There is often a debate about whether to use the ball during conditioning work rather than have less specific work completed. Although I am an advocate of keeping it as specific as possible I am yet to be convinced that small sided games get as a great a benefit physiologicaly as set conditioning work without the ball. There is research to suggest it does but again I am not convinced. My preferred option is to groups move from less specific but high intensity and high focus conditioning work then into small sided games and repeat. For example you may complete a set of 10-20second intervals at 100% with similar recovery x 5 then after 1 -2 min recovery go into 3v3 small sided games. I am not sure because as yet I havent quantified the dats but from my observations with SSgames players tend not to work at the same level as they would in a straight out shuttle run (they are always holding back). Find below a recent study from JSCR that demonstrates maybe we need something more than SSgames to evoke a response.
Acute Physiological Responses and Time-Motion Characteristics of Two Small-Sided Training Regimes in Youth Soccer Players
Hill-Haas, Stephen V1; Rowsell, Greg J2; Dawson, Brian T1; Coutts, Aaron J3
1University of Western Australia, Perth, Australia; 2South Australian Sports Institute, Kidman Park, Australia; and 3School of Leisure, Sport and Tourism, University of Technology, Sydney, Australia
Hill-Haas, SV, Rowsell, GJ, Dawson, BT, and Coutts, AJ. Acute physiological responses and time-motion characteristics of two small-sided training regimes in youth soccer players. J Strength Cond Res 23(1): 111-115, 2009-The purpose of this study was to examine the acute physiological responses and time-motion characteristics associated with continuous and intermittent small-sided games (SSGs). The continuous (SSGC) regime involved 24 minutes' playing duration (no planned rest intervals), whereas the intermittent regime (SSGI) involved 4 × 6-minute bouts with 1.5 minutes of passive planned rest (work:rest ratio 4:1). Both training regimes were implemented across 3 SSG formats, which included games with 2 vs. 2, 4 vs. 4, and 6 vs. 6 players. Sixteen men's soccer players (mean ± SE: age = 16.2 ± 0.2 years, height = 173.7 ± 2.1 cm, body mass = 65.0 ± 2.5 kg, estimated V̇o2max = 54.8 ± 0.7 ml·kg-1·min-1) participated in the study. Heart rate (HR) was measured every 5 seconds during all SSGs. Global ratings of perceived exertion (RPEs) were recorded immediately after the SSGs using the Borg scale (RPEs, 6-20). Capillary blood samples were drawn at rest and within 5 minutes after the end of each SSG. Time-motion characteristics were measured using portable global positioning system units. There were no significant differences between SSGC and SSGI for total distance covered or for distance traveled while walking, jogging, or running at moderate speed. However, players covered a significantly greater distance at 13.0-17.9 km·h-1, a greater total distance at higher running speed, and a greater total number of sprints (>18 km·h-1) with SSGI compared with SSGC. In contrast, global RPE and %HRmax were significantly higher in SSGC than in SSGI. Both intermittent and continuous SSG training regimes could be used during the season for match-specific aerobic conditioning. However, both training regimes used in this study seem unlikely to provide a sufficient stimulus overload for fully developing V̇o2max.
I havent read the full article as yet so I am unsure what level the players were but I think the last line is important. Of cause there are studies to show the effectiveness of SSgames but maybe a combination needs to be looked at closer