Small Sided Games as metabolic conditioning.

The above video shows a Small Sided Game from the pre-season training of Bayern Munich. It is evident that the players have different physical demands depending on their role in the session structure. The method of using SSG as Fitness training instead of traditional fitness training is becoming a key point in the training of physical attributes in football players. This means that the development of fitness factors can be carried out in a more soccer specific way than plain running (Hoff et al, 2002)

 What are Small sided games?

 Small Sided Games (SSG) is one of the most frequently seen methods of play in coaching sessions or on the street with children playing 5v5. When used by Coaches during their training sessions, it means that players can repeatedly experience situations that happen in the game (Owen et al, 2004). SSG have been developed to become a popular strategy for improving the aerobic fitness for football players (Impellizzeri, 2006) and by affecting the variables of SSG such as pitch size and player numbers, it can influence the physical demands of the session (Aguiar, 2012) and if carried out effectively exceed match intensities (Hill-Hass, 2011)

 What Factors affect the physical demands of Small Sided Games?

 There are numerous factors that coaches must be aware of when designing sessions for their players, and understand how to manipulate these variables to elicit the desired physical demands (Clement, 2012).

 Player numbers

With decreased numbers in small sided games, it can mean that players have more involvement with game activity and the amount of high intensity efforts during play increases (Jones & Durst, 2007). This means that recovery time between these high intensity efforts is reduced and can therefore, improve the aerobic capacity of the players involved (Hill-Hass, 2011).

 Area size

The manipulation of area size is one of the key factors in the use of Small Sided Games. In Koklu et al (2013) research they demonstrate that with the variation of area sizes, certain demands of gameplay are altered. What was found was that, with smaller area sizes came reduced levels of heart rate, decreased frequency of higher intensity runs and a more anaerobic demand to those small-sided games played in larger areas. Similarly to this research, Harrison (2013) found that with more room for the players to execute technical ability that the intensity of practice increased. Consequently, it can be said, depending on the amount of players and the aim of the small-sided games, coaches can manipulate area dependent on player numbers and what they want the physical demands of the session to be.

 Conditions and rules

During coach sessions it is typical to see a coach or players recommend, the use of different conditions and constraints to be put on an individual or the group. Certain conditions have significant effects upon the physical demands of the session.

 Firstly, this can include the use of limiting touches compared to free play (Dellal, 2011), as with a 1 or 2 touch condition set by the coaches the physical demands include an increase in the intensity of the players movements however, this did cause a decrease in their technical success in passes and losses of possession. With free play being allowed by the coach the difference was that, high intensity movements where still frequent but with no touch limitations, the players technical ability improved. So, the balance between creating physical demands and the tactical and technical success must be considered.

 Secondly, the use of a defensive man-marking tactic can cause an increase in the heart rate and in the Rate of Perceived Exertion (RPE), a perception for the players of how hard the session was for them (Ngo, 2012). This study also found that with the inclusion of goals in the session, that intensity of practice was also increased. So this suggests that the motivation of the players in the session can affect the physiological demands. So it may seem that by doing less, pure possession game where 5 passes may equal a goal, it can be more beneficial to include goals to elicit a greater aerobic response due to increased motivation to score.

 Along similar lines, the use of a ‘multi-ball’ system where balls are not our of play for long periods of time being collected by payers, can cause effect players physical output. By remaining continuous rather than an interval practice, heart rate remains higher (Franchini, 2011) and maintaining these intensities over a period of time is key to physical development.

 By understanding the different physical outputs demanded by certain session coaches can recognise when and when not to do a certain session or adapt to suit the situation. This could be beneficial for when players need to have more focus on tactical understanding or for when player need to recover well and be provided with a session of decreased intensity.

 With the use of Small sided games to improve player’s physical capabilities, it allows for reduced time to be spent performing traditional interval training methods (Hill-Hass, 2011). This could be extremely effective for those at grassroots level who are there to play with the football. The use of Small sided games to increase fitness levels can increase levels of motivation and maintain participation.

 My own experiences of Small Sided Games

As I’ve been coaching through the years, I’ve become more aware of why I do what I do in terms of putting on sessions for the players involved. With the university team I coached last season, our training sessions where the day before our games and from my own perspective the balance between improving players abilities and being careful of tiring out the players was a difficult balance. One session in particular I coached seemed to be extremely strenuous and the following game I saw a drop in their physical abilities.

Below you will see a basic explanation of this session with the university group.

From the session below you can see that players are engaged and so motivated to make those high intensity runs to the opposite side of the field where they can then score. No touch limitations where put on the session and balls that went out where replaced with another as soon as possible.

Further examples of Small-sided games being used for metabolic conditioning go to this youtube channel


Small-sided games can be used instead of traditional metabolic conditioning by manipulating the variables of the practice to suit the required demands of the team, player and coach. This can include reducing area size to work the anaerobic systems, increasing area size with smaller numbers to force a higher frequency of intensity by the players and so working the aerobic system.

For those at the elite end of performance the use of GPS and heart rate data can be used to monitor player load and the influence of different sessions on players physical output. However, for those at grassroots level, the RPE scale previously mentioned allows coaches to see player’s perceptions of ‘work’ during practice. So at the end of practice just ask players on a scale of 6-20, how hard they thought that session was physically. Store this information with the session plan to allow yourself as a coach to know how your session with affect the players involved.

Hopefully from this blog you’ve developed an appreciation of the effect that conditions can have on the physical demands you would like to come from the session. As always feedback is welcome in the comments.


  1. Aguiar, M & Botelho, G & Lago, C & Macas, V. (2012). A review on the effects of Soccer Small-Sided Games. Journal of Human Kinetics. 33 (1), 103-113
  2. Clementa, F & Couceiro, M & Martins, F & Mendes, R. (2012). The usefulness of Small sided games on soccer training. Journal of Physical Education and Sport . 12 (1), 93-102
  3. Dellal, A & Lago-Penas, C & Wong, D & Chamari, K. (2011). Effect of the number of ball contacts within bouts of small-sided soccer games. International journal of sports physiology and performance. 6, 322-333
  4. Fanchini, M & Azzalin, A & Castagna, C & Schene, F & Mcall, A & Impellizzeri, F. (2011). Effect of bout duration on exercise intensity and technical performance of small-sided games. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research. 25, 453-458
  5. Harrison, C & Andrew, Kidling, A & Gill, N & Kinugasa. (2013). Small-sided games for young athletes: is game specificity influential?. Journal of Sports Sciences. 32 (4), 336-344.
  6. Hill-Hass, S & Dawson, B & Impelizzeri, F & Coutts, A. (2011). Physiology of Small-Sided Games Training in Football: A Systematic Review. Sports Med. 41 (3), 199-220
  7. Hoff, J & Wisloff, U & Engen, LC & Kemi, OJ & Helgrund, J. (2002). Soccer specific aerobic endurance training. Br J Sports Med. 36. 218-221
  8. Impellizzeri, FM & Rampinini, E & Marcora, SM. (2005). Physiological assessment of aerobic training in soccer. Journal of Sports Sciences. 23 (6), 583-592
  9. Jones, S & Drust, B . (2007). Physiological and technical demands of 4v4 and 8v8 games in elite youth soccer players. Kinesiology. 39 (2), 150-156.
  11. Ngo, J & Tsui, MC & Smith, A & Carling, C & Chan, GS & Wong, DP. (2012). The effects of man-marking on work intensity in small-sided soccer games. Journal of Sports Science and Medicine. 11, 109-114
  12. Owen, A. (2004). Physiological and technical analysis of small sided condition training games within professional soccer. Soccer J. 49 (5),
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