Practice Design Scaling Children's Sport

Effect of reducing player numbers & playing density?

A powerful tool for every coach is the ability to manipulate playing conditions during training. For instance, in field hockey, a coach can dictate the number of players in each team. The coach can also alter the size of the field.

But what effect does this have on performance? And is it a worthwhile strategy?

Ewout Timmerman investigated this question as part of his PhD thesis.

The Study

25 skilled junior hockey players aged 12 years of age participated in the study. Participants played four 25 minute matches, with each match varying in player numbers or playing density (individual playing area per player). The four playing conditions were:

  1. Standard density (228m squared), standard player numbers (11 payers).
  2. Scaled density (158m squared) standard player numbers.
  3. Standard density, scaled player numbers (8 players).
  4. Scaled density, scaled player numbers

Key result

Altering player numbers had a greater impact on match play characteristics than manipulating playing density. Specifically, reducing player numbers led to:

  • more successful passess
  • more skilled actions (passes and dribbles)
  • more successful actions
  • more high and low pressure moments (note: pressure was measured based on the distance between players when receiving the ball. If the player received the ball <1 from an opponent, it was deemed high pressure. Low pressure was when the opponent was positioned >5 meters away).

Concluding remarks

As the authors stated: “Playing field hockey with 8 players per side, as opposed to the standard 11 players per side, seems to be beneficial in creating additional opportunities for the execution of key field hockey skills.”

Moreover, it is worth highlighting the potential importance of inducing more high pressure moments. The authors explained this clearly: “Such pressure moments subsequently resulted in less time for the players to make decisions and perform successful actions (i.e., a dribble or a pass). The time constraint likely forced players to focus on the more specific perceptual information of their teammates and/or opponents in order to guide their movements and perform a successful action.”

Hence, reducing player numbers in youth field hockey might facilitate the development of decision making ability due to the constant need to make fast decisions as a result of the pressure imposed from opponents.


Timmerman, E. A., Farrow, D., & Savelsbergh, G. J. (2017). The effect of manipulating task constraints on game performance in youth field hockey. International Journal of Sports Science & Coaching12(5), 588-594.


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