Qualitative assessment of small-sided games load

On today’s soccer practice I have talked to the sport’s director of our club about the small sided game load and how to assess it.
Our players were little ‘flat’ yesterday, and we decided to give them a break today. They played their favourite ‘ball possession in square’ 4:2+1, then they did 7on7 with 7 pivots aside a 1/4 of the field. The team that scored a goal continue to play, and the other comes out and the third team (pivots) come inside.

The sport director asked me if the intensity/load was too high for a ‘recovery’ session. I asnwered ‘I still don’t know to assess that visually. I don’t have the skill to do that yet. Can you tell me what to watch?’

An he said… ‘It is simple: lungs and legs’.

When reffering to lungs, he ment on observing players breathing patterns during and after the game. Are they catching air? Is breathing calm and relaxed?

When reffering to ‘legs’, he ment are the players quick inside the game, or are they ‘flat’ and ‘lazy’. How much is there number of sprints, for how long, how many ball involvement, is technique stable and fast etc.

Number of sprints and HI activity inisde the game, and the rest-to-work ratio determine the breathing (metabolic response) and eventually quality of sprints and HI activity.

According to this, we may create the following classification according to ‘lungs and legs’

Quick inside the game and calmed breathing
Basically this is the type of game where players initiate short bursts of activity interspread with long duration of relative rest. This types of games are used to teach tactics, technique or ‘decision making and quickness’ games, while providing minimal metabolic conditioning

Quick inside the game and heavy breathing
These are usually conditoning games where there are a lot of short sprints, short recovery periods within low to moderate activity is done. 2on2, 4on4 etc comes to my mind. The goal is metabolic conditioning

Lazy inside the game and heavy breathing
There are couple of sources for this situation:
a) They are tired
b) They are untrained/de-conditined
c) Coach emphasised too much and too long repetitions of small sided games.
Sometimes this may be the actuall goal of ‘Speed Endurance Maintenance or Toleration Training’ (aka Lactic Endurance) aimed at trying to improve the ‘ability to perform under fatigue’. How smart is this approach… don’t know for sure. This should rarelly happen in soccer practice. Games should be stoped before this happens.

Slow inside the game and calmed breathing
Usually recovery games and training geared toward practicing technique and tactics at controled pace.

Numerous small-sided games can be positioned inside this Lungs-Legs continuum and that positiong is not a ‘dot’ but rather an area.

I sometimes ask the players, if they are lacking power in legs or in lungs which limit their performance in games. Lacking ‘power’ in lungs is a sign of poor aerobic conditioning or fatigue, while lacking ‘power in legs’ is a sign of accumulated fatigue/H+, decreased content of carbohydrates, soreness etc.


Do you mean that the area under the graph represents the relative intensity for the players? I like the idé. If you ever decide to put different types of games into the graph I would like to get a copy later :slight_smile:

Anyway I would like another criterion to be added when you look to see the relative intensity of the games:

Decisions made by the players! When the players are tired, the play on a small field will not be as good as usual because of the players making wrong decisions. This could be accounted to them being either tired in their legs, head (due to social problems, bad sleep etc) or just in a bad mood. If you’re not familiar with soccer enough I’m sure your coach can spot the difference in the play for you. If I were to spot these changes I would increase the playing area or change exercise.