Five-A-Side Football Coach Blog

Five-A-Side Football Coach Blog

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    Five-A-Side Football Coach – a blog that helps you to improve your five-a-side football skills with free tactics, training drills and strategy tips.


    Date Added: 20/11/14

    Last Checked: 30/11/15

    Date Updated At Last Check: not known

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  • Is Playing 5-A-Side Football Sufficient Training for 11-A-Side?

    I’m sure many of us playing or coaching eleven-a-side at grassroots level, particularly those involved in the older age groups, recognise a familiar problem.

    Keen to improve the results of the team each weekend, you need to organise 1 or 2 training sessions each week, which is easier said than done. Amateur players have other things to prioritise such as families and work, so getting 11 or more together for a game every Saturday or Sunday is doing pretty well, adding a couple of training sessions into the time commitment makes things a whole lot harder.

    If your squad all live in the same town or village it can be more straightforward, but playing and coaching as I have, in and around a big city, it’s far trickier.

    Many players I experienced were confident that it wouldn’t be a problem. Fitness would be maintained by their regular visits to the gym (although with some you really questioned if they were doing anything more strenuous than sitting in the sauna for ten minutes before retiring to the bar), and they were regularly brushing up on their football skills by playing five-a-side with their mates or work colleagues.

    In addition, some players from the team would actually be playing together, which would inevitably lead to the suggestion of setting up a separate five-a-side team for those who couldn’t make training.

    At the time, I maintained the point of view that playing the small-sided game was no substitute for training for its eleven-a-side equivalent. But recently I’ve been questioning if this opinion was really valid.

    Small-Sided Training Drills

    Let’s be clear, there’s no way you’ll be able to work on your latest revolutionary 1-1-8 formation or skilfully crafted set piece move by playing five-a-side.

    But then again, you’ll also require all your players to attend the same training session and be fully switched on to reach such levels of sophistication.

    At the end of a long day at work for most, you’ll rarely get everyone at their optimum. By the same token, if your regular match tactics involve lumping the ball forward to the tall player up front, practising on a pitch that could be as little as 25 metres long will be a fairly meaningless exercise.

    That said, many of the drills you would set up in your average training session would involve small sides, tight space, and possibly limited touches, as this improves things like control, touch, awareness, speed of thought – all things that five-a-side will undoubtedly improve just as well.

    The all conquering Liverpool side of the 1980s boasted of doing little more in training other than five-a-side games, with the format allowing the players to learn the value of creating triangles – control, pass, move – until the gaps in the opposition appeared to exploit. Those of us old enough to remember that team will admit that’s quite an endorsement for the smaller variation of the game.


    We already mentioned the challenges of keeping players fit, and the fact that it’s likely only a proportion of players are likely to be ‘active’ gym members (just having a membership doesn’t count!).

    Well the good news is that research (from the Department of Exercise & Sport Sciences at the University of Copenhagen no less) has shown that five-a-side players reached 90% of maximum heart rate for longer than compared gym attendees.

    In addition, the footballers would have significantly lower blood pressure, and, per game, were likely to burn in excess of 800 calories, which is on par with other sporting activities such as basketball and swimming. And with the added bonus of the exercise involving a football, it’s surely a more productive way of keeping player fitness levels up than the ten laps of the training ground some coaches perceive to be beneficial.

    So five-a-side is better for fitness in comparison to gym work, however it’s also worth comparing the figures between the two forms of the game. After all, an eleven-a-side pitch is significantly larger so surely will require higher levels of fitness from the players?

    Here again, the scientific studies (this time from the Departments of Kinesiology in Louisiana State University and Leeds Metropolitan University) make further fascinating reading. When comparing a 90 minute eleven-a-side game to an hour’s five-a-side, the amount of distance covered is remarkably similar – anywhere between 7km and 11.5km.

    There are differences though.

    The smaller game involves greater intensity, with more sprinting and less rest time. In a five-a-side, you’re going to have little time for a quick breather unless you are willing to incur the wrath of your team mates. In the full size form of the game, you could be without a touch of the ball for minutes on end, and in fact it was found that players in five-a-side were getting more than four times the number of touches of the ball than they would in an eleven-a-side.

    Skill Development

    The introduction and popularity growth of Futsal, the small-sided game developed in Brazil in the 1930s and 1940s, has been seen by the FA as a way of improving technique in developing young players, and there are obvious similarities with the five-a-side game that was already in place.

    But which of the skills required to be successful in the smaller game would work in the larger game?


    Starting at the back, one of the more challenging aspects of goalkeeping is the shot low down, particularly very close to the body – plenty of practice to be had on the five-a-side pitch where concentration requirements are high and reaction times are reduced.

    In addition, distribution in the smaller game must be quick and very accurate, another transferable skill.

    Your forward thinking, modern day eleven-a-side teams also use their goalkeeper as a deep lying player in order to switch play, and depending on the rules being played, this can also be practiced on the five-a-side pitch.


    On the majority of five-a-side pitches, defending players would be mad to consider a sliding challenge, so staying on your feet, pressing aggressively, looking to read the game are the order of the day.

    Modern defending in eleven-a-side, particularly with the harsher punishments for mistiming challenges, should involve the same techniques, and as a team, the defending basics of communication, distances and angles, cover and support apply equally in both forms of the game.

    Defending in the eleven-a-side game sees a tactical dilemma between zonal and man-to-man marking; the latter is ridiculously hard work in a five-a-side game, so the passing on of players in a more dynamic form of defending is generally the way to go. Developing such understanding will only benefit a player in the full size form of the game.


    Further up the pitch, in either form of the game, creating space, intelligent movement and crisp passing is important for breaking down the opposition.

    As a striker, the target you have to hit is more than 50% smaller so the accuracy of your shooting is even more vital in five-a-side. As all players will need to be shooting due to the positional flexibility of the game, it can only benefit when they get onto the bigger pitches come the weekend, although of course, don’t expect their heading or 25 yard shots to have improved a great deal.


    The five-a-side game has certainly increased in popularity over the past decade or so, with pitches and specialist centres such as Powerleague and Goals springing up both country wide, and also in areas such as city centres where facilities are often harder to find.

    In contrast, options for the eleven-a-side game, particularly those that can be used year round are harder to find, and with the laws of supply and demand, can certainly be a much bigger strain on the wallet. From a logistical and financial point of view therefore, the smaller game makes sense here as well. If you’re a team struggling to get double figures at your training sessions due to travelling or other commitments, booking a full sized pitch that isn’t going to be used properly will just be a financial drain.

    So five-a-side really does look like the winner here right?

    Reflecting on my views on five-a-side from times gone by as a substitute for training for the eleven-a-side game, I think it’s fair to say that I wasn’t being completely fair with my assessment, but of course, if you’re aiming for the elite end of the game, you’re going to need to do more than a few after work Powerleague sessions with your mates.

    However at the grass roots level, which most of us play or coach at, from a technical and fitness point of view, a decent standard five-a-side game will keep players sharp and in good shape for the weekend game, and barring injury will certainly do them no harm.

    Perhaps that heavy touch of theirs might even improve a little bit…now where’s the number for my local Powerleague centre?

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