Exploration of the age-category soccer performance effects during ball possession small-sided games

Nuno André Nunes, Bruno Gonçalves, Jonathan Sj Fenner, Adam Lee Owen, Bruno Travassos

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Small-sided games have been adopted as an integral part of soccer training, however, the use of task constraints by the coach and the action capabilities of both players and teams require further investigation. The aim of this investigation was to explore the age-category effects (under-11: U11, under-15: U15 and under-23: U23) on external training workloads (total distance covered, distance covered while walking, running and sprinting, number of sprints and maximum sprint speed), internal training load metrics (rate of perceived exertion, RPE) and tactical individual actions (passing number with dominant and non-dominant foot, and max passing speed) during 4 vs. 4 ball possession small-sided game constrained within three different playing areas (small: 20 x 15 m, medium: 25 x 20 m, and large: 30 x 25 m). Results revealed substantial differences (all p < .001) for each specific playing area observed across many of the external workload measures. For every area analysed, U23 players covered more distance walking, whereas U11 and U15 players covered more distances at higher intensities. Additionally, significant differences were found for the RPE (small playing area: p = .001; large playing area: p < .001) with U23 and U15 players showing higher scores compared with U11 ones. It can be concluded that a 4 vs. 4 ball possession small-sided game can provide different performance related stimuli to players, depending on age category and the playing surface area. Therefore, coaches and individuals involved with training and development of soccer players across all age groups should be aware of the key variables highlighted in this study before planning training drills.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)251-262
Number of pages12
JournalJournal of Human Kinetics
Publication statusPublished - 31 Oct 2021

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