The older, the wider: on-field tactical behavior of elite-standard youth soccer players in small-sided games

Sigrid Olthof, Wouter Frencken, Koen Lemmink

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review


Young soccer players need excellent tactical skills to reach the top. Tactical behavior emerges through interactions between opposing teams. However, few studies have focused on on-field tactical behavior of teams with talented soccer players. Therefore, this study aimed to determine teams’ tactical behavior during small-sided games in two age categories, Under-17 and Under-19.

Positional data of thirty-nine elite-standard soccer players were collected during twenty-four small-sided games to calculate longitudinal and lateral inter-team distances, stretch indices and length per width ratios. Corresponding interaction patterns and game-to-game variability were also determined.

Under-19 showed a significantly larger lateral stretch index and a significantly lower length per width ratio compared with Under-17. Furthermore, teams of both age groups showed similar large proportions of in-phase behavior. Variability of tactical performance measures within and between games was similar for Under-17 and Under-19.

Variability within games seems to be functional for attacking teams for creating goal-scoring opportunities. In conclusion, the main difference was that Under-19 adopted a wider pitch dispersion than Under-17, represented by a larger lateral stretch index and smaller length per width ratio. Coach instructions and training exercises should be directed at exploiting pitch width to increase the pursuit of goal-scoring.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)92-102
JournalHuman Movement Science
Issue numberJune
Publication statusPublished - 2015


  • soccer
  • tactics
  • talent development
  • performance analysis


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