The differences between 5-a-side and 11-a-side football are significant. Although both formats are part of the same football family, that doesn’t mean you should approach them the same way.
They might be closely related but 5-a-side and 11-a-side really do need a different approach taking to each.
Are you playing the wrong game?
A huge number of people approach a game of 5-a-side as if it’s just a mini version of 11-a-side. That seems to be the default setting for a lot of people.
Take it from those of us who have learned it the hard way: if you approach it this way, you’ll only become unsuccessful, and eventually frustrated.
To really get the hang of 5-a-side, you need to appreciate the differences from its 11-a-side brother, and more importantly you need to know how to exploit these differences to your advantage.
Here are the 10 crucial differences you need to know:
1. 5-a-side players need to be able to attack AND defend
There are lots of different ways you can tactically approach a game of 5-a-side but, whatever tactics you use, players within your chosen system will need to be able to do a bit of everything.
You cannot afford to think about the team separately in terms of attacking and defending – you should be one cohesive unit, where players are comfortable doing both jobs when needed. Whilst an attacker in 11-a-side will spend most of his time in the opposition’s half, the 5-a-side attacker will be repeatedly expected to get back and defend when his team don’t have possession. Equally, a 5-a-side defender that can take up attacking positions and have shots at goal is a very useful player.
In that sense, 5-a-side football is a lot more like basketball (another 5 v 5 game) where the best teams attack as a group and get back to defend as a group as well. Players need to be versatile enough to do both.
- Lots of teams think that 5-a-side is too informal a game to think about tactics. These teams generally lose. Instead, use our guide to 5-a-side formations to develop a structure that suits your team, but understand that you all play a part of the attack as well as the defense. Understand the various 5-a-side positions and make sure you’re playing in your best spot.
- The best 5-a-side teams are filled with players who know both parts of the game: how to attack and how to defend. The latter is the often neglected part of a player’s toolkit so make sure it’s not your blind-spot by reading our ultimate guide to 5-a-side defending.
2. The 5-a-side goalkeeper is crucial
It might be just one player out of 5, but experienced players will tell you that a goalkeeper represents around 50% the success of your entire team.
A good goalkeeper will keep you in games hiding a multitude of defensive sins. A bad goalkeeper, on the other hand, will undermine everything good that the rest of the team tries to do and saps the confidence and motivation from the team.
In the Premier League this season, teams have had an average of just under 13 shots per game. Only a third of those have been on target giving a rough figure of only 4 shots on goal per 90-minute match (stats courtesy of http://www.footstats.co.uk/). Given how small the 5-a-side pitch is, a keeper could easily get over 5 times that number of shots at his goal in just 40 minutes, which makes them that much more vital to the success of your team!
- Make it your priority to find a good goalkeeper. Get them to read our 5-a-side goalkeeping guide, to make them a legend between the sticks!
3. You are always in the action so good fitness levels are crucial
In amateur 11-a-side football there are places to hide, as every makeshift left-back will tell you. In 5-a-side, however you’re never out of the game. It’s as if the whole game is frantically played in the 18-yard box and there’s not a moment to switch off.
Studies have shown that a 60-minute game of 5-a-side can give players over 4 times the number of touches on the ball than they would get in a full 90-minute version of 11-a-side football. Players also spend a higher proportion of their time performing at a high intensity as it requires almost constant movement, lots of short sprints and a frequent changes of direction.
It’s this frantic nature of 5-a-side that attracts so many people to it (see: why 5-a-side is better than 11-a-side) but it’s also what leaves many a newcomer bewildered and out of breath after just a few minutes. If you’re not fit, 5-a-side will quickly find you out!
- You’ll never be a good 5-a-side player without being fit to play the game. Work out how fit you need to be here: how fit do I need to be for 5-a-side?
- Generally, it takes 6 games to get up to near full match fitness, but if you’re struggling, you’ll need these extra tips on getting fit for 5-a-side.
4. Master the short passing game
In 11-a-side, due to the pitch being over twice as long and twice as wide as in 5-a-side, players have a lot more space. This means they need a range of passing that includes aerial passes, sometimes over distances greater than 50m (commonly known as “hoofing it”).
Between the start of the 14/15 football season and Christmas, Barcelona had the shortest average passing distance of any team in Europe, at 17.2 yards (15.7m). Burnley, in the Premier League, had an average passing distance of 23.7 yards (21.6m) – source here.
In 5-a-side, the vast majority of passes are less than 10 metres and it’s rare to find yourself making a pass over 20m. Given that a lot of people play with a no-over-head-height rule as well, passes in the air are not on the menu.
Due to the shortage of space on the pitch, passes need to be accurate, but they also need to be along the floor as it is much harder for the recipient to control a ball that is bouncing.
- Develop the ability to pass the ball accurately flat along the floor. You should be able to do this with either foot. This is one of the key skills for 5-a-side (see our ‘truth about skills for 5-a-side’ for more details).
5. A couple of strong players in key outfield positions can make a huge difference
Because there are less players on the pitch overall, individuals can have more of an influence on the game than they can in the 11-a-side game.
Therefore, it’s crucial that you utilise players in the positions that get the most out of them. One of the keys to winning games is having a good spine to your team. We’ve already talked about the goalkeeper, but the two key outfield positions you should be most worried about are a key defender (or ‘last man’) and a key striker (or ‘pivot’).
- Find or develop a player who can play the ‘last man’ really well and it will tie your entire defensive unit together. Here’s our guide to playing last man: a vital defensive strategy for 5-a-side.
- Find or develop a player who can play as pivot. A good pivot player can make a huge difference not only through the goals that he scores himself, but also by bringing other players into the attack. Read our guide to pivots here.
6. Become a good touch-player
The total playing area of an 11-a-side pitch is over 5 times as big as a 5-a-side pitch. Because of that, an 11-a-side player typically has much more space when he’s receiving the ball, and more space that his first touch on the ball can take him into. The occasional mis-controlled touch is more easily forgiven.
In 5-a-side, opposition players are so close that poor touches will usually be pounced on and punished. The player who likes to kick-and-run in 11-a-side quickly gets found out by the tight spaces in 5-a-side. Having a quality first touch is paramount, and somebody who can comfortably play this way is often referred to as a ‘touch-player’, rather than a kick-and-run merchant.
- Focus on improving your first touch. Exercises that are great for improving this are ball-juggling (or ‘keepy-uppy’) and passing against a wall and controlling the ball in various directions with either foot.
7. Sole-skills are crucial for 5-a-side
In 11-a-side you’re often playing on muddy, uneven surfaces and contact with the ball can be unreliable. In 5-a-side however, which is played on lush 3G surfaces or nice smooth sports hall floors, you can make much more reliable contact with the sole of your foot.
The sole of your foot is so versatile. It offers you the option to control the ball in almost any direction at almost any time. It can be used for trapping, receiving, dribbling, rolling and passing the ball. Good 5-a-side players will use the sole of their foot much more frequently than any 11-a-side player would.
- Make sure that you fully understand and this point by reading: why sole skills are so important for 5-a-side.
- Then, begin improving your own sole skills (as well as your fitness) by doing our intensive sole-skills workout. You can get rapidly better by doing 15 minutes in the comfort of your own home, every couple of days.
- Learn some advanced ways to use the sole of your foot in our video on creating chances for 5-a-side
8. Defending is a game of patience
In 5-a-side, players can realistically shoot from almost anywhere on the pitch so you have to cut off this possibility at all times. Defending on the small pitch isn’t about trying to dive in and win the ball, it’s about protecting the goal at all costs, playing the patient game and showing the opposition away from danger.
If you dive in against good players they’ll see that as a gift; simply knock the ball round you and score. So don’t give them that chance. 5-a-side is a lot more like basketball defending: you work back as a team and then try to contain the opposition.
- Defensive strategies are covered comprehensively in our guide to 5-a-side defending. If you didn’t read it as part of our advice in tip 1, take a look now.
9. Goalkeeper roll-outs are key
Goalkeeper distribution is far more influential in 5-a-side than it is in 11-a-side. In the latter, the goalkeeper is much less likely to start the attacks and create chances, whereas in 5-a-side the goalkeeper can often set up a fast-break or look to play the ball directly to the feet of the pivot.
If there’s any doubt in the 11-a-side goalkeeper’s mind, the ball is walloped as far down the pitch as possible and there’s not that much that can go wrong. In 5-a-side however, goalkeepers can quickly get boxed in and end up rolling the ball into dangerous situations. The long punt down the field isn’t an option.
- Goalkeepers should understand the vital role that they play in distribution and other players should support them in this by creating clear channels for them to safely pass through.
- Keepers should practice rolling (more like bowling) the ball flat along the floor – it’s very difficult for a player to instantly control a bouncing ball, whereas if it’s rolling flat on the floor when they receive it they can immediately plan their next move.
- The overriding rule of goalkeeper distribution should be safety first. If in doubt, don’t risk an uncertain pass. Too many goals get conceded this way.
10. Shooting – all about control and accuracy
An 11-a-side goal is 24ft by 8ft (7.32m by 2.44m). Massive in comparison to 5-a-side goals which, in traditional formats of the game, are 16ft x 4ft (3.6m x 1.2m) or even smaller. The significantly smaller size makes the choice of shooting techniques a different decision.
In 11-a-side it’s a lot more acceptable to go for power, in the knowledge that there’s a larger area to aim for. But in 5-a-side you need to focus much more on placing your shots into the corners of the goal, as shots down the middle should be relatively easily saved by any half-decent goalkeeper.
- Practice placing your shots firmly into the corners. You should be able to do this under pressure, on the move, using either foot.
- The other crucially important point is to keep your shots low (unless you’re playing in futsal-sized goals) as far too many shots fly over the bar in 5-a-side, often as a result of a player trying to put too much power into a shot. If you’re hitting the ball with your laces, make sure that you follow through with your swing as this will help keep the ball low.