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Small Sided Games for Sport Specific Conditioning

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Small sided games (SSG) and designer games are used to optimise the transfer of both tactical and technical skill learning from practice to game day performance.

In 7vs7 or 5vs5 scenarios, the reduced amount of players and smaller playing area means players get more touches of the ball and must think quickly and creatively to get past their opposition.

Elite players all learnt how to play their sport from playing at home, in the park, at the beach or on the street. Replicating this by playing SSG is a great way to promote creativity from players. 

SSG's also promote sport specific conditioning or metabolic conditioning. By combining SSG's with traditional conditioning sessions, coaches can optimise, develop and implement effective conditioning programs for their players in both pre-season and in-season periods. 

We've set out the advantages and disadvantages of both conditioning approaches below:

Structured Drills (SSG)



Athletes get enjoyment out of game based drills.

It can be difficult to control overall volume and intensity.

Undertake loading related to change of direction, accel/decel and jump land and agility.

Players can “hide”.

Complete skill execution under fatigue.

May have an increased risk of injury.

May help improve technical elements of sport.

Athletes need a high level of technical proficiency.

Traditional Conditioning Sessions



Coaches can easily manipulate variables such as volume and intensity.

Mainly straight line running. Lacks some sport specific actions and some context.

Easy to objectively quantify athlete outputs and progress.

No technical skill elements.

Enables coaches to compare/rank athletes.

Athletes may find it boring or one dimensional.

Easy to quantify changes in performances.


When planning training, coaches evaluate which drill will be most effective for the needs of their team. Is the goal to learn or develop an offensive game plan? Does the squad need to increase their aerobic capacity or develop their skills? Working backwards from the athlete needs and demands of a specific sport is always a good place to start to inform drill selection and planning. Once the desired outcomes are identified, coaches can then take a look at what drills and methods will help them achieve this.

SSG are an effective tool that coaches can use to work toward desired goals of each session and thus develop athletes appropriately. As touched on in the table above, SSGs have some distinct advantages compared to that of structured conditioning. For example, as well as athletes undertaking metabolic loading they are also executing sport specific skills in match like conditions. SSG metabolic load does not always need to be high so if there is an identified need to develop athlete's technical skill, the intensity of drills can be lowered and thus skills and structures can be practiced in the absence of fatigue.

In order to attain desired outcomes (technical, metabolic or both), there are some simple methods to employ that will alter drill outcomes. As a rule of thumb, a drill with less athletes in it on a large pitch will carry a higher metabolic load (and will generally have more opportunities for skill execution) and a drill with more athletes in it on a small pitch will carry a lower metabolic load.

The below diagrams are examples of how rules for games can be modified in order to elicit higher or lower physical outputs from athletes.

1. All players of one team must be in possession of the ball and in the opposition goal area to score a point. Tactically, the players need to make sure they time their runs accordingly to get into the goal area without leaving their own goal area defenceless if they lose control of the ball.

2. Taking the 'Rondo' to a pitch environment. This is a classic game of maintaining possession of the ball with limited touches but without the freedom of space. Great for player strength training and passing skills.

3. Introduce restricted areas. In this example only one athlete from each team is allowed in the side area and must stay in this lane for the length of the game. This promotes smart movement from athletes on the wing and the power of spreading the ball across the field.

4. Corner goals keep players on their toes as defence can turn into attack rapidly. Each team has the opportunity to score easily if their opponents do not maintain a strong structure.

Over time and in combination with SPT GPS, coaches can build up a database of specific drills with varying durations and intensities to marry up with their session planning. The art lies in the balance and blending of these specific elements and thus building prepared athletes that can deliver specific game plans and outputs.

Having a balanced blend of both structured conditioning and SGG is key to ensure an optimal preparation of athletes. By implementing this approach, athletes will be exposed to important stimuli such as high intensity sprint efforts, decision making skills and sport appropriate metabolic loading.

Take a look at the Sports Performance Tracking Pre-Season Plan to see how SSG and structured conditioning can fit in to an overall pre-season training plan for team sports.

Click here to learn more about using the SPT GPS athlete monitoring system for your team.