Clarkston High School
Photo courtesy of GMB Architecture + Engineering

Multi-Sport Fields and Small-Sided Sports

By Mary Helen Sprecher

The arms race to establish new and better sports field facilities, the kind that can host travel tournaments, rec play and school teams, is an unstoppable force. And, right now, it’s up against the immovable object: the fact that as new housing construction proliferates, communities are becoming increasingly landlocked, constricting the availability of space to build new fields – and increasing the demand on the fields that are already there.

One of the trends at work changing the face of fields is the increasing prevalence of multi-sport fields. Some fields host two sports, such as football and soccer; others, however, have been configured to host everything from the diamond sports of baseball and softball to the rectangular field sports by using movable fences and temporary boundary markers.

Maintenance considerations

  • If the field is natural grass, wear is increased exponentially. Create a schedule that rotates play among multiple fields in order to give each field time to rest. The plan should include not only regular maintenance (both pre- and post-game) but seasonal maintenance.
  • Synthetic fields will also show the effects of the increased play. For example, the crease in a lacrosse field and the area around the mouth of the goal in soccer will see more action and are likely to exhibit wear sooner than other parts of the field.

For both natural and synthetic fields, owners and managers should make regular walk-through inspections. Remember that nothing will mend itself on a natural field if play keeps increasing – and that a synthetic field will need intervention from the field manager or contractor if repairs are needed.

Marking considerations

Photo courtesy of Byrne & Jones Construction

Many governing bodies specify the width and color of playing lines, and it may be that more than one will specify the same color and line width. Field construction specialists advise reserving the line color with the highest contrast for the sport that will be played most often; for example, white for football – and then to put the lines for the second-most popular sport in a different, but also contrasting color, such as yellow.

While it is possible to use a third contrasting color, such as red, silver or purple for another sport, builders recommend that managers mark additional playing areas with cones or temporary lines, since too many markings can spell confusion for officials and athletes – as well as creating what some call the “spaghetti bowl” effect.

Grass fields have long been marked with chalk or paint, and many synthetic fields have inlaid lines. If more markings are needed on a synthetic field, consult the turf installer for recommendations on products or methods.

Smaller-sided play

Another integer in the sports field use equation is the emerging trend of small-sided games. The format is popular in soccer, lacrosse and field hockey, although other field sports use it as well.

According to enthusiasts, there are advantages to this format:

  • Better player development: Players, particularly at the youth level, get a better sense of the game and of their role in it. With younger age groups, many formats do not use goalkeepers, allowing all players on the field to focus on both the offensive and defensive aspects of the game.
  • More touches on the ball: Players gain experience and view themselves as an active and contributing member of a team.
  • One field can host more games: With increasing the demand for playing space, having fields host more than one game at a time is an enormous bonus. (It’s also a big economic boon to field managers and those who rent out facilities, since it takes fewer fields to host a large-scale tournament – freeing up others in the area for use by other tournaments on the same weekend).

Governing bodies are in approval of the format – although they do not always promulgate the exact same standards for it. For example, in 2020, USA Lacrosse unveiled a small-sided version of the game called Flex6 Lacrosse. In 2021, World Lacrosse announced a format called World Lacrosse Sixes. The two formats differ slightly.

USA Lacrosse also has developed a field layout diagram (see below) that field owners and tournament directors can refer to when marking fields. USA Lacrosse is seeing play at various formats, including 4v4 games for 8U and below, and up to 7v7 for youth boys and 8v8 for youth girls up to 12U – all under USA Lacrosse Youth Rules.

Diagram courtesy of USA Lacrosse

Additionally, private tournament owners may have their own rules for small-sided events. One of these is Halo Lax. This uses a format, sanctioned by USA Lacrosse, with 60-yard x 30-yard fields with standard goals (five players and one goalie per side).

And then, of course, there’s soccer, which has also embraced small-sided play. In August 2017, US Soccer began implementing new standards nationwide, known as Player Development Initiatives, or PDIs.

Chart courtesy of US Soccer; for more information:

US Soccer notes, “PDIs affect youth players from age six and under (U-6) up to 12 and under (U-12) with different standards for each age group.” (The different standards include field sizes, goal sizes, game times, offsides and whether or not there is a goalkeeper). The field diagram fully explains the variances.

On the youth soccer travel tournament circuit, independent event owners such as 3v3 Live are putting on events nationwide. Warrior Soccer, another event owner, operates 3v3 and 5v5 tournaments. And they’re far from the only two.

USA Field Hockey has created its own small-sided game, GAME ON Hockey – GO Hockey for short. With the GO Hockey format, one full-size field (100 yards x 60 yards) can be divided into eight GO Hockey playing fields).

Diagram courtesy of USA Field Hockey

Surprisingly, small-sided sports have a following among the adult demographic – and not just the parents of youth players. Adults who still enjoy playing are signing up for weekend tournaments against other teams in their age bracket. Smaller teams mean it is easier to gather enough like-minded friends to play – and a smaller field means less running (something appreciated by weekend warriors whose joints aren’t getting any younger).

Mary Helen Sprecher wrote this article on behalf of the American Sports Builders Association (, the national organization for builders, design professionals and suppliers of materials for sports fields, running tracks, tennis courts and indoor and outdoor courts and recreational facilities.