A long time ago someone in soccer decided it was better for younger athletes to play small-sided games. I recall this shift in my youth when we kids were playing in our town league. My sister was among the first to play 7 v. 7 on a smaller pitch (field) rather than 11 v. 11 on a standard one, which my brother and I had both played.
We’re seeing a similar sort of focus in volleyball. Volleyball England is dedicated to using small-sided games (primarily 4s) in the younger age groups. Schools in England are going that route, both in terms of teaching in Physical Education classes and in inter-scholastic competition. John Kessel of USA Volleyball is a big proponent of mini volleyball. I watched young players in Sweden play 4s when I coached there.
Small-sided games for everyone!
Small-sided volleyball games aren’t just for young and/or new players, though. They can be quite useful in many ways for training more experienced groups as well.
And I’m not just talking here about running something like Winner’s 3s, which many teams do. That is certainly a game played with fewer players, but it’s played on a full-sized court in most cases. What we’re looking at here is smaller teams on a smaller court. For example, British school kids play 4s on a badminton court.
Consider the purpose of this. Fewer players means more touches per player, while the smaller court means less area for them to cover leading to more rallies (the latter was the reason for FIVB shrinking the beach volleyball court). The net result is lots more contacts for all the players.
I used small-sided games a great deal in training both the EUVC and Devon Ladies teams in England. I also used them coaching Svedala in Sweden. No doubt I will keep doing so with teams moving forward. In addition to all the added touches, I like that working on a smaller court forces players to be more precise in their serving and attacking, and to do more problem-solving in terms of finding ways to score when there’s less court to aim at.
The other nice thing about small-sided games is that you can integrate just about anything you want to focus on into the play. This makes them extremely flexible.
For example, if you want to work on the quick offense, or conversely defending against a quick offense, you can introduce bonus points for kills from quick attacks. If you want to work on hitting against a potentially well-formed block you can have teams playing 4s use a 3-up/1-back formation, putting 3 potential blockers at the net against each swing. And of course you can use some kind of wash scoring system as well.
These days making training as game-like as possible is a major focus of volleyball coaching. Small-sided games offer the advantage of being able to do just that, without having to sacrifice contact frequency.