Small-sided games in team sports training: A brief review

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Small-sided games (SSGs) incorporating skills, sport-specific movements, at intensities sufficient to promote aerobic adaptations, are being increasingly implemented in professional team sport environments. Small-sided games are often employed by coaches based on the premise that the greatest training benefits occur when training simulates the specific movement patterns and physiological demands of the sport. At present, there is relatively little information regarding how SSG can best be used to improve physical capacities and technical and tactical skills in team sports. It is possible that with some modifications (e.g., number of players, pitch size, coach encouragement, and wrestling), such games may be physiologically beneficial for athletes with relatively high initial aerobic fitness levels. For instance, it has been shown that 3-a-side soccer SSG resulted in higher intensity (i.e., greater overall distance, less jogging and walking, higher heart rate, and more tackling, dribbling, goal attempts, and passes) than 5-a-side SSG. Likewise, when player numbers were kept constant, a larger playing area increased the intensity of the SSG with a smaller playing area having the opposite effect. It has also been demonstrated that energy expenditure was similar between badminton and volleyball courts, but lower than that obtained in a basketball court. Moreover, it has been demonstrated in rugby that wrestling can increase the physical demands of SSG. Consistent coach encouragement can also increase training intensity, although most rule changes have trivial or no effect on exercise intensity. Further research is required to examine the optimal periodization strategies of SSG training for the long-term development of physiological capacity, technical skill, and tactical proficiency, while also minimizing the associated risk of injuries.


School of Exercise Science

Document Type

Journal Article

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ERA Access