The Use of Small Sided Games for Technical and Tactical Development in U6-U10 by Adrian Parrish


The content of this post is excerpted from an NSCAA coaching webinar presentation write up. The NSCAA is the world’s largest soccer coaching organization. Find out more information about the NSCAA at

About Adrian Parrish, Technical Director, Kentucky Youth Soccer Association

Adrian joined Kentucky Youth Soccer in October of 2005 as the Association’s third full time Director of Coaching. In this role, Parrish is responsible for the Coaching Education Program and the management of the Olympic Development Program. Adrian was the former DOC for Amherst Soccer Association in Buffalo, and Coaching Education Instructor for New York State. Adrian, a native from Louth in England has played extensively at youth level and played with Boston United, a semi-professional team playing in the league below the Football League. Adrian possesses a USSF “A” License and the US Youth Soccer National Youth License. He is currently the US Youth Soccer Region II Coaching Chair, is a Region II Boys ODP staff coach, a USSF Coaching Educator and on the US Youth Soccer National staff.

Summary of Presentation

At the start of Adrian’s presentation he compared two common terms one hears regularly in coaching – a ‘drill’ and a ‘game.’ Adrian suggested that a drill is associated more with a regimented activity that has a definitive and prescribed response, often with players waiting in lines for their turn. With young players it is important to play games and stay away from drill-like activities. Similar to the other presenters, Adrian mentioned a coach should be prepared to see large disparities in player ability and cognitive understanding between individuals in the same age group.

Adrian mentioned the idea of a slanting line approach – whereby a coach is able to offer challenging activities to children of varying abilities within the same session, by manipulating variables such as differences in technique and pressures of time and space. Another concept he introduced is anchoring an activity – an approach where the coach remains in the same space, but manipulates different components of the game to change the emphasis and challenge to the players. Before describing the practical activities, Adrian referred to ‘marrying techniques with tactics’ – suggesting that a coach can find opportunities to teach basic tactical concepts while focusing primarily on technical training. To do so, he suggested that a coach should use low order and high order guided discovery questions.

Adrian shared 6 activities that progressed in complexity and challenge.

Common to all activities however were a number of objectives:

1. High-energy – in the vast majority of occasions, the best approach with young players is to get them active as quickly as possible and to manage the session in short duration bouts of high-energy activity interspersed with drink breaks and short rest periods.

2. Soccer realism – a responsibility of the coach is to correct movements that are not realistic to playing the game. For example, in the first activity – tail tag – Adrian suggested that players should be encouraged to face each other as it is unrealistic that in a game a player will run aimlessly with his or her back to the play.

3. Become a storyteller – being able to relate to young players is essential particularly with the U6 and U8 age groups. To this end, Adrian advised coaches to become familiar with activities built on characters and stories children watch and listen to on TV and in books.

4. Technical emphasis – Adrian provided a cautionary note suggesting that we should avoid getting caught in a trap as children moved from the U6 to U8 and U8 to U10 age groups. Some coaches transition too quickly with young players from almost exclusive focus on technique to spending an inordinate amount of time working on tactics and correcting issues with game performance.

5. Challenging activities – finding the right balance between activities that players can perform too easily and those that invariably result in failure is important. It should be noted that a growing body of research suggests young players need to be challenged and in doing so they will experience necessary failure as they strive to reach a higher level of performance.

6. Move from simple to complex – it is easier for coach to manipulate variables to increase the difficulty of an activity than try to recover from setting the bar too high for the players at the beginning. Once the coach becomes intimately familiar with the ability levels of individuals and the group, it also becomes easier to select content that caters for the majority of players.

7. Add a scoring mechanism – challenging players to complete a set number of repetitions, beat a time restriction or better a previous score are all ways to help players focus and add a modicum of pressure.

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