Physical performance in small-sided games and official matches

Research output: Contribution to conferenceAbstractAcademic


Small-sided games (SSGs) are used in soccer practice to improve physical capacity and prepare for the official match [1]. However, SSGs in soccer practice and previous research are regularly played on smaller relative pitch areas than the 320m2 per player during the match. Previous research showed that small playing areas result in lower physical performance, such as less total distance covered, less high intensity distance covered and less sprints performed [2,3]. Playing SSGs on a match-derived relative pitch area revealed similarities in physical performance in under-13 amateur soccer players, regardless of the number of players [2]. Yet, it is unclear if these findings can be replicated in older talented soccer players. Therefore, the aim is to investigate physical performance in the official match and SSGs played on a match-derived relative pitch area with a different number of players in under-17 talented soccer players. Two under-17 teams (n=44 players) from Dutch professional youth academies participated in this study. They played official matches and 5 vs. 5, 7 vs. 7 and 9 vs. 9 SSGs on a relative pitch area of 320m2 per player during training. Positional data were collected and used to calculate total distance covered per minute (m/min), high intensity distance (>19.8 km/h; %HID) and number of sprints (>25.2 km/h). Differences between SSGs and the match were statistically evaluated with a MANOVA and planned contrasts (p<.05). Physical performance in SSGs was not different from the match, with the exception of significantly less distance covered during 7 vs. 7 than the match (165.8±14.34 vs. 182.7±10.14 m/min, p<.001), and significantly more %HID (8.3±1.94 vs. 6.3±1.01%, p<.001) and sprints per minute (.23±.17 vs. .16±.04, p<.05) during 5 vs. 5 than the match. These results are in line with previous findings [2,3]. A match-derived relative pitch area affords players to play in a similar area as the match which resulted in similar physical performance. Especially, SSGs with a larger number of players showed similarities with the match in high intensity distance and sprints. Therefore, maintaining a match-derived relative pitch area resulted in similar physical performance, in particular in 7 vs. 7 and 9 vs. 9. Such SSGs can be used by soccer coaches to mimic the physical performance of the match during soccer practice. REFERENCES [1] S. Hill-Haas, B. Dawson, F. Impellizzeri & A. Coutts. “Physiology of small-sided games training in football: A systematic review”. Sports Med, 41(3), 199–220, (2011). [2] J. Castellano, A. Puente, I. Echeazarra, & D. Casamichana. “Influence of the number of players and the relative pitch area per player on heart rate and physical demands in youth soccer”. J Strength Cond Res, 29(6), 1683–1691 (2015). [3] S. Olthof, W. Frencken & K. Lemmink. “Match-derived relative pitch area changes the physical and team tactical performance of elite soccer players in small-sided soccer games”. J Sports Sci, 1-7 (2017).


ConferenceScience and Engineering Conference on Sports Innovation
Abbreviated titleSECSI
Internet address


  • Talent development
  • time-motion analysis
  • pitch size manipulation
  • performance analysis

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