Futsal can play an important role in the individual development of young players in North America. Our weather dictates that many months are spent indoors and futsal can greatly accelerate the technical and tactical development of young players. Futsal has long been recognized for its role in helping to develop many of Brazil’s soccer stars during the last 40 years. In addition, the emergence of Spain as a dominant soccer nation has highlighted this further – as Spanish stars like Xavi have credited the indoor game for their success. Other legends like Messi, Zidane, Zico, Ronaldo and Iniesta all cite futsal as the source of much of their technical and tactical development.
From an individual-player point of view, using the smaller and low-bounce futsal ball is effective as the ball does not bounce away. This makes it easier to learn new skills using all parts of both feet. The heavier weight of the ball also ensures that players have to lock their ankle and use good technique for quick passing and shooting. During the last few years we have seen a great improvement in the dribbling skills, 1v1 moves, passing skills and shooting of our players during futsal training classes.
It is in tactical areas of the game, however, that I can see the greatest benefits of futsal as a learning tool for young North American players. My generation grew up playing soccer in the streets where space was tight, competition was fierce and you had to be strong mentally to impose yourself on the game and demand the ball. That was because everyone wanted the ball and would do almost anything to get it. It is fair to say that everyone soon learned to execute quality first touches and quick changes in direction and pace, to avoid being caught by flying tackles from other players.
Our younger players in North America today do not play in the streets. Instead, they come to organized soccer practices to learn the game and futsal is a great way for us as coaches to accelerate their soccer learning. Futsal places young players in tight spaces (like the school playground or street) and demands from them good ball control, quick thinking, precise passing and creative solutions to get themselves out of tight spaces to create goal-scoring opportunities.
Daniel Coyle in “The Talent Code” speaks of skateboarders being super-quick learners. That’s because if they make a mistake, they typically fall (instantly), and immediately gain feedback on what went wrong. So too is the life of a futsal player. It is on occasions like this that we as coaches can do more by doing less. By challenging our players and trusting them to discover the right solutions during futsal games, we are putting the burden on the player to think for him- or herself. If a player cannot get around a defender, or an opponent is constantly getting around them all the time in a game, we as coaches and parents have to ask ourselves: Are our young players thinking of solutions? Or are they always looking to you as a coach or their parents in the stands?
In my opinion our young players know the game better than we give them credit for — or in fact, better than they give themselves credit for. Of course as adults we need to be there for discussion and to help guide young players towards solutions, but we must be helping our young players think for themselves. We all want to develop “thinking players.” That can only be achieved if we provide an environment where they can practice the ability to try things, perhaps fail at them, and then come up with a solution that works — on their own. Futsal can provide this type of environment.
Like basketball, there are constant transitions between attack and defence. This provides our young players with many opportunities to face these situations, and these repetitions are an important element of the modern game. A great example of this is the current Manchester City team under Pep Guardiola. Pressing to win possession back early and quick transitions to counter-attack have been important tactical principles in order to successfully record eight straight wins this season! Both these tactical components can best be developed within fast paced futsal environments and players will be learning them while playing the game!
Tips for Players: Join a futsal league during the off season months. Use the games to develop your technical skills and abilities to transition quickly between attack and defence and vise versa
Tips for Coaches: Introduce a futsal games night as part of your off season training program. Let the players just play!
Tips for Parents: Encourage your child to play futsal in the winter months and just play for the sake of enjoying the game. Playing the game itself without any focus on results will help maximize their off season development. In Futsal, the game is the teacher!