Soccer Diet

Soccer Diet: The Simplest Way to Improve Your Team’s Performance
An E-Learning Course and Community

Sports Path™ and Professor Jay Williams have combined to develop, an interactive, online learning course and ongoing community. Our goal is to assist coaches with improving the diet and performance of their players. Improving player performance is at the heart of this course and community. Key features include:

Skills – to be a successful soccer player it needs to have more skills other than technically and tactically talented. A good soccer player is not only good decision maker bet they are also strong, powerful. As they make the physical component of the game so sharpening their skills with exercise and practice is very important.

Training- training every day without fail is very important for a soccer player, from goalkeeper to midfielder everyone needs a dedicated training regime. Everyday training makes the player perfect and helps them to overcome their weaknesses.  It improves the infield strengths of a player. It is not easy to play for 90 minutes at a stretch it needs the lot of exercising, jogging, running to stay in the field with full stamina.

Tactics – soccer is the game of strategies, it involves individual skills and team tactics as well. For a viewer it is a 90 minute game in which one team has to score more goals than others but to score these goals  a lot of planning and team tactics is required, it is not a game of individual  player where he can showcase his own talent but the team as a whole has to perform well to win the game.

Nutrition- food is fuel for the body so eating a balanced diet is necessary to have a sound mind and body. A soccer player should eat 22- 24 calories times as per body weight. They should eat 1- 1.5 grams proteins times according to body weight. Eat carbohydrate according to the physical activity.   See it here to know more about nutrition

Download all 15 chapters of The SCIENCE Behind Soccer Nutrition
Interact with Dr. Williams and hundreds of coaches
Over 200 interactive tasks and video links
Instructions on how to develop your own nutrition blog
Access to the course community for five years

NSCAA members receive a 20% discount, CLICK HERE

The SCIENCE Behind Soccer Nutrition, 2nd Edition
By: Jay H. Williams

This book stresses a set of fundamental principles, built on scientific research designed to guide you through the nutritional challenges of training and competing. The 2nd edition contains updated and new chapters, focused on helping players develop their individual nutritional strategy for maximizing performance.

To order your copy, CLICK HERE

Stressed Out: Daily Hassles Can Increase Injury Risk

Be they youth or adult, many soccer players feel the stress of everyday life. Life events and how well the player copes can create worry, anxiety and mental fatigue, all of which affect concentration and effort on the field. Previous research shows that stress from major life events can also raise the risk of injury. Stress and anxiety also comes from smaller, daily events or hassles. For example, a college player finding the time to study for mid-term exams, meet a class project due date and focus on an upcoming match may experience significant daily stress. On the other hand, small victories in the classroom can lift a player’s sprits. A group of Swedish researchers focused on how these smaller, daily stressors have on injury risk. They find that that daily hassles and daily uplifts can make an athlete more or less susceptible to injury.

The researchers surveyed more than 100 Swedish elite youth players (ages 15-19 years) over the course of one year. Each week, the players were asked to complete an inventory of daily hassles and uplifts. Items such as family issues, personal relationships and daily responsibilities were recorded. Players were also asked if they considered these situations to be hassles or uplifting. During the study period, the researchers also recorded injuries sustained by each of the players.

The results showed that the occurrence of injuries was tied to both the initial daily hassle level and the change in daily hassle over the course of the year. Players who showed high initial daily hassle at the start of the study with little change in hassle level were the most likely to suffer and injury. Those with greater uplifts throughout the season suffered the fewest injuries. When the level of hassle or uplift changed, the occurrence of injury also varied. Thus, the researchers concluded that players who experience daily hassles are at greater risk of injury whereas uplifting daily events can lower risk. Further, injury risk fluctuates as daily stressors change over the course of a season.

The researchers point to several reasons why daily hassles and uplifts affect injury risk. Previous research shows that hassle can increase psychological fatigue as the player copes with daily events. Hassle is also associated with diminished cognitive function such as loss of concentration, focus and attention. On the field, both psychological and cognitive changes can have a major impact on performance. Reduced effort and poor decision-making can also place the athlete in situations where injury risk is greater. For example, a poorly timed and executed tackle due to mental fatigue and lack of proper judgement.

On the other hand, daily uplifts have an overall positive effect on performance. Positive effects include better problem solving and decision-making capabilities and less psychological fatigue. These result in greater focus and effort on the field and, most importantly, a reduced risk of injury.

Small, daily hassles can impact player performance and injury risk. Coaches who work with high school and college players should realize that daily hassles such as academic demands and social pressures could lead to day-to-day changes in the stress level of their players. This in turn, could lead to injuries.

In the movie, “Trouble With the Curve”, the Atlanta Braves baseball management was losing hope in a top prospect who was struggling to hit the ball against minor league competition. Long-time scout, Gus Lobel says that the young player was homesick (daily hassle) and just needed to see his family. After arranging a weekend visit (uplifting), the young prospect had a great weekend at the plate. This movie clip emphasizes how small changes in the emotional state of an athlete can affect performance. Being aware of daily hassles and stressful events like homesickness, congested travel schedules and pending exams can help the coach adjust training and provide a more positive environment to counter the negative hassles. Also, understanding that coping abilities vary from one athlete to another could aid the coach in dealing with individual player performance. By attending the psychological and emotional health of the player, physical health and match performance can be maintained.


Ivarsson A, Johnson U, Lindwall M, Gustafsson H, Altemyr M (2013) Psychological stress as a predictor of injury in elite junior soccer players: A latent growth curve analysis, Journal of Science and Medicine in Sport,
Posted by Jay Williams, Ph.D. Labels: Current Research, Injuries, Psychology

Kudos to the Soccer Moms

By design soccer is an activity that promotes health and fitness. The amount of exercise performed at practice and the emphasis on proper diet directly affects players’ fitness and promotes a lifestyle that influences health well into adulthood. A recent study now suggests that participation in youth sports may have other, unanticipated effects that may lead to an overall healthy lifestyle. Researchers from SUNY Brockport have found that playing sports may have some influence on whether or not high school kids use their seatbelts.The design of the Bitcoin loophole software was done to exploit the profitable opportunities in Bitcoin trading. The founders Steve McKay claims to have identified a loophole in the Bitcoin network from which he has been able to generate sufficient profit for himself. After getting steady returns from this application, he decided to provide free access to this website so that people could gain equal access to financial prosperity.

The study analyzed the data found in the US National Youth Risk Behavior Survey. This survey is administered every two years to groups of 9th through 12th graders. For this study, two aspects of the survey were used. The first was a question about seatbelt use when riding in a car. The teenagers were categorized as those who always / mostly / sometimes used seatbelts and those who rarely / never used them. Second, athletic participation was determined by how many high school or club sports each kid participated in. Non-athletes did not participate in any sports, moderately involved athletes played on 1-2 teams per year and highly involved athletes played on 3 on three or more teams.

Of nearly 19,000 students surveyed, 81% reported that they used seatbelts at least some of the time. The results also showed that girls were more likely than boys to wear seatbelts as were younger teens versus older teens. The more interesting finding was that both moderately and highly involved athletes reported more seatbelt use than the non-athletes. In this study, non-athletes were 25% more likely to report that they rarely or never wear seatbelts than were the teens that played sports.

The investigators argue that the differences between athletes and non-athletes may be related to personality types and the need for teens to engage in “risky” behaviors. Sports may provide an alternative to risky behaviors such as not wearing a seatbelt. They also suggest that athletes may avoid risky behaviors out of fear that their place on the team may be jeopardized. They may fear being punished by their coach or parents, especially if the behavior results in a violation of seatbelt laws.

While the researchers may be on to something, they may have overlooked a more obvious reason for the increased seatbelt use among teenage athletes. Seatbelt use is a habit that probably gets ingrained early in life. It seems reasonable that young children who grow up wearing seatbelts will use them as teens. This is where the soccer moms step in. How many parents who drive the team carpool have said, “We’re not going anywhere until everyone buckles up”? Could it be that this insistence on seatbelt use helps kids develop a habit that lasts once they’re driving on their own? Maybe all of those trips to and from practice have the unintended benefit of promoting a healthy lifestyle practice!

Nearly everyone is aware of the importance of seatbelt use. Using a seatbelt is estimated to prevent nearly 16,000 deaths annually and as many as 350,000 injuries. Seatbelt use is perhaps the most important factors in preventing injury and death during an auto accident.

So, to all you soccer moms (and dads): keep up the good work. Pestering your kids to wear their seatbelts may be paying off!


Melnick MJ, Miller KE, Sabo DF, Barnes GM, Farrell MP (2009) Athletic participation and seatbelt omission among US high school students. Health Education and Behavior, in press, DOI 10.1177/1090198107308377.
Posted by Jay Williams, Ph.D. Labels: Current Research, Health

Is Home Advantage Really an Advantage?

In all sports, teams strive to gain home field advantage. The consensus is that playing in the home stadium, in front of the home crowd offers a distinct advantage. In the 2012 Olympics, many feel that England’s success was due in part to their athletes competing on home soil and in front of the home crowd.

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In soccer, consideration of home field advantage is so great that away goals are given more weight in two-leg fixtures. Is the confines of the home venue truly an advantage or is this simply a misconception? Researchers from Spain and Portugal looked at 10 years worth of domestic league tables to find out if there is actually an advantage to playing at home.

The study included 10 years of domestic league competitions held in Europe (2000-2010). The analysis was limited to the highest league category in each of the UEFA countries. Their sample included a total of 111,030 matches in 52 countries. In short, the researchers noted the number of games won, drawn and lost by the home team. They then calculated to percentage of available points earned by the home team (3 for a win, 1 for a draw, 0 for a loss).

The results showed that the home team earned an average of 55.6% of the available points, indicating a significant home advantage. In terms of individual countries, 32 of the 52 UEFA countries showed a statistically significant home advantage. The strongest home advantage was found in Bosnia-Herzegovina (76.1%). Other notable countries that had significant home advantages were, England (55.7%), Spain (55.5%), Germany (55.8%), Italy (56.0%) and France (56.8%).

A few countries had a home disadvantage, including Lithuania (49.1%), Northern Ireland (48.8%), Malta (48.0), Andorra (47.1%) and San Marino (45.5%). However, these disadvantages were not statistically significant.

When comparing home advantage over the 10-year study period, there is a trend for the advantage to lessen. During the first season (starting in 2000), the percentage of points won by the home team was 56.9%. In the final season (ending in 2010), the value was 54.8%.

They also used UEFA rankings over the 10 seasons to determine a strength coefficient for each country. As it turns out, the home advantage is slightly greater in the top 10 ranked countries than in the bottom 10. In fact, the top 10 countries all had statistically significant home advantages, whereas, only 1/3 of the bottom 12 showed this trend.

If we take the data from the article and look at the percentage of matches won, we find home team wins 47.2% of the matches played, draws 23.5% and loses 29.3%. That works out a home field wining percentage of 59.0% (draws count as a 1/2 win and 1/2 loss).

There are several reasons why one would expect a home advantage. Familiarity with the home venue, crowd noise and lack of travel are a few. In 2007, researchers suggested that for every 10,000 fans attending, there is an increase in 0.1 goals scored. Unfamiliar locker rooms, field sizes, altitude, local weather can also adversely affect visitors more so than the hosts. Some studies also suggest that there may be a home bias in officiating. Thus, it is not surprising that home teams earn more points than the visitors.

Back to the original question posed at the top of this post. Is home advantage really an advantage? The authors conclude that there is a significant home advantage in the highest leagues in Europe. Home teams earn slightly more than 55% of the available points and have a wining percentage of 59%. This trend has held for the past 10 years. Also, the top leagues tend to have a stronger advantage than the lower ranked leagues. So yes, home advantage is truly an advantage.


Garcia MS, Agular OG, Marques PS, Tobio GT, Fernandez Romero JJ (2013) Calculating home advantage in the first decade of the 21st century UEFA soccer leagues. Journal of Human Kinetics, 38: 141-150.
Posted by Jay Williams, Ph.D. Labels: Strategy

Match Analysis and the Recovery Process

Match analysis has become an important tool in assessing team performance. Knowing team and opponent tendencies, individual player performance indicators, and markers of fatigue can help the coach or manager formulate match strategies and pinpoint team and individual weaknesses. Thus, it is not surprising that sport scientists are very interested in how match analysis can be used to improve their team and move them up the league table. In a new study, researchers at the Université Lille Nord de France and Lille Métropole Football Club took a different look at match analysis. They compared match analysis data to various performance indicators measured during three days of recovery. They found several interesting relationships between various player movements and prolonged decrements in physical performance. Their results have important implications for understanding the recovery process as well as preventing potential injury.

Match analysis was performed during four competitive matches to establish various playing actions completed by the players. At 1, 2 and 3 days following the matches, the players provided subjective ratings of fatigue and muscle soreness. They also underwent several physical tests of strength, sprint, and power performance. Data obtained at each recovery interval were compared to baseline measurements taken earlier in the season. During the post-match recovery period, players continued their regular training routine but were asked to avoid recovery treatments such as ice baths, compression garments and massages.

During the three-days after the match the players reported several perceptions. They felt a greater sense of fatigue at the 24-hour mark that subsided by 48 and 72 hours. They also reported increased muscle soreness across all three post-match days. This sensation of muscle pain and discomfort was associated with increased blood creatine kinase levels, a key indicator of muscle damage.

In terms of physical performance, power output was decreased by 5-6% over the course of the recovery period. Both peak sprint speed and vertical jump measures were depressed for up to 72 hours post-match. Also, hamstring strength in both the dominant and non-dominant legs were reduced for the duration of recovery. The researchers found between 6 and 8% reductions in dynamic strength of these muscles.

Match analyses showed that the changes in muscle soreness were most closely linked to the number of short sprints performed during the match. Fatigue and physical performance were linked to the number of hard directional changes and the number of tackles executed. This is not surprising. Sprinting and changing directions requires rapid acceleration and deceleration. Both of these actions require forceful concentric and eccentric muscle contractions. We’ve known for years that eccentric or lengthening contractions leads to both fatigue and delayed onset muscle soreness. However, this is the first study to link movement patterns and player actions during a match to the degree of soreness and physical performance decrements.

The finding that hamstring strength was depressed for up to 72 hours post-match has important implications for the recovery process as well as the risk of anterior cruciate ligament injury. As we’ve discussed previously on the SSO, ACL injuries is a growing problem. Recognizing, understanding and correcting risk factors can go a long way in preventing injuries. We’ve known for years that both weak hamstrings and muscle fatigue increase injury risk. When various movements stress the ACL, the hamstrings contract to help stabilize the knee. With fatigued or weakened hamstrings, this aspect of stability is reduced and the potential for sustaining and injury increases.

This study shows that hamstring muscle fatigue may persist for up to 72 hours after a match. Many college, high school and youth club schedules require multiple matches to be played with as little as 24 hours of recovery. The Atlantic Coast Conference has adopted a Thursday and Sunday schedule of women’s matches, leaving 72 hours of recovery from the first match to the second. Other teams and conferences used a more congested format, a Friday and Sunday schedule. Based on the current research article, it is quite possible that many players are not fully recovered by the start of the second match. That is, hamstring strength may remain depressed, raising the risk of ACL injury. This may be particularly true if the preceding match required players to execute an abnormally high number of short sprints and changes in direction.

Unfortunately, there is little information on injuries occurring during this schedule of matches. And, to be truthful, we don’t know if more injuries occur during the 72 hours after a difficult match. Despite this, coaches should take caution and consider this information when faced with a congested calendar. At the very least, coaches should be aware that player performance may suffer for up to 72 hours after a difficult match. Strategic use of player substitutions could reduce the number of key player movements (sprints, direction changes) and may be able limit fatigue in the initial match. Targeted exercise recovery regimes may also speed the recovery process between matches. In this study, players were not allowed to use treatments such as ice baths, compression garments or massage. While the research is not completely clear on how well these techniques actually aid the recovery of muscle force, some argue that they may offer some benefit. Finally, research is clear that a proper nutritional recovery strategy can enhance the recovery process. High carbohydrate foods and beverages containing some protein taken immediately after the match are critically important to recovery. Continuing the process with nigh carbohydrates meals and plenty of fluids is important as well.

Understanding how the physical demands of the match can impact subsequent performance is important over the course of a season. And, recognizing how a strategic recovery process can affect both performance and injury risk can go a long way in the team having a successful season.


Nedelec M, McCall A, Carling C, Legall F, Berthoin S, Dupont G (2013) The influence of soccer playing actions on the recovery kinetics after a soccer match, Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, DOI: 10.1519/JSC.0000000000000293.

World Conference on Science and Soccer

One on the goals of the Science of Soccer Online is to bridge the gap between researchers who study the science behind the game and coaches who want to train their players using cutting-edge methods and techniques. In 2014, the 4th World Conference on Science and Soccer (WCSS) will be held for the first time in the United States. The conference will bring together individuals who are interested in the study and/or practical performance of soccer players, including sports scientists, coaches, strength and conditioning specialists, sports physiotherapists, exercise physiologists, professors and students. The overall goal is to bring some of the world’s best scientists, coaches, and practitioners into a conversation about how research can improve performance on the pitch.The conference provides the scope to share the knowledge of scientific research, technical knowledge, and experience to improve the game of football. It also provides overviews and current issues that the players are facing on the field. the conference brings together 20 nations and 300 participants together on the same platform. This page will give you more information about the conference.

The WCSS will be held June 5-7, 2014 and is hosted by the University of Portland and Program Chair, Dr. Terry Favero. This is the first time the conference will be held in the United States, but over 300 participants from over 30 countries are expected to join the US audience. Previous host cities are Ghent (Belgium), Port Elizabeth (South Africa), and Liverpool (United Kingdom).

Anyone who is interested in the scientific study and/or the practical performance of soccer, from grass roots to the elite professional level, is invited. This includes academics, sports scientists and exercise physiologists, full and part-time youth coaches, strength and conditioning specialists, athletic trainers and physiotherapists, as well as administrators, teachers and students. A broad range of interests will foster translating research results from the laboratory to the useful applications on the pitch.

The program includes speakers and topics such as:

Plenary Speaker: Rasmus Ankersen, Author of The Gold Mine Effect: Crack the Secrets of High Performance
Managing Training Load: Aaron Coutts, University of Technology Sydney
Soccer Nutrition: James Morton, Liverpool John Moores University
Soccer and Health: Peter Krustrup, University of Exeter
Match Analysis: Chris Carling, LOSC Lille Métropole Football Club
Recovery From Training/Matches: Shona Halson, Australian Institute of Sport
Sport Psychology: Gier Jordet, Norwegian School of Sport Sciences
Youth Specific Training Model: Martin Bucheit, Alberto Mendez-Villanueva, Aspire Academy
Athletic Skills Development and Soccer: Jan Willem Teunissen, Ajax Youth Academy/Geert Savelsbergh, University of Amsterdam
Soccer Biomechanics: Hiro (Hiroyuki) Nunome, Nagoya University/Ewald Essig, University of Duisburg-Essen
The Numbers Game: Why Everything You Know about Soccer is Wrong. Christopher Anderson, Cornell University
Match Analysis: Ben Knapper, Lead Performance Arsenal FC
Injury Prediction Model: Dave Tenney, Head Fitness Coach and Sport Scientist Seattle Sounders

Other topics of discussion will include:

Training and testing
Performance/match analysis
Women’s soccer
Sport psychology
Talent identification
Youth development
Injury prevention
Soccer and health
Lab to field sessions focused on:
– Speed and Agility for Soccer Athletes
– Managing Training Load During the College Soccer Season
– Strength Training for the Soccer Athlete

Please join us for this exciting and informative event! For more information on the WCSS, click here.
Posted by Jay Williams, Ph.D.

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Evolving Game Speed and Style of Play

Charles Darwin said, “It is not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent, but the one most responsive to change.” While Darwin was talking about species evolution, the concept of evolution holds true for sport, including soccer. Teams that fail to adapt to changes in the game, are often left behind, unable to take advantage of or respond to new strategies, player characteristics, training routines, injury prevention / treatment, player identification or rule changes. Compared to other sports, the laws of the game, equipment has remained relatively constant. However, many will argue that the game continues to change and evolve. The extent of change is shown in a recent study of past World Cup Championship matches. This study shows that over the past 44 years, the style of play has evolved to one that emphasizes speed, technical skill, decision-making and set pieces.

The Australian researchers analyzed the championship matches of the last 12 FIFA World Cup finals, from 1966 to 2010. They reviewed the broadcast video of each match and analyzed variables such as the number of passes attempted and various stoppages of play. They also utilized TrakPerformance software to calculate the ball speed and player movements and positioning.This software follows the movement pattern of the participating player both visually and mechanically, the tracking operator takes the reference point by marking on the ground. The tracking operator helps to find out the speed, distance covered by an individual player. The Trakperformance can also find out the heart rate of player.  The TrakPerformance is top news in the soccer world.

The first key finding is that the number of stoppages was consistent across the 12 matches. On average, there were ~120 stops during each match. There were no major changes in the number of free kicks, corner kicks, goal kicks or throw-ins. However, the average time taken during these stoppages steadily increased by about 7 seconds. For example, while the number free kicks at the goal remained consistent, the amount of time spent setting up the set piece increased from 38 to 63 seconds.

Second, the increased stoppage time decreased in the average amount of play time between stoppages from 29 to 25 seconds. This in turn, reduced the percentage of the match spent with the ball in play, from about 70% to just a bit more than 52%.

Third, game speed, determined by both ball speed and the number of passes per minute increased from the 1966 match to 2010. Ball speed increased by about 15% while the number of passes attempted per minute increased by 35%.

Lastly, the researchers found that the game “density” has increased. That is, the number of players in the vicinity of the ball grew over the 44-year analysis period.

What does all of these results mean? Despite the amount of work pout into this study, it analyzed only 12 matches, played at the highest level. So, the results may or may not be applicable to other levels of play.

However, the authors raise some interesting ideas based on their results. The increased duration of stoppages has led to a change in the work-rest ratio during the match. Coupled with increased game speed, matches have evolved from one of continuous motion to one characterized by shorter intervals of high intense activity, followed by longer recovery periods (stoppages). Sprint speed also seems to be a premium. Whether trying to separate from a defender and create space or closing on an attacking player, high speed sprints with longer recovery periods is more commonplace today compared to the 1970s.

Increased game speed, ball speed and passes per minute coupled with greater player density emphasize an increasing need for technical skills and decision-making.

The authors also point to the emergence of “specialists”, particularly for set pieces. Teams seem to spend more time setting up set pieces for set piece specialists, attempting to capitalize on an uncontested service.

All of this has important implications for training young players. First, in terms of fitness, emphasis should be placed on developing the ability to perform repeated sprints with short recovery intervals. While recent studies show that soccer has a major endurance component, the ability to execute high-intensity sprints and recovery quickly is increasingly important. Second, developing sprint speed is an increasing necessity. Third, technique and decision-making should be emphasized. The ability to play in and out of tight spaces is critical as is the ability for teams to quickly organize themselves in defending and attacking situations. Finally, set pieces are increasingly seen as scoring opportunities. The ability to create scoring chances and the ability to defend against set pieces can affect the match’s outcome.

“Intelligence is the ability to adapt to change.” (Stephen Hawking). Recognizing how the game has evolved is the first step in adapting. Seeing change as it is happening will help ensure that your team stays ahead of the game.


Wallace JL, Norton KI (2013) Evolution of World Cup soccer final games 1966-2010: Game structure, speed and play patterns. Journal of Science and Medicine in Sport,
Posted by Jay Williams, Ph.D.

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Small-Sided Games. Part II: What is the Best Configuration?

Written By Jeremy Williams

Part I of this series showed that small-sided games can be used as an effective training tool to improve and maintain fitness. They can be as effective and perhaps more effective that traditional modes of training (e.g. endurance or high-intensity running). However, implementing small-sided games into a training session can be difficult due to the many possible configurations and the number of variables and factors that must be accounted for. The number of players per side, dimensions of the field, number of games, duration of the games, and if goalkeepers are used can all influence the amount and intensity of work that is required of the players. Several recent research studies have looked at how the variables mentioned above affect the workload experienced by the players. In Part II, we take a look at the question, what is the best configuration to improve player fitness and performance?

Knowing the advantages that small-sided game training provide, coaches are trying to find the most effective configuration of small-sided games to maximize fitness and training. Common variables that are typically manipulated are size of teams (2v2, 3v3, etc.), playing field dimensions, restrictions and inclusion of goalkeepers.

As in small-sided games, less number of players have involved each player gets many chances for touches of the ball. This increases the players’ individual skill and team skill as well. Small sided games are easy to set up and it is advantageous for the players as they get more passes and can score more goals. To know more about Small sided games please check blog.

Whether teams are in preseason training or having reserve players train at a higher intensity on post-match recovery days, the number of players available will influence the size of the small-sided games used. For example, if 12 players are available, a coach has options of playing four 2v2, two 3v3 or one 6v6 game. If only 6 players are available, a coach might be limited to a single 3v3 game. He or she may also set the size of the playing field to varying dimensions, altering the area per player in order to increase or decrease the distance players must cover. Given this, researchers have begun to investigate the physiological demands required for each type of configuration. Studies have focused on how manipulating these variables will provide a training effect by increasing heart rate, reported perceived exertion (RPE), and blood lactatic acid levels (BLa). Knowing the physiological demands of the various configurations can give coaches a guideline as to how long and what limitations to put on the small sided games in order to achieve their training goals for the players.

Studies have generally focused on comparing player numbers ranging from 2v2 to 6v6 while adjusting the field dimensions to hold the area per player constant. As the number of players increases, heart rates decrease as do RPE values while Bla levels increase (Delall et al., 2011; Owen et al., 2011; Rampinini et al., 2007). For example, players in a 4v4 game spend more time exercising at a heart rate of less than 85 percent of their maximal while players in a 3v3 format spend more time at greater than 90 percent (Abrantes et al., 2012). Games using larger teams such as 7v7 seem to further blunt the HR responses because of less ball activity (Castellano et al., 2012). Increasing the field size (so that the area per player is increased) while holding the number of players constant also increases the workload but to a lesser extent (Rampinini et al., 2007). Based on these studies, it seems that player number is the most important variable determining the physiological response. At a constant area per player, the 3v3 format provides a greater physiological overload and could be a more efficient training strategy to improve fitness than the 6v6 format. For example, a 3v3 match players on a 20m x 25m pitch (83 square meters per player) seems to be an optimal format.

Putting a touch-limit on the players during the small-sided game can also increase the workload (Delall et al., 2011). Compared to 2-touch and unlimited touch games, a 1-touch restriction result in higher heart rate, BLa, and total distance covered in high-intensity efforts. Limiting the number of touches forces players to constantly move off the ball to position themselves to receive a pass or defend, thereby increasing the physiological demand.

Some coaches utilize goalkeepers in their small-sided games. However, including goalkeepers reduces heart rates when compared to the games in which players were trying to score on small goals (no goalkeeper).

Unfortunately, there is very little research on how the duration of the games and recovery interval between games affects heart rate, RPE and BLa. However, based on what is known about intermittent, high-intensity exercise, longer games with shorter recovery should elicit a greater physiological demand. Also, the training studies showed that 5-10, 3-min games with a 2-min recovery are quite effective in improving fitness.

Based on the available research, it appears that the most important factor influencing the physiological load of small-sided training is the number of players per team. Smaller games using a 3v3 format elicit a greater training load than larger formats. Increasing field dimensions (area per player) also increases the load but to a lesser extent. Imposing restrictions such as limiting the number of touches (e.g. 1-touch) also increases demand whereas utilizing goals and goalkeepers reduces the workload. This seems logical, as fewer players on a larger field require involvement by individual players. Movement off the ball, readying oneself to receive or defend a pass is extremely important in the game of soccer. With reduced numbers of players in the small-sided games, it becomes even more imperative that all players are constantly moving. On the other hand, larger games with goalkeepers can result in less individual involvement during the game and consequently, less physiological demand.

From a research standpoint, it appears the small-sided game training can improve and maintain fitness. The improvements seem to be greater in tests designed to measure “soccer fitness” such as repeated sprint or intermittent running tests. Also, by adjusting variables such as player number, field size and restrictions on play, the physiological workload can be adjusted. For example, a “light” training session may use 6v6 games that include a goalkeeper whereas a “hard” session might use 3v3 and 1-touch, possession-type games. A second advantage of small-sided games compared to other fitness activities is their ability to train players in technical (i.e. soccer specific skills) and tactical aspects of the game. Touch, passing accuracy and moving to open space are all stressed in the small-sided format. Lastly, coaches can also build in incentives to increase player effort and motivation such as moving players between teams, making the games competitive and providing rewards for the players who win the most games or score the most goals.

Thus, coaches can design small-sided games to accommodate a variety of training goals. Given the multiple benefits of small-sided games for training, it makes sense for coaches to implement this style of training when trying to increase or maintain fitness. As an added bonus, technical and tactical dimensions of the game may also be improved. On balance, small-sided games should improve the overall performance of the players as they move into competitive, full-sided matches.

Jeremy Williams is currently the Volunteer Assistant with the Florida State Women’s team. He is also a graduate student in the FSU sport science program.


Abrantes, C, Nunes, M, Macas, V, Leite, N, Sampaio, J. Effects of the number of players and game type constraints on heart rate, rating of perceived exertion, and technical actions of small-sided soccer games. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, 2012, 26: 976-981.

Castellano, J, Casamichana, D, Dellal, A. Influence of game format and number of players on heart rate responses and physical demands in small-sided soccer games. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research. 2012, published ahead of print, DOI: 10.1519/JSC.0b013e31825d99dc.

Dellal, A, Hill-Haas, S, Lago-Penas, C, Chamari, K. Small-sided games in soccer: Amateur vs. professional players’ physiological responses, physical, and technical activities. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, 2011, 25: 2371-2381.

Owen, A, Wong, D, McKenna, M, Dellal, A. Heart rate responses and technical comparison between small- vs. large-sided games in elite professional soccer. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, 2011, 25: 2104-2110.

Rampinini, E, Impellizzeri, FM, Castagna, C, Abt, G, Chamari, K, Sassi, A, Marcora, SM, Factors influencing physiological responses to small-sided soccer games. Journal of Sports Sciences, 25: 659-666, 2007.
Posted by Jay Williams, Ph.D. Labels: Training