the objective?
- PERFORMER: What are the rules?
- ENVIRONMENT: What are the field/play space dimensions?

The Training Session

Four Phase Warm-Up - 20mins
Warm-ups have a physiological as well as psychological purpose. Preparation of mind and body for training or match-day performance is the aim of the warm-up.  I advocate a four phase warm-up before training – none of which involve running laps around the park!

Phase 1- Slow pace running and passing with the ball. This phase may take the form of a closed drill.
Phase 2 – Increase to a moderate running speed while continuing to run with the ball and pass the ball, and including dynamic mobility activities- such as heel flicks, knees up, high hops and lunges.
Phase 3 - Maintaining a moderate running speed while continuing to run with the ball and pass the ball, and include acceleration and deceleration efforts, and changes in direction of movement, as would occur in a game. This phase may take the form of a closed drill.
Phase 4 – Introduce a match simulation, such as 3v2 overload play practice or open drill.

Training (delegates’ observation of the session) - 60mins

Click Here for training diagrams

Warm-Down (example of how to end the training session) - 15mins
Craft work – Four stations: Players allocated to a station
Station 1: Kicking
Station 2: Ground ball pick-ups
Station 3: Blocking and wedging
Station 4: Strong Hands

Shane Pill is an Associate Professor at Flinders University, South Australia ~
This was the content of a Keynote Presentation at the AFL National Coaching Conference at Domain Stadium, Perth, February 6, 2016


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