Soccer Development – Avoiding the Fatal Mathematical Mistake

Pulling my hair out right now as I think about this classic soccer development mistake

A common phrase I hear as I make the soccer field rounds is something along these blurred lines:

*” Yeah I just think they should be playing more big sided soccer.  You know?  Get them used to 11v11 for when that time comes?

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Typical, I hear this so flippin often.

People are always thinking it’s all about the big fields.  I mean why not right?  Let’s get the kids used to playing big fields and then they’ll be more used to it when the time comes to play 11v11.  Why not prepare them?  Why why why?

So in case you’re wondering.  Most of the time in soccer development these days, 8-13 year old kids will usually play 8v8’s while anything above 12 years old is 11v11.

Now I know what you’re thinking..

You’re thinking that I’m making the argument that we should hold off on starting 11v11’s.  And this is kind of true.  But I’m also saying, why so in a rush to play 8v8’s?  7v7’s?

Part of this thought process comes from watching pro’s on tv all the time and of course what are they playing? – yes, 11v11…

What’s the problemo with this though amigo?

Math time:

Supposing we play a 8v8 game.  That’s 16 players right there.  Suppose each team has the normal 4 subs each.  That’s 8 more which means there’s 24 players in total at the field, (guess where I’m going with this?).  Now, that means that out of 24 players at any given time only one player is touching the ball.  However, about %60-%70 of the time (no joke), no-one is even touching the ball.  i.e. ball is being passed, it’s out of bounds, someone is taking throw in, or there’s a foul… so do the math on that.  Already, we are down to 1 out of 24 kids touching the ball at any time, and then you must cut that at least in half due to nobody touching the ball half the time which leaves us with a touch ratio (at any given time) of 1 out of 48 or less…So at any given time, you or your kid is touching the ball about 1/48th of the total time.  And that’s being positive.  If your kid is not above average or in a position where the ball doesn’t come often… good luck.

And it’s not just about touching the ball.  It’s about being in soccer scenarios.  This could be a 1v1 defensive situation, being close enough to the ball to get a pass, or simply being close enough to actually be involved in the play even if you’re not touching the ball.

Point of all this ramble schmamble?

Don’t be in such a rush to play bigger fields with more players.  Just look at the math.

In fact, this happens a lot as well – some genius says:

“Geez Bob, the space here is not big enough.  I need more space to train, and then I need more space to play my game.”

Cut it out!  Simply look at the history of soccer.  The world’s best players have been playing in tiny spaces for years.  If you don’t have lots of space don’t sweat it.  Just make smaller fields and have smaller numbers per side.  In fact make multiple smaller fields and hold smaller games.

I’m going to give you a little history lesson.

A few year ago (5 to 7 to be precise) Manchester United (heard of them?) did a case study on their own development academy.  They wanted to see what would happen if they based their entire academy off of 4v4 games.

Shockingly, they realized that kids got way more touches on the ball, way more shots on nets, way more chances to do moves, way more 1on1’s (the cornerstone of soccer ability), way more passes, way more chances to stop shots, way more goals, more chances to use their brain, and just way more everything…

What was the gem gleaned from that?  (in case you didn’t get it)

That basically smaller sided games produced way more practice for players.  So why not do it as often as possible?

Here’s the thing.  I know you’re still skeptical thinking: “Geez Joe, that’s all great and dandy, but how do I develop the ability to play on big fields?  How do I learn the positions for 11v11 if I never play on such a massive field required to play the 11v11 game?”

Two things:

  • Yeah, you may take a weeee little bit longer to learn certain positions and how to play on the big field.  However, the person who played on the bigger field and maybe understands big field soccer a little bit less than you do will have way less practice under their belt if you did 4v4’s while they were doing 11v11’s.  You should have way better ball control, dribbling, moves, 1on1 ability, etc etc etc… And get this, you can learn positions and how to play 11v11’s at an older age.  You know what you can’t learn when you’re older?  Stuff like ball control…
  • Here’s the amazing part – 4v4’s have all the same intricacies that big field soccer do.  4 players per side is enough to have depth and width and thus virtually everything else except maybe long balls… So in recapping, you still develop practically all the same skills just on turbo-charge compared to the player who only played 11v11…

I mean just look at all the pro’s that grew up playing street soccer and never touched a big field until they were like 15 sometimes…


Pick your poison.  Do you want a kid who maybe at first plays the position a bit better (you’ll catch up don’t worry) or someone way better overall soccer skill?

Your call amigo,

To smaller fields

Do you have a question about playing in smaller fields or just want to rant?  Let me know in the comments below

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