3v3, 5v5, 7v7, 9v9, 11v11. How often have you considered the format your team plays and the opportunities this provides them with? Adding variety to your players’ games programme will provide so many benefits!
No matter the age and stage of the players you coach, helping your players to become more skilful should be one of your key priorities. Being skilful is not pigeonholed to just the forwards and midfielders in your team. Your defenders and goalkeepers can be skilful too! We can help our players become more skilful, through understanding which core skills they can perform well, and which ones they need some further help with developing.
We can measure these on the ball and off the ball actions pretty easily, through observing them being attempted in training and in games.
Outfielder Core Skills
In a recent FA case study, we observed two games from teams across the female talent pathway at U11, U12, U14 and U16 age groups. For the two U11 games, the girls played 7v7 on a 60x40yards pitch, which was increased in size to an 80x50yards pitch for the two U12 games, when the girls played in the 9v9 format. For the two U14 matches, the pitch size was 90x55yards and once the girls reached U16, they were playing on a full sized 11v11 pitch (100x60yards). In simple terms, the older the players, the more players on the pitch, the bigger the size of the pitch. So, how do these different game formats allow your players to hone in on the core skills we spoke about above?
Outfielder In Possession Actions
In the 7v7 game format, each outfield player had on average 55 opportunities to receive the ball across an 80-minute game, either from a teammate, or from a loose ball. Although players only had 5 opportunities per game to move with the ball in the 11v11 format, the lowest number of opportunities across the formats, players would have been able to attempt this skill over bigger distances, allowing them to stay on the ball for longer. This should be encouraged, to help increase confidence in our players and their ability on the ball. Players like Lauren and Jack Grealish are fantastic players at moving with the ball. Did exposure to different game formats allow them to become greats at this skill?
Outfielder Out of Possession Actions
Outfielders were exposed to more intercepting, pressing and challenging actions at U11 in the 7v7 compared to any other age group and format played. The smaller the pitch, the tighter the areas for players in possession to work the ball. This then means the out of possession team has more opportunities to complete these defensive actions. Something really interesting to note is that although the U11 games were 80 minutes long (played over 4x20minute periods), the average ball in play was for only 50 minutes (63%). This means less time in the game for these core skills to be attempted. For 28 challenges to be attempted per player across the 50 minutes, it highlights that the average player had an opportunity to make a challenge at least once every two minutes, a great opportunity to develop the next John Stones or Millie Bright!
SPACE – think about the size of pitch you are using in your practices and on matchday. Smaller pitch size may give your players more opportunity to receive the ball in tighter areas, more opportunities to turn in smaller spaces and more opportunities to make challenges. Bigger areas will allow your players to strike the ball over larger distances, as well as more opportunities to move with the ball across a bigger area.
TASK – consider the rules you set your players and the environment you want to create. Are certain players given different challenges to help get the best out of them, and to expose them to more of the core skills? Do you encourage your team to play out from the back and involve the goalkeeper, or are you more direct?
EQUIPMENT – think about how you can vary the type of goals you use in your training and games to improve your players’ finishing techniques. How do different sized balls affect the strike of a ball or the decision to pass. And how do different surfaces change how your players might challenge for the ball?
PLAYERS – lastly, and probably most importantly, it is vital to consider your players! What do they need? How can you vary their diet to help them to improve and become the best player they can be? How do different game formats get the best out of your players?
Interested in this blog? Check out Si Houston’s Blog on Technical Returns From Different Game Formats across the Boys Talent Pathway