Small Sided Football
Optus Small-Sided Football is a modified form of 11-a-side football, designed to meet the needs of players under the age of 12, who have very different developmental characteristics and needs to adult players. The philosophy of Optus Small-Sided Football focuses on enjoyment and freedom of expression with limited emphasis on coaching per se, particularly in the formative years of a player’s development.
Almost without exception, young players in the major footballing nations of the world are introduced to the game through small-sided football. Brazil, France, England, Scotland, Ireland, The Netherlands, Germany, Japan, USA and Korea all introduce their young players to the game using this approach. Considerable research has been conducted into the benefits of small-sided football in many of these countries.
Overwhelmingly, the findings have shown that small-sided football are enjoyed more by children and are a more effective method of improving their technical ability as footballers (compared to 11-a-side football). Whilst there are exceptions, in most parts of Australia Rooball has been the widely-accepted format of the game for new players up until the age of eight or nine. The rules and regulations of Rooball vary in terms of field size and goal size as does the age at which players progress to 11-a-side football. At the age of 9 or 10, the general trend is for these players to then move to 11-a-side football on a full-size field where they compete against other clubs in the local area. There has also been an inconsistent approach in terms of the philosophy of football at this age, with the emphasis or otherwise on competition, winning, points tables, finals and the like, with variations depending upon the particular state or territory and/or association.
Whether players compete and/or play against other clubs or within their own club is generally decided on a local basis. Around four years ago, ACT’s Capital Football and Football Federation Northern Territory decided to begin the process of implementing small-sided football within their respective regions. The staged implementation process was completed in 2007 so that all players up to Under 11 are now playing Small-Sided Football in the Northern Territory and the ACT. In 2007, Ku-ring-gai District Soccer Association also began to roll out small-sided football for all of their Under 6 and 7 players. In 2010, over 150,000 children across all Member Federations in varying age groups played the nationally consistent small-sided football formats.
The recent results of a national survey have been extremely positive, providing lots of valuable feedback which will help to ensure that the continued implementation of Optus Small-Sided Football is successful. Some statistics of particular interest can be seen below:
- 91% of parents felt their club emphasized the players development, enjoyment and philosophy of small-sided football over winning game
- Over 90% of parents reported that their child enjoyed playing football in the small-sided football format
- Over 80% of parents reported that the reasons for implementing small-sided football were communicated to them
- Over 70% of parents were offered appropriate information and education supporting the move to small-sided football
- Over 90% of parents felt the coach of their child’s team embraced the small-sided football philosophy
- Over 85% of parents felt their child touched the ball lots of times and was very active
- Over 85% of parents felt small-sided football promotes a positive playing environment for children
- Over 80% of parents felt their child’s playing ability and skills improved throughout the season
- More people felt it was easier to become involved as a volunteer in small-sided football and there was not a feeling you needed to be a football expert
It is very important that FFA, Member Federations, zones, associations and clubs continue to educate, provide and distribute resources to assist with the implementation of small-sided football. Most beneficial to the education process has been the use of practical small-sided football demonstrations at zone, association and club level that allow parents to see the benefits of small-sided football and certainly compliment the parent flyers.
FFA and Member Federations need to continue to provide leadership, support and assistance to zones, associations and clubs in regards the implementation of small-sided football, particularly in the areas of resources, facilities and equipment. In 2009 and beyond the implementation of the Optus Small-Sided Football formats will continue with a minimum of Under 6- 8 age groups across Australia and over the ensuing years will be implemented up to and including Under 12’s in a staged approach. FFA supports and encourages all Member Federations, zones, associations and clubs that may be either already ahead or wish to accelerate the implementation of Optus Small-Sided Football.
One of the key recommendations to come out of the recently concluded Talent Development and Identification Review (TDIR) is the need to introduce Optus Small-Sided Football as the standard playing format for children under the age of 12 in Australia. The justification for taking such an approach is based on the following criteria:
- 11-a-side football is in essence an adult game devised by and for adults to play
- More fun and individual enjoyment due to smaller fields and simplified rules
- More playing time, which maximises individual participation and involvement
- Far more repeated touches of the ball by all players on the field
- More shots on goal
- More involvement leads to greater improvement in fitness
Whilst the recommendation for the implementation of Optus Small-Sided Football in the context of the TDIR has as an underlying motivation – the development of players with better technical skills – there are certainly many other associated benefits that will be realised as a direct result of their inception, as follows:
- First and foremost, Optus Small-Sided Football are truly aimed at young people of all abilities, not simply the more talented players in each age group.
- With the emphasis on participation and enjoyment, and an associated removal of the current emphasis on the importance of winning, children are much more likely to enjoy their football playing experience, will be keen to play more often and are less likely to drop out of the game.
- Parents who are new to the game are likely to be more comfortable playing the role of “game leader” or “supervisor” of teams playing Optus Small-Sided Football. Given that children playing at this age do not need to be “coached”, and by extension, these adults don’t need to have a great understanding of the game to be able to carry out this role effectively, finding parents to volunteer for these roles should become significantly easier.
- Optus Small-Sided Football also make more efficient use of facilities, given there can be multiple games on one standard-size field.
Importantly, a significant amount of research has been conducted in countries where Small-Sided Football are prevalent (including Australia), which overwhelmingly highlights benefits such as more touches, greater participation as well as more enjoyment for the children.