Small-sided Games


Bret Simon is currently the Head Coach at Stanford University, Palo Alto, California. He is one of the most respected coaches in college socccer and has led the Stanford team to unprecedented heights in recent years. Simon coached Stanford to consecutive College Cup appearances in his first two seasons, including a trip to the championship game in 2002. Simon has garnered two Coach of the Year honors when he was named the NSCAA/Adidas Far West Regional Coach of the Year and Pac-10 Coach of the Year as well a Pac-10 championship. Simon was the first coach to lead two different schools to the men´s College Cup Final Four.

Simon, who was the head coach at Creighton for six seasons before coming to Stanford, guided the Blue-Jays to the most successful season in school history in 2000 with a 22-4-0 overall record and a second trip to the College Cup in five years.


**The following are a series of small sided games to incorporate in your own practice as a bridge to the 11 vs. 11 game.
Most coaches use small sided games to help their players develop many of the technical, tactical, psychological and physical abilities needed to compete successfully in an economical manner. The following three small sided games below are variations on traditional games and are often used in our own practices here at Stanford. The purpose behind the variations is to add elements of “realism” in order to more closely align the small sided game to the functions of particular players in an actual 11 vs. 11 game.

Activity #1:

Set Up:
A 5 vs. 5 + 1 is organised inside a 32×24 yard grid as shown below in Diagram (a)

Diagram A
Diagram A

The Red team plays to a target player (A) and the Yellow team plays over the end line. The Red team playing to the target is typically made up of 4 defenders and a holding midfielder. The Yellow team playing over the end line is made up of a group of forwards and midfielders. Grid size is 32 long x 24 yards wide. Both teams have use of the +player. Touch limitations on all players or on particular players may be used depending upon the level of the players.
Total Time – 15–20 minutes

Coaching Points:

Red Team

  • Keep defensive shape.
  • Choose moments; communicating times to press and times to protect space behind you.
  • Find the target quickly in transition and support the attack as a group.Y

Yellow Team

  • Make play predictable defensively.
  • Track runners after opponents play to target.
  • Use intelligent running off the ball to find spaces behind the opponents defense.
  • Keep balanced shape in attack to avoid being counter attacked and to provide support for teammates.


  1. Yellow team scores a point over the end line by either means of pass or dribble.
  2. Red team must find the target player and play a third man combination in over the line.
  3. Add offside rule for Yellow team.
  4. Add touch restrictions.
  5. Eliminate the + player.

Activity #2:

Set Up:
A 6 vs. 6 + 6 is organised in a 45 x 40 yard grid as shown below. Players are arranged on each team with 2 defenders, 2 midfielders, and 2 forwards. 6 players are positioned on the outside of the grid as shown.

Diagram B
Diagram B

This exercise is continuous possessional play. Emphasis is on transitioning from defense to offense and keeping the ball. Players are arranged on each team with 2 defenders, 2 midfielders, and 2 forwards. The 6 players on the outside all have 1-touch in support of the team with the ball. Switch the players on the outside every 4 minutes.
Total Time – 20-30 minutes

Coaching Points:

  • Transition quickly from offense to defense (defense to offense).
  • Know your options before receiving the ball.
  • Avoid getting yourself into difficult situations where you have limited options in possession or putting teammates in bad situations.
  • Use intelligent running in support of the ball as a means to keep good spacing between teammates.
  • Use properly weighted passes to send a message to the teammate receiving the ball.


  1. Begin with the interior players having unlimited touches and gradually add touch restrictions.
  2. D-Defenders: Have a maximum of 3 touches and must play a ball beyond the area to the attackers on the outside of the area.
  3. A-Attackers: Have 1 touch only and can’t play back to the same player whom played him the ball.
  4. C-Midfielders: Can play 1 touch or up to 3, but if they take more than 1 touch, they must play to the midfielder on the other side of the area.

Activity #3:

Set Up:
4 vs. 4 +8 with two “wingers” inside a 44×20 yard grid – an extra 5 yard channel is laid down for the wingers as shown. Players are divided up into 4 equal teams of 4 as shown below in Diagram (c).

Diagram C
Diagram C

Players are divided up into 4 equal teams of 4. This exercise is continuous play. Emphasis is on quick finishing, combination play and runs in the box. Two wingers (A) stay wide in the channels and act as a plus player for either side. Players on the outside of the grid play 1-touch.The wingers have 3 touches if needed to get the cross in. Change players from inside of the grid to the outside every 2-3 minutes.
Total Time – 30 minutes

Coaching Points:

  • Communicate and encourage one another to defend together and win the ball quickly.
  • Transition to attack immediately and to defense immediately.
  • Spacing in the tight area is important.
  • Seal off the back post.
  • Always be prepared to shoot.
  • Make quality near post, back post and mid goal runs when ball is crossed.


  1. Whenever the goalkeeper makes a save the keeper must play the ball to a wide winger.
  2. Add touch restrictions for the players on the inside of the grid or play unlimited touches except you can only score off a one touch finish.