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LTAD - a critique
Demands of the game
Profile of players
Functional screening
Resistance training
Speed and agility training
Integrated game conditioning

Small-sided games (SSGs)

Here, we consider a number of key factors that determine fitness outcomes during small-sided-games. These include intensity of work, player number and play area dimension, frequency of training and the playing level of player (that is elite or beginner).

Player number and pitch size

Kennett et al (2012) studied small-sided games as a method for concurrently training physical, technical and tactical capabilities of Rugby Union players. Their specific question related to variables such as player number and field size and how these factors influence the training stimulus during Rugby-specific small-sided games.

Twenty semi-professional Rugby Union players participated in a series of small-sided games of varying player numbers (4 vs. 4, 6 vs. 6, and 8 vs. 8) on small- (32m × 24m) and large-sized fields (64m × 48m). Blood lactate concentration and heart rate, rate of perceived exertion (RPE) and time-motion demands were assessed for each different small-sided game format. There were significant differences between the 4 vs. 4, 6 vs. 6, and 8 vs. 8 small-sided game formats in mean speed (meters per minute), high-speed running distance (meters) and rate of perceived exertion. Blood lactate was greater in 4 vs. 4 compared with that in 8 vs. 8 small-sided games. The mean speed, high speed running distance, number of sprints, peak speed, blood lactate concentration, and rate of perceived exertion were all significantly different between large- and small-field size. There were no significant difference between game formats (4 vs. 4, 6 vs. 6, and 8 vs. 8) or field size (small or large) for either percent maximum heart rate or time spent >85% of maximum heart rate. These results show that small-sided games with fewer players and larger field sizes elicit greater physiological and perceptual responses and time-motion demands. In contrast, the heart rate response was similar between all small-sided game formats, which may be attributable to high levels of individual variability in the heart rate response. This study provides information about the influence of player number and field size on the training stimulus provided by Rugby-specific small-sided games.

The study by Kennett and colleagues suggests that reducing player number and increasing pitch size will task the anaerobic and aerobic systems to a greater extent than playing in a smaller area.

Figure 6. Small-sided games allow for game specific activities and when appropriately organised will enhance game specific fitness.

Another study by Vaz et al (2012) compared physical exertion and game performance indicators of experienced and novice Rugby Union players when playing small-sided games. Forty male players participated in eight 6 vs. 6 small-sided games over a 4-week period. The games lasted for 12 minutes and were continuous. The playing area was a 60m x 40m. All players wore GPS units and heart rate belts. No statistically significant differences in the physical exertion measures between experienced and novice players were found. However, the manual notational analysis revealed substantial differences between players in all game performance indicators, with better performance by the experienced players in terms of tackles, passes and tries scored. These results suggest that specific physical conditioning as completed in small-sided games might be achieved while also achieving technical and tactical benefits.

In summary, the study of Vaz and colleagues suggests that additional skills related practice may be important for novice players. Also, both novice and experienced players can make physical workload improvements over a short phase of training (such as 4 weeks) when using small-sided games. Such games can complement other conditioning methods used to enhance players’ overall fitness to play.