Influence of pitch length on inter- and intra-team behaviors in youth soccer
Tactical behavior could be affected by changes in small-sided game (SSG) formats. The aim of the present study was to analyze the influence of different pitch lengths during 7-a-side SSGs played by young football players. Fourteen male soccer players in each age group (13 and 14 years old, U13 and U14 teams) were divided in two teams of seven players who played four SSGs of 7 minutes, interspersed with 4 minutes of passive recovery. The only modification to the SSG format was pitch length: 60 m (SSG60), 50 m (SSG50), 40 m (SSG40), and 30 m (SSG30), while the width of the field was kept constant at 40 m. The variables used to characterize collective behavior were grouped in a) intra-team variables, namely, team length (L), team width (W), effective area of team play or convex hull (CH), and stretch index (SI); and b) inter-team variables, namely distance between centroids (DC), length of both teams (L2), width of both teams (W2), convex hull of both teams (CH2), and stretch index of both teams (SI2). Our results revealed different intra and inter-team behaviors according to SSG format and player age. L, CH, SI, DC, L2, CH2, and SI2 all increased with increasing pitch length, while W and W2 showed only minimal changes. The differences were greater in the U13 group, suggesting that younger players were more likely to vary their collective behavior in response to changes to pitch length, inter-task, particularly in the longer pitches (SSG50 and SSG60). Conversely, using the analysis of the entropy, greater unpredictability of tactical behavior was observed in the U14 group, intra-task, compared with the U13 group. Overall, the findings suggest that responses to task constraints, such as modifications to pitch length and accordingly relative area of play, are dependent on age (experience, skill) and this is something coaches should consider when designing SSGs to develop team tactics.
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