Updated: Jan 28
Futsal can be an excellent tool to improve a player’s ability to defend on the soccer field since it helps develop a variety of physical, technical, and tactical capacities during a player’s formative years. Futsal can include some aspects of training that we don’t see the majority of youth soccer coaches covering, at least to the same degree of organization and execution.
This article will explain how this process can occur while giving examples of these capacities, providing links to related videos, and discussing the limitations that may occur when using Futsal and Futsal strategies in reference to this particular topic.
When talking about the use of Futsal as a tool for soccer development, most people will likely associate Futsal primarily with offensive aspects of the game, such as more touches on the ball, skills, quick thinking, and the ability to beat players in 1v1 scenarios. Those who have a better understanding of Futsal know that it not only offers a great environment for the development of offensive capacities, but can also be an effective tool for the defensive side of the game.
Organized Futsal requires a very high level of defensive organization. Players need to keep their focus the entire time, apply sharp technique, read the game well, and react quickly, all while obeying the tactical principles of the team.
Before we go any further, it is very important to note that defensive strategies in Futsal are not just about placing players in a court and believing that the court will magically create great players. The physical environment (size of the court, kind of surface, low bounce of the ball) combined with the rules (e.g. the number of players, 5v5) will produce some adaptations on its own (e.g. more touches on the ball, easier control); however, for Futsal to be an efficient tool for the development of defending capacities, the environment of training is key.
We have discussed the environment of training in other instances, but, as a quick/short definition, it is the way that your team plays during practices. If we use “tactical periodization” terms, the environment of play is largely a reflection of the “principles and sub-principles of play” that your teams are consistently applying.
In practical terms, and for purposes of this topic, the idea is: if your players are not applying good defensive principles during training, they are not going to get much better defensively. Interestingly, the opposite may occur (whether you are on the court or the soccer field). For example, if ball watching is consistently happening during practices, then the environment is just reinforcing this bad habit. The same logic applies to many other habits/principles of play.
Now, going back to our main topic: How do you make sure that your environment of training is fostering good habits? How can you ensure that training with Futsal will make your soccer players better defenders?
The answer is very simple. You need to use the principles of Futsal defensive strategies.
These strategies will not only make your players better on the Futsal courts, but on the soccer fields as well.
Let’s try to better understand this process.
Defending in Futsal
Organized and competitive Futsal creates an environment where even one wrong step in defending can make your team pay (and the other team score). Transitions in Futsal are extremely quick and; therefore, players must maintain their focus the entire time. More than just working hard, players need to be on the same page in terms of defensive tactical choices, or their team will pay. As a result, players need to excel in a variety of defensive capacities.
To make this article easier to read, we will organize and divide those capacities that players should be working on into individual and small-group capacities. We will also have a section where we will discuss team defensive principles and the transfer to the soccer field.
Individual Defensive Capacities
Let’s start with the example of a basic, yet super important part of defending. How should a defender approach a player with the ball? The fact that it is easier to dribble with a Futsal ball, as compared to a soccer ball, makes it even more important that the defender approaches with an efficient technique to avoid getting beaten. Futsal players need to develop “quick feet,” applying small quick steps in the right moments, allowing them to perform quick changes of direction.
As they practice how to approach the ball, players will also be learning how to force to a side, protect the middle, delay the tempo, and cause confusion on the player with the ball, all while applying other strategies in the context of the game or team’s defensive system.
A second and important aspect is “ball watching.” For example, if a player “ball watches” during a give and go (1-2 combination), watches the pass and loses the defender, it may cost a goal for the team defending. Players have to adapt and make sure that they are not only ball watching, but are efficiently defending in any given scenario.
Compared to most soccer players, Futsal players are more likely to make changes of directions during their runs, perform overlaps and realize many other combined actions. As a consequence, the defense has to be sharp enough to neutralize all of these actions.
A third piece of individual capacities that a Futsal player develops in terms of defending is the awareness of consistently offering coverage for teammates. Distance and angles will vary with the scenarios and defensive systems. We will show some examples of this in videos presented in the next section.
Despite “more touches on the ball” being the number one item that people will say about Futsal, the fastest way to “use” Futsal to get results with a soccer team is probably by using concepts of Futsal to train your team to realize small group actions to steal the ball. This conclusion is based upon years of coaching and watching youth soccer in the USA.
Whether you want to organize how to pressure an opponent’s defense (high line of confrontation) or want to play zonal defending (keeping a low line of confrontation and double-teaming once the opponent invades your protected area), you can use futsal to teach and master these concepts.
Indeed, we would like to present to you an example of each with images from our U-16 teams. We introduced the concepts on the futsal court and transferred them right away to small-sided or functional games on the soccer field.
Zonal defending and double-teaming:
Similar to these examples, Futsal can be used to teach many other concepts with immediate follow through and transfer to the soccer field.
But you could also use Futsal, at an earlier age, to create a technical-tactical progression where players would be creating a very rich environment of play and mastering a great variety of principles of play over time. We used\ this model in the book, “Soccer Powered by Futsal” (https://www.soccerpoweredbyfutsal.com/book), where we present a full progression that allows a coach to build this kind of environment.
Team Defensive Principles.
As with other team sports of invasion (when you can attack the opponent’s half), Futsal can have zonal-based or individual-based defending systems. We like to say “zonal-based” or “individual-based” because both systems have moments when players have to alternate when to follow a player or protect a zone.
Futsal can be a great way to teach these concepts. Everyone on the court will be involved, have active roles during the exercises, and the numbers help make the concepts very clear. Also, since you can actually use games leading to goals, it becomes competitive and even more engaging. The environment also makes it easy and clear to teach variations of these systems, explaining when, why and how to follow a player or protect a zone.
Defensive systems can also have a high or low line of confrontations. Once again, the environment of Futsal is great for teaching and practicing these, making ideas clear and using games to master the concepts. On this topic, we would like to say that after years of watching college soccer matches, we realized how much players were struggling to adapt to the result and time of games. For example, if a team was losing a game by one goal, needed a result, and time was almost over, most players did not know how to switch defensive systems for one that would be riskier, but could also give them a better chance to tie the game.
Futsal, if taught with the right strategies, can definitely help players to develop their capacity to understand a variety of different ways to manage matches.
Below you can find a link to an animation with a high line of confrontation that we prepared:
High Pressure in Soccer and Futsal:
Why use Futsal?
Someone may ask: Why can’t players practice all of this on the soccer field?
You definitely can. And coaches all around the world work on these topics on the soccer field.
So, why use Futsal and Futsal strategies?
Because the physical layout of Futsal combined with Futsal strategies creates an excellent environment for training to work on all of these capacities. The numbers and space make it very clear for teaching a great variety of concepts. It is competitive, game real, and very engaging. Often times you are either immediately rewarded or punished with a goal. So, while you are learning and developing, you can also have fun enjoying the process.
A final note about this process: the ball and court surface make the game very fast, which helps players develop the “quick thinking” that we often see on websites talking about Futsal. But this quick thinking is not only something to be developed and used on offense. It is equally true for the defensive part of the game.
Limitations for the use of Futsal
While Futsal is a great tool for the development of a variety of defensive capabilities, there are, of course, limitations for its use.
Futsal would not be the ideal tool for the development of soccer players regarding the following defensive capacities:
Also, Futsal does not have the offside lines. This changes the behavior of the last line of defense (e.g. a back 4).
Adaptations: In cases of restrictions, such as inclement weather, adaptations can be made when a soccer team needs to practice indoors. These adaptations can include the use of a soccer ball on the court (aiming for more high or bouncing balls) and including the off-side rule.
Futsal can be as effective for the development of soccer players’ defensive capabilities as it can be for the offensive side of the game. The “tactical rigor” that high-level Futsal strategies require can significantly contribute to individual or collective development, including focusing on aspects that often get overlooked by many soccer methodologies.
There are, of course, limitations to this process. In terms of soccer players’ development, Futsal is a great tool to be combined with specific aspects of the game of soccer.
On this note, we will finish with the link to one of our previously published article “Seven Uses of Futsal to Develop Soccer Players.”
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