As a coach, do you let the players play at the end of your sessions? Do you let them play free or do you put conditions on the game? This article looks very briefly at the idea of using conditioned games, some of the pros and cons, and the concept behind it.

 
 Small sided games can also be tweaked or manipulated by deciding what formation a team will play in. The team above is playing a 1-2-2 to encourage forward's to combine.

Small sided games can also be tweaked or manipulated by deciding what formation a team will play in. The team above is playing a 1-2-2 to encourage forward's to combine.

 

Rules, restrictions and points!

For me, the idea of conditioned games is to bring out the coaching topic that we've been working on in that session. For example, if I've just done a session on taking players on 1 v.1, that's what I want to see coming out in the games at the end. Therefore, it's important to sculpt the game in a way that encourages the players to use what they just learned. There are a variety of ways to do this, some subtle and some more complex. Some of the things to consider might be:

  • the size of the field - I probably want it bigger to encourage players to dribble as there is lots of space
  • the amount of players on the field - 11 v. 11 with 10 teammates all calling for the ball is hard to ignore and it's probably harder to isolate someone 1 v. 1. However, 3 v. 3's or 4 v. 4's and now we can try and identify times and places where we can go at someone to beat them.
  • placing rules on the game - you can only score if you beat someone in a 1 v. 1 situation
  • rewarding the preferred outcome. E.g. you get 1 point for scoring a goal or you get 5 points for scoring a goal after beating someone 1 v. 1

Obviously, some are going to be more effective than others and it's going to depend a lot on what's suitable for your players in terms of how far along they are developmentally (age isn't always the best indicator of this).

Meeting your Learning Outcomes

Hopefully, you've rocked up to your session with a plan in mind. Even better, you've scribbled down a few notes on what your session is going to look like and have a coaching point or two lined up. Best case scenario, you've planned your session meticulously with progressions and regressions just in case it doesn't go as planned and you have plenty of coaching points lined up to meet your learning outcomes (what you want to get out of that session).

*That's not to say you're going to get to all of them, we don't want to overload the players with information, but that's a topic for another day.

You've done your session, you've made your coaching points. The players have all nodded along, made eye contact and regurgitated the information they know you want to hear repeated back. Now the real test, did it really sink in? Will it come out in a game? Do you leave that bit to chance in a 6 v. 6 scrimmage or do you manipulate it so that they have to use what they just learned in the game at the end. My argument here is yes, tweak the game a little. That way they can take what they just learned and apply it in a game situation, learning when and where to apply it and see what works and what doesn't.

Tweaking Player Positions

One example of conditioned games I was introduced to recently was the concept of simply adjusting the formation and the way the team plays at the end to meet the learning outcomes. Instead of being the coach who claims they are developmentally focused and then places the strong player at centre back and the fast player at forward, try tweaking the players positions and roles to bring out your coaching points or learning outcomes. The example below follows on from the 1 v. 1 session mentioned earlier.

 
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In the example above, the midfielder can check away from the ball, trying to take his defender with him, leaving plenty of space for the left defender to go 1 v. 1 with his man. The forward stays high, giving the team depth, but also keeps to the opposite side to leave room in behind for the white left defender to penetrate once he beats his man 1 v. 1.

By encouraging the midfielder to check away from the ball and the forward to stay high and wide, they create lots of space which is conducive to a 1 v. 1 situation. The player is taught to recognize the space in behind the defender as a trigger to take him on 1 v. 1 and this is now reinforced in the conditioned game at the end.

Pitfalls

Despite being a minor adjustment, the white team are now set up in a fashion that allows them to go 1 v. 1. If the defenders pass between themselves, it is up to the midfielder and forward to move off the ball to create the space for players to go 1 v. 1.

Using conditioned games is great for meeting learning outcomes and re-emphasizing coaching points in a live game, but sometimes it is easy to place too many restrictions on the game to force the scenario you want to see. At this point, if the game is confusing, stops being realistic or it doesn't feel like the players are having fun - the conditions are more of a hindrance than a help.

The sign of a good conditioned game is when it still feels like a game. The real test is if when you call time at the end of practice, players are begging for one more game, or one last goal!