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A group of children play 3v3


Overview: our 3v3 game

Choosing small-sided games gives players the chance to take more actions on the ball, boosting their confidence when it comes to attacking and defending. 

We counted every action in a ten-minute 3v3 game played on a 30x20 metre fenced pitch by U9s. The ball was in play 100% of the time. 

Here’s what the game looked like: 

A summary of the 3v3 game we observed.
A summary of the 3v3 game we observed.

With fewer players and the ball rolling for the full ten minutes, each outfielder had a whopping 71 touches on average. (Compare this to 57 for a 5v5 game we observed and 37 for a 7v7). The result? Loads of opportunities to practise core skills, both attacking and defending. 

In particular, the 3v3 format gave players serious opportunities to practise finishing (seven times per outfielder), passing (14 times per outfielder) and challenging (12 times per outfielder). 

In the game we analysed, the goalkeeper was allowed out of the box to join play. That meant more chances for keepers to receive, pass and move with the ball. While there were a similar number of shots to save when compared to the 5v5 game, in 3v3, there were also sweeper-keeper and 1v1 actions for goalkeepers to face. 

Are there drawbacks to 3v3? Not really. For interaction with the ball, this small-sided format can’t be beaten. 


Don’t forget, the game we reviewed was played on a fenced pitch, meaning no throw-ins or corners and ten full minutes of the ball in play. As a coach, it’s your job to think about how the environment and rules will affect players’ actions. 

For one, what’s the size of the pitch? And what space does each player have in terms of their relative pitch area (RPA)? To calculate RPA in m², multiply the length of the pitch by its width and divide the result by the total number of players. 

For the game we reviewed, RPA was (30 x 20) ÷ 6 = 100m². A smaller 3v3 pitch would create more 1v1 situations and tight spaces for receiving, but fewer opportunities for ball striking and moving with the ball over long distances. 


Other things to think about: 

  • Is the pitch within ‘walls’ or can the ball go out of play? 
  • Are goalkeepers allowed out of the box? 
  • Do players roll or throw the ball in from the sidelines? 
  • Must corners be taken short?
  • What actions do you expect from the age group that’s playing? 

Remember, any decision on how a game’s set up will influence it in some way. 


Check out our articles on futsal and 7v7 to help you pick the best format for your coaching needs.