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Young players stand in circle around coach, hands raised in the air

Stay on the pitch

Sally Needham, former FA coach developer, delivers a great small-sided game.

Stay on the pitch

Want to try this with your team? Download the session plan to your device and give it a go.

Set up an area suitable for the age and ability of your players – and place a goal at each end. Larger spaces give your team extra room, making keeping the ball in play easier. Smaller areas make this task much more demanding.  

Sort your players into two teams. Decide how to do this before your session. For example, do you want to put players together for deliberate reasons, or do you want to randomly assign sides?  

In this example, our team plays 5v5. But this game can be adapted to suit your numbers. 


Like a regular football game, both teams try to score as many goals as possible. But here, there's extra emphasis on keeping the ball under control to ensure it doesn't go out of play. If it does leave the area, there's a twist... 

Any player who takes the ball out of the area (or accidentally knocks it out) must come off the pitch for one minute. The player can re-join the game if any of the following situations occur.  

  • Their 60 seconds are up. 

  • Another player hits the ball out. 

  • Their team scores. In this instance, a player from the other side must replace them on the sideline. 

Note: only one player can be off the pitch at any time.  

This twist encourages players to think about using the available space and working with their teammates to look after the ball. It also increases the chance of players staying on the ball and playing shorter passes (rather than kicking it long).   

When the twist comes into play, it creates an overload and gives both sides a problem to solve. The overloaded side must figure out how to take advantage – before the numbers even out. The underloaded side must work together to keep possession despite having fewer players. 


If your players master this game – or find it too hard – try adding a progression. But remember, learning takes time. So don't alter your activity too quickly – or too much. Try using the STEP framework (Youth Sports Trust, 2002). This helps keep things fun, engaging and appropriate. 

In this example, the teams are coping well, so Sally decides to make the game more challenging. She does this by adding two extra constraints. 

  1. Players must score when they shoot. If they don't, they're sent off for one minute. This progression encourages both sides to look for options and get into better positions before shooting. 

  2. As long as there's one outfield player on the pitch, there's no limit to the number of individuals who can be sent off for kicking the ball out.  

If you use this session with your team, let us know how you get on by posting in the England Football Community.