Small Sided Games (SSG)

Small Sided Games (SSG) for Sport Specific Conditioning:

Sport specific conditioning or metabolic conditioning can be undertaken adhering to two primary methods (although others have been suggested, they are mainly anecdotal and lack an evidence

base). As a sport coach or strength and conditioning coach it is important to consider several variables that are present when designing metabolic conditioning programs and overall philosophies.

Both Small Sided Games (SSG) and structured conditioning blocks are widely accepted and implemented methods of conditioning for team sports. It has been suggested that for optimal results, coaches should consider implementing a combination of both SSG and structured conditioning.

Below we will take a dive in to the what, why and how of both approaches. With this information on hand coaches can develop and implement effective conditioning programs for their athletes both during the pre-season and in-season periods.  

Structured Drills (SSG)

Traditional Conditioning Sessions


Athletes get enjoyment out of game based drills.

Coaches can easily manipulate variables such as volume and intensity.

Undertake loading related to change of direction, accell/decell and jump land and agility.

Easy to objectively quantify athlete outputs and progress.

Complete skill execution under fatigue.

Enables coaches to compare/rank athletes.

May help improve technical elements of sport.

Easy to quantify changes in performances.


It can be difficult to control overall volume and intensity.

Mainly straight line running. Lacks some sport specific actions and some context.

Players can “hide”.

No technical skill elements.

May have an increased risk of injury.

Athletes may find it boring or one dimensional.

Athletes need a high level of technical proficiency.



Working backwards from your athlete needs and demands of your sport is always a good place to start. This will inform the Why? We need to know what our desired outcome is and this is built off sport demands and athlete needs. Once we have identified our desired outcomes we can then take a look at what drills and methods will help us achieve this.

SSG are an effective tool that coaches can use in order to enable them to work towards desired goals of each session and thus develop athletes appropriately. As touched on in the table above, SSGs have some district advantages compared to that of structured conditioning. For example, as well as athletes undertaking metabolic loading they are also executing sport specific skills in match like conditions. SSG metabolic load does not always need to be high however. If there is an identified need to develop athlete skill and squads to learn a game plan, the intensity of drills can be lowered and thus skills and structures can be practiced in the absence of fatigue.

In order to attain your desired outcome (technical, metabolic or both), there are some simple methods to employ that will alter drill outcomes. As a rule of thumb, a drill with less athletes in it on a large pitch will carry a higher metabolic load (and will generally have more opportunities for skill execution) and a drill with more athletes in it on a small pitch will carry with it a lower metabolic load. Rules for games can be modified (such as restricted areas or pass limits) in order to elicit higher or lower physical outputs from athletes (again, this all comes back to your identified needs and goals).

Over time (and with the ability to accurately quantify external load), coaches can build up a database of specific drills with varying durations and intensities to marry up with their session planning. The art lies in the balance and blending of these specific elements and thus building prepared athletes that can deliver specific game plans and outputs.

Having a balanced blend of both structured conditioning and SGG is key to ensure an optimal preparation of your athletes. By implementing a balanced approach we will be sure to expose athletes to important stimuli such as high intensity sprint efforts, decision making skills and sport appropriate metabolic loading.

Take a look at the Sports Performance Tracking Pre-Season plan to see how SSG and structured conditioning can fit I to an overall pre-season training plan for team sports (link).


Reference List:

Aslan, A.  (2013).  Cardiovascular responses, perceived exertion and technical actions during small-sided recreational soccer: Effects of pitch size and number of players.  Journal of Human Kinetics, 38: 95-105.

Gabbett, T.J. and Mulvey, M.J.  (2008).  Time-motion analysis of small-sided training games and competition in elite women soccer players.  Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, 22(2): 543-552.