Small-Sided Games Have Huge Up-Side

Emma Glasgow is the Athletic Coordinator at St. Margaret’s School in Victoria, BC. Emma is a multi-sport athlete and coach with a passion for basketball, a Bachelor’s of Physical Education & Health and a Master’s of Education in Coaching.

The benefits of small-sided games have long been observed by coaches, parents, and educators world-wide. More time engaged in the game, more meaningful touches, more teammates involved; these are just a few of the benefits.

SNYB strongly believes that 3X3 basketball is the best way to engage and develop young players. This post will convince you of the same.

As it stands, much of the research on small-sided games originates from the world of soccer. The progression from 4v4 to 7v7 to the adult 11v11 model has been the standard for years.

As research improves, the small-sided conversation is emerging in other sports. This post will break down some recent research in an effort to educate and engage readers in this discussion!

Measuring Learning in Small-Sided Games

By Mark Carter, Ministry of Football (Link)

This study (and accompanying videos) does an excellent job of demonstrating the overall involvement and physical activity of participants while in small-sided (4v4) and large-sided (indoor football and Futsol) games.

It is immediately evident that small-sided games allow for more touches on the ball and more time spent active. But going one step further, the author uses video to analyze meaningful touches on the ball (characterized by successful passes, shots, and deliberate dribbling). Averaging the data and comparing across the three versions of soccer, he found the following:

  • Indoor Football: 36 touches + 6 passes + 2 dribbles (per child)
  • Futsal: 76 touches + 11 passes + 4 dribbles (per child)
  • 4v4 Mini-League: 173 touches + 23 passes + 15 dribbles (per child)

The numbers are pretty staggering. Using passes and dribbles as a proxy for learning, we can conclude that there is 4 times more learning in 4v4 compared to larger games!

The Effects of Game Size on Physical Activity Levels

By Kenneth Bell, et al., Journal of Kinesiology & Wellness (Link)

This scientific study also compared involvement, but measured the effects of game size on physical activity within a co-ed gym class. The study used pedometers to measure steps, accelerometers to measure the intensity of movement, and general observations to gather data. Activity levels were compared in 3v3, 6v6, and 12v12 games focusing on throwing and catching skills.

Some key results and conclusions are listed below:

  • Significantly more ball touches in 3v3 (as compared to 6v6 and 12v12)
  • Increased number of ball touches indicated greater opportunity to work on individual skills
  • Significantly more accelerometer counts (intensity) in 3v3 (as compared to 6v6 and 12v12)
  • More pedometer steps in 6v6 and 12v12 (as compared to 3v3)
  • Students took fewer steps, but were more likely to engage in higher intensity activity levels in 3v3
  • Boys exhibited more pedometer steps in 6v6 and 12v12 (as compared to girls), but there was no gender difference in pedometer steps in 3v3
  • 3v3 highlights the importance of providing girls with an equal opportunity to participate
  • 6v6 and 12v12 games often simlutaed 3v3 games when only the highly skilled athletes remained actively involved in play
  • 3v3 provided higher involvement in the play due to more 1-on-1 opportunities
  • More opportunity to engage in play often translates to higher participation levels generally

Heart Rate Differences in Small-Sided Games in Formative Basketball

By F. Garcia, et al. (Link)

This study strictly looked at physical activity levels in 3X3 and 4X4 basketball games through observation and heart rate monitors. Interestingly, the authors also recorded how physical activity levels were influenced by coach feedback.

The results were as follows:

  • Significantly more time spent engaged in high-intensity physical activity in 3X3
  • Significantly more time spent engaged in high-intensity activity in both games when coach was present and providing feedback

Leading to the conclusion that:

  • 3X3 offers a higher level of intensity and engagement for all players (as compared to 4X4)

What are your thoughts on small-sided vs. large-sided games? Do you have a preference? Tell us why in the comments below!

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