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A group of boys play football

In a game, the format is the number of players on the pitch at any one time. They range from 1v1 all the way up to the 11v11 adult game, with every variation in between. 

Traditionally, small-sided formats were reserved for the youngest players. And the aim was to reach 11v11 as quickly as possible. But regularly varying your format delivers serious skill development, no matter your team’s age. 

Want to increase each player’s actions on the ball? Choose a smaller format to get the ball at their feet more often. Looking to develop tactical returns? Move further towards 11v11. Each format has its own development benefits – and its trade-offs too. 

And don’t forget that all your players are different. While 3v3 might give one person a familiar setting to deploy their superpower, for someone else, it’s a new challenge. Each time you try a new format, it gives you a fresh lens to see each player. What do they love? What are they good at? Where do they need help?


Want to see the difference a format can make? Check out the video below. 

Ready to freshen up your formats? Give these techniques a try.


1. Find out what your players need 

And pick a format that meets those challenges. For instance, smaller formats like 3v3 and 5v5 are great for maximising individual actions, exploring the ball and developing control. This is especially critical in the skill-hungry years between five and 12. 


2. Work on two-player combinations 

3v3 and 5v5 are particularly good for developing the two-player combinations (like 1-2s and pass and follow) that are important in larger-sided games. At the same time, they still give individual players plenty of actions and repetition. Also, why not give futsal a try? It’s a brilliant format for working on these skills, too. Plus, the change of surface and ball will create an extra challenge. 


3. Play simultaneous games 

Got a large squad? Instead of organising one big match and subbing players on, try running multiple small-sided games. This gets everyone involved straight away. To develop skills and a love of the game, everyone needs the chance to get in on the action. 


4. Vary the area size 

Regardless of your format, changing the pitch size can dramatically impact player experience. Smaller areas make for a tight, combative game with quick decision-making and a need to hide, shield and protect the ball. Larger areas, on the other hand, give more time for decisions. They also create opportunities for full-pace sprinting, longer passes and ball striking. 

There’s no right or wrong when it comes to picking a format. Along with switching up other factors – like area size or surface – it’s simply part of offering the volume and variety that’s necessary to develop skilful players. 


Put your knowledge on formats in football to the test. Take the quiz:

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