Small-sided games, irrespective of the number of players involved, are enjoyable. They are a high-intensity activity with average heart rates between 80% and 90% of an individual’s maximum heart rate. There is also a significant anaerobic response with these types of games. Playing football has been shown to improve cardiovascular fitness, metabolic fitness and musculoskeletal fitness. These changes are seen in all age groups, from eight to 70+ years, regardless of whether or not the participants have previous experience of football and whether or not they have health issues.
The physiological response to small-sided games (such as 3v3, 4v4, 5v5 and 7v7) in recreational football is similar to those observed in elite football training with periods of near-maximal values. The activity profile during small-sided games is highly intermittent, with multiple turns, jumps and sprints. These activities provide a high level of impact on muscles and bones.
The heart-rate level and the number of intense running bouts are high, whether on grass, artificial turf, asphalt or sand. The choice of playing surface does not seem to make a significant difference.