Soccer in the U.S. has come quite a long way in changing its rules and philosophies towards youth player development. It's hard to imagine that we used to put 8 year olds on a field to compete 11 v 11. In today's environment this would be unheard of. The most likely thought at the time was that's how the adult professionals do it so we should too. Over time attitudes changed through coaching education and more experienced and knowledgeable leaders who ran our recreational organizations.
In recreational leagues today small sided soccer is now considered the norm for beginning U5 and U6 players. US Soccer recommends 3v3 soccer for U6 and U8 age groups in their published player development guidelines, "Best Practices for Coaching Soccer in the United States." (PDF format) US Youth Soccer has devoted a section of their website devoted to small sided games. So why is it so important?
Soccer is a game that requires individual skill to be fun. The more skill young players attain, the more fun the game becomes. Those who don't learn skill at an early age struggle to find the fun in the game and stop playing all together. The full 11 a side game at the adolescent to adult level is difficult for most to understand. It's a simple free flowing game where players struggle to make organization out of chaos. All while trying to disrupt the other team's organization. Limiting the numbers on the field to 3v3 at the youth level helps players to be successful and continue to enjoy the game at a higher level.
Playing small sided games develops a soccer player's skill faster while having more fun. The more opportunities a child has in games and training to make decisions whether to pass, dribble or shoot the better the experience to move to the next level faster. Small sided 3v3 soccer better prepares players to be successful at larger sided games.
More 1v1 Opportunities
During early youth development children must learn to develop skill with the ball. Ball mastery is probably the single most important ingredient for having fun in soccer. The better they are the more fun the game becomes. 3v3 provides an excellent environment for 1v1 situations and it happens over and over again through the course of a game. 3v3 can be the equivalent organized version of street soccer that gives players the creativity and variety of playing experience. A larger sided game simply cannot give players the same repetition level they would receive in 3v3.
Less Players = More Involvement
Limiting play to these numbers allows a good balance of opportunity for each player to make real game decisions of whether to dribble, pass or shoot. By keeping the number of players down we are giving them a higher chance of being successful which will promote growth to the next level as well as more enjoyment of the sport.
3v3 at still provides new challenges that they can take with them to larger sided games. 3v3 introduces and reinforces the concept of shape as players learn to form fluid triangles that change in size according to the principles of defense and offense.
3 Players per team on the field at one time
(2) 12 minute halves
Ball can not be touched inside of the goal box
Kick-in's rather than throw-ins