SSG Discussion

FSC has been implimenting the FFA guidelines for Small Sided Games over the last few years. This year’s U9 will be the first year to go through in the SSG format. The plan is that next year U10 will move to SSGs which will be 9v9, on what is basically a half sized field. Traditionally U10s has been the start of competition and grading of teams. While the FFA guidelines for SSGs are that no competition points are allowed to be kept there is scope for some form of grading, or seeding of teams to be carried out. There are Pros and Cons for “grading” it is important that the options are considered and discussed before the FSC Junuior council makes a decision on what format to impliment for SSGs in 2011. This post gives people an opportunity to have their thoughtd put down for consideration. Please take the time to read through the comments below and feel free to add a comment on what you believe is the appropriate format for SSGs in 2012 and beyond.

Many people, and clubs, have had negative experiences with “grading” kids into teams. For the smaller clubs this isn’t as big an issue as they usually have only one team per age group. Some larger clubs go through an extensive and exhaustive process for selecting teams, and despite the effort that is put in, people are still left disappointed. There is a feeling that SSGs, which is meant to be participation and fun based, can do without this added pressure and “drama”. After all there are no points being kept, no finals, or grand finals, so why would grading be necessary?

The current FSC rules are that all SSG teams must be of equal strength. In practice this simply does not happen. Most teams are formed along social groupings, or sometimes school friends. At the end of the day the team are not “deselected” or evened out. In effect the teams are not even in strength. Some teams regularly lose games by large margins, and other go through the season undefeated, regularly beating teams by large margins. There is one school of thought that , again, it doesn’t matter as there are no points kept. We believe that the kids would enjoy, and in fact have more fun, if they were regularly playing against players of the same ability. This isn’t only about giving the more talented players opportunities to excel, it’s just as much, if not more important, for the kids who are developing their skills, or playing football for the first time. Our experience has certainly been that kids who are in teams that are not competitive do leave the sport which is very disappointing.

Grading does not have to be about selecting kids for teams, and breaking up the social groups that have been succesful in SSGs to date. There are many different formats that grading could take, and we need to think outside the systems that we are using now for competition teams.

We also need to consider when grading should start. We believe that grading of teams shuld start during the U9 SSG season. By this age many of the kids have played for 3 or 4 years, and others are being introduced into the sport. It’s also the second year of the 7V7 format.

We’d like to hear what your thoughts are on grading. There has been some aprehension about setting up a post where anyone can comment, and that it might get personal, and out of control. Some rules for adding comments..

  • All posts will be moderated, or checked, by me before they are released posted.
  • All posts should contain what your thoughts are. There is no need to comment on what other people are saying. Any post that criticises someone elses point of view will be deleted.
  • Any post that contains offensive language will also be deleted.
  • If it does get out of hand I’ll close the post down.

Some links to useful information

FFA SSG handbook

St George Football Association Web Site

So, what do you think?


  1. I am strongly in favour of grading.

    For teams that could best be described as developing (ie, made up predominately of inexperienced players and/or players of limited skill) to be consistently beaten by substantial margins is brutal. Self esteem takes a huge hit and week after week it reinforces the wrong message. The heartbreak and frustration is debilitating. Neither team benefits from this type of sporting experience.

    If clubs nominated teams to play in at least two divisions, all players would gain from playing competitive matches. It would enable developing players access to a more equitable experience where they can learn the basics, utilise their emergent skills, have fun and foster a love for the game. The players in the skilled division would be positioned to extend their skills by being challenged each week.

    Grading would give clubs with more than one team per age group the opportunity to best place their teams, as I am yet to come across a club whose player’s abilities are evenly distributed amongst their teams, regardless of the philosophy behind their organisation.

    The implementation of grading in the U9s makes a lot of sense as the strengths and weaknesses of players clearly stand out. (However, there is a case to argue that it could be brought in earlier.) This wouldn’t be to drive competition and focus on winning; on the contrary, the heart of the experience would be on equity and the opportunity play a great game where true potential can be tapped and developed effectively in all players.

    Madeline Holliday

  2. I agree that grading has many benefits for the kids. We have come across teams from both ends of the spectrum this year and while our kids have dealt with it fantastically it is time to implement grading for our current U9’s.

    I would add that it does no good for the kids to dish out a hiding to an inexperienced team. Their skills are not tested and they are not challenged to work out an opponent individually or as a team. In fact teamwork seems to go out the window when faced with a clearly inferior team.

    Dave Hughes

  3. Thankyou for raising this issue for discussion prior to the November FSC Policy meeting.

    Kiama JFC supports the idea of adopting the St George model of seeding teams into a three tier competition of “Beginner”, “Intermediete”, and “Advanced”.

    The Benefits of this model are:
    1. Fairer match ups for beginners which enables these players to avoid regular thrashings, have more fun and fall in love with the game.
    2. The more advanced players, by facing stronger opposition will experience the thrill of a close match.
    3. The more advanced player will develop their skills quicker by having less time on the ball.
    3. Some of the stronger teams, by facing other stronger teams, will actually learn the vital skill of dealing with losing a game occasionally.

    This model could be used for u8’s, u9’s and u10’s for 2012.

    FSC can simply request that each club nominate the standard of each team next March when team nominations are sent to David Ware.

    Clubs could then implement their own policy of either:
    a) grading their players – (This has the benefit of the keenest kids playing together, but the disadvantage of possibly breaking up some friendship circles), or
    b) keeping their teams as they are and simply nominating their overall team standard. – (this has the advantage of keeping the current teams together, but the disadvantage of the keenest kids feeling resentment toward a fellow team mate who doesnt train three night a week like they do.)

    Thanks again for raising the discussion.

    Rusty Moran
    Development Officer
    Kiama JFC

  4. Part of me still believes we’ve no need to grade SSF teams, providing the coaches & managers are completeing their roles. Anyone can coach a team to win, but not many can manage loss. Caoches should be asking their team to not just go out and score goals but use those games where they are up by a few goals to work on the teamwork element, have them try and pass to everyone in the team before going forward. How many of us have seen a team been told to do that. It’s great having a little Ronaldo in your team but not many coaches ask them to include his teamates. I’ve seen it even at our club. I’d like to think the better option might be to nominate standards, but it will still require half the season to see where that team fits against other clubs. There’s nothing wrong with losing, and most kids move on quite quickly so how do the parents & coaches manage it?

    Some food for thought…

  5. Having coached SSG in its current format, I think it works with U/6 through to U/8 but when we look at U/9 and above, the kids really seem to feel when they are getting hammered. I agree with the other comments that skills need to be developed. If we want our kids to come back and play every year and ENJOY themselves while learning, then a fair grading system would be of benefit.
    How we do this, will be the challenge and as mentioned previously by others there will still be some left disappointed.

  6. Agree with much of the above. As a new coach of an U/6 team, the differences in player skill levels (and the kids’ own motivation, potential, etc) is already very evident.

    Some food for thought with this discussion:

    (1) Agree that U/9s is a reasonable age group to begin grading. Without delving into the detail, the St George model appears reasonable. However, as players can improve/regress relative to others quite quickly at this age, would grading be flexible rather than locked in for a season? Say reviewed twice per season (given that no scores/points are kept)? This may enable players to set themselves personal achievements.

    (2) Should grading also apply to coaching competency? Discussion is equally warranted also on this topic as to how coaching potential can be assessed and how to apply it. Should the “better” coaches add value to the “advanced” players or just let whoever volunteers coach the advanced team? Or vice versa, should the “better” coaches support the “less competent” players? What is the overall aim of the club for U9s and U/10s – player development or club competitiveness? Good coaches/coaching can harness the potential of less competent 8, 9 and 10 year olds to go on to great things.

    (3) As an adjunct to existing competitions, all younger age groups could benefit from gala-weekends/knock-outs where clubs can nominate Advanced and/or Intermediate teams (is this voluntary or mandatory is also worth discussing). This could be factored into the competition schedule once or twice later in a season (or more as the age increases) and be a shared fund raising oppportunity. This exposes younger players to the inevitable – playing at grade, mixing in a new team, exposure to different coaches (and playing styles), etc. Players can be aspirational (or not) and still return to their own team/social network. Graded gala days/weekends would also offer clubs a chance to assess/grade for subsequent years.

    Hope the above helps the debate.

  7. • I think players do not benefit from winning or losing by a large margin so a step forward to even up matches would be good.
    • The format will need to be kept simple, 1st year may be a trial to live and learn from.
    • Keeping friends together for as long as practically possible helps the kids enjoy and continue playing football (main objective).
    • You may find the lower level players are already starting leaving the game by U/10 as it becomes more competitive so grading teams (not players) earlier may help keep these players.
    • Getting players of the same ability together earlier would have some benefits with coaching.

    Grading (nominating) teams into divisions will be the best.
    No official player grading structure but players may move between teams if there is a large difference in the ability level (mutual agreement).
    Grading players in SSG will only cause pain.

    U/8 – 7v7
    Stay the same, this is the 1st year of 7v7 and will give the coaches a feel of what to nominate for the following year.
    U/9 – 7v7
    a) Team from previous year to stay together (fill any missing gaps with players to suit nominated division)
    b) Coaches nominate a division for their team at the start of the year & this will remain for the whole season.
    U/10 – 9v9
    a) Same base of players but teams will need extra players and these can be selected with the nominated division in mind.
    b) Coaches nominate a division for their team at the start of the year & this will remain for the whole season.

    There will always be some exceptions that will need to be dealt with case by case
    Implementing a simple structure to be monitored, reviewed and changed to suit would be the best.

    Scott Madden

  8. As a result of a committee meeting held on the 17th of July, Bulli Junior Soccer Club voted in support of team and player grading at under 10 and 11 age groups.

    In support of the clubs decision we would like to offer the following information and understanding.

    • Grading shall only apply to under 10 and 11 teams.
    • Games shall continue to be classified as non competitive.
    • There shall be no publication of any scores and no maintenance of league tables by the association or any club.
    • Teams to be categorised into A, B and C grades.
    • It is recognised by Bulli Junior Soccer Club that every player has to be assessed and graded into the appropriate category for the model to work correctly.
    • Individual player grading shall be carried out by the club based on objective skill criteria only and shall not consider player friendships, previous team structures etc.
    • It is also recognised by the club that a C graded player cannot play in a A grade team as it shall defeat the whole purpose of grading and vice versa an A graded player cannot play in a B or C grade team as this would also defeat the purpose of balancing teams based on skill.
    • All players, parents and coaches are to be informed of the clubs policy regards grading of under 10 and 11 players during the registration phase of the season.

    Colin Campbell
    Coaching Development Coordinator
    Bulli Junior Soccer Club

  9. There are plenty of valid points made by your respondants.Grading and selection of players into teams at any age is always a difficult task.
    How to grade,why grade,when to grade are the three basic questions,then add the pro’s and con’s of each and getting it right becomes difficult.
    If grading were to take place at this age it should only be for the sole reason of providing equality in games across the age group and the DEVELOPMENT of players.
    As pointed out the blow out in scores for and against provides absolutely nothing towards a young players development.
    Those that continually win gain nothing from the experience as they are not challenged and consequently find it hard to accept the idea of losing when confronted with “real” opposition in the future. They gain no insight into the game and are not challenged to problem solve on the field.
    Those that are constantly beaten will unfortunately possibly drop out of the game before giving themselves a chance to develop as players.Remember the whiz kid at 7yo isn’t always the whiz kid at 9yo when the others have had a chance to catch up physically,mentally and technically as footballers.
    People also need to be aware of the differences in development across the span of a year in ages. A January 7yo has a years head start figuratively speaking over his/her December 7yo teammate/opponent.
    To set up a system where “grading” takes place to aid the equality of competition and the development of players would take plenty of dicussion and strict adherence to a set of criteria/guidelines that would need to be put in place.
    Small Sided Football is still not accepted by all in the game.I personally find this hard to fathom as it is only for the betterment of the game.SSF is the basis of player development in all major footballing nations. Spain,Holland,Germany,Brazil,Argentina etc.
    To make it better understood the education of coaches and parents must be a priority and would need to be part of any change made.
    Finally I believe any issues could be resolved by making anybody involved or about to be involved in the game watch Webby’s video.
    If this doesn’t sum up the true meaning of the game then I’ll throw all of my boots,balls and books in the bin.The responses from the kids, the “behaviour ” of their parents and coach is a lesson to all of us.WHAT WOULD YOU HAVE GIVEN TO HAVE BEEN THERE THE DAY THEY SCORED THEIR FIRST GOAL? Surely a priceless ticket.

    Yours in Football,

    Paul Jones.

  10. Coledale’s attitude to this closely resembles that of Rusty Moran in the post above so without going over too much of it again…
    We support grading from U9s and up, believing it essential from U10s at the very least. Results (wins and losses) are less relevent to us than player development and we believe it is a better experience for the children if they are working together, playing and training, in teams of players at a similar skill level.
    ‘Grading’ already exists of course in a different guise – we are obliged to have teams of equal strengths and the only way to achieve that is to grade them that way. The reality of this is we have Under 9 teams mixing very good players who have trained 3 nights for the past few years with first season novices. It is challenging to put on training sessions which challenge the experienced kids without leaving the new comers behind.

  11. Some very good ideas are coming from this discussion.I would like to collate some of these points and come up with a general concensus and run with it.It is an an area that needs attention and is definitely challenging.Look forward to discussing it further.

  12. Hi Gary … Could I pass the input below on to you. It is from our U6 co-ordinator, Lesa Paine.

    My thoughts. The best games are close games, where kids play with and against kids of their own ability, whatever that ability is.

    U6, U7: no grading – all kids want to do is play with their friends.

    U8: Team grading – teams formed along social groups and then graded as a team. There could be two divisions. This creates a situation where teams are more likely to play against other teams with a similar ability to their own. Hopefully avoiding the 20-0 results.

    U9: Individual grading and team grading. (As per current U10)

    The philosophy of SSG is “more touches on the ball”. In U9, weak players don’t touch the ball and strong players don’t learn to pass the ball.

    At the moment there is way too much diversity in U9 teams. Brand newies are lumped in with kids that have been playing for 3 or 4 years. The newies get intimidated by the better players and don’t have confidence and would be much better off in a team of beginners, where everyone is learning and playing against other teams of the same ability.

    There are those who say that parents want grading because they are obsessed with winning and it should just be about “fun”. Most parents don’t necessarily want to win, they just want good competition. I’d much rather lose 3-2 than win 10-0 because it’s exciting. Competition is part of the fun and part of life.


    Bob H


  13. Hi Scott, The motions were accepted at the AGM. In summary the clubs will be ably to apply to have SSG teams in U9 and U10 seeded into either beginner, Intermediate and Advanced. There will be opportunities throughout the year for the club to request re-seeding into another division based on their level of enjoyment in their seeding. Woonona should have a copy of the new By-Laws. I’ll actually get a hold of a copy of the new by-laws and put up a post on this web site. Garry

  14. I am the coach of the Bulli Under 10 beginner team that were beaten 18 nothing yesterday by Balgownie – How can this happen when clubs should have grouped their teams accordingly .

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