By Marcelo Antonelli
Futsal can be a major factor in the development of soccer players around the world and could be a game changer in the United States.
Yet, the combination of a very restricted view of the possible benefits of the sport for the development of soccer players, combined with a variety of misconceptions, and a lack of a Futsal culture as a competitive sport result in slowing down the development of Futsal in this country.
In this article we will offer a broader understanding of this theme, pointing out some of the problems, possible applications, and what needs to change in order for Futsal to help raise the level of soccer in the USA.
Futsal and Soccer: Understanding the Relationship
Futsal and soccer are obviously two distinct sports as the words in American English point out. Each one of these sports have professional leagues and millions of amateur players and fans around the world.
It is up to you if you want to find the two sports similar or very different. It really depends on one’s point of view.
For example, if you want to focus on their differences, then all you need to do it to look at the physical layout, which include the surfaces where the game is played, as well as the size of the field (much larger in soccer). The number of players is also a big difference with soccer having more than double the number of players (11 v 5).
On the other hand, if you want to look further into their similarities than all you need to do is look at the principles of play, concepts, and the logic behind the tactical aspects. For example, let’s make a list of unconnected phrases that reflect different aspects or nuances of the game:
- Depth, width, mobility and penetration are offensive principles
- You can defend using an individual based, zonal based or mixed based defensive system
- Once you gain the ball you can either quickly counter-attack or try to keep possession
- Once you lose the ball you can pressure right away or drop to contain
- You can force the opposing team to a side or a player's weaker foot
- You can have a high or low line of confrontation
- You can double team when appropriate
- You can exchange positions without the ball in order to unbalance the opposing team’s
- You want to find space between the lines of defense
- You want to quickly switch the field
- You can shoot with different parts of your feet
- You can use an overhead pass to beat a defender
Are the elements in this list aspects of Futsal or soccer?
All of those listed above, and many others aspects that we could add, are aspects of both games. The logic behind both sports are really quite similar and belong to a variety of “invasion team sports”.
The same physical layout that makes both sports so different, is also one of the reasons why Futsal can be a much better environment to teach and develop a variety of these concepts, physical capacities and technical abilities.
Yet, when it comes to using Futsal as a tool to develop soccer players, the view is normally very restricted and often accompanied by a variety of misconceptions.
The Problems of Using Futsal as a Tool for Soccer Development
Chances are that when you hear about the benefits of Futsal for developing soccer players or teams, you are thinking of more touches on the ball, quick thinking, and technical skills. Not only in the USA but around the world, most federations, associations, clubs, and coaches explain the benefits of Futsal using these terms.
Even former professional players who started in Futsal and became superstars will likely focus on these aspects. Indeed, for decades, many of the world’s best players recognized that Futsal was key in their development. A typical list would include the names of stars from the recent past, such as Ronaldo, Ronaldinho and Zidane, and present-time, such as Iniesta, Xavi, Cristiano Ronaldo, and Messi.
You can also find online videos of superstars who started on the Futsal courts applying “crazy skills” both on the courts as well as on fields. Neymar and Ronaldinho would be great examples of this.
These are all good things, not problems. Indeed, the rules of Futsal (number of players, size and style of the ball, etc.) combined with the layout (fast and small court) allow for more touches on the ball, more shots and quick thinking. It also allows for a more developed control of the ball and consequently more complex actions with the ball. These are all benefits.
So, what are the problems?
The problems are not these aspects per se, but the consequences of the interpretations of what Futsal can bring to soccer and how to build training sessions based on Futsal. These interpretations can be misleading and associated with videos and other materials, generate a series (or “wall”) of misconceptions about Futsal, affecting the way that it is played and practiced, and consequently significantly reducing its benefits.
All of these factors, together or separately, help mold the way that Futsal practices are conducted at most soccer clubs across the country. Because of these misconceptions, the training is not enough to harvest the expected results. Many clubs around the country use Futsal for “skills” training. Often times, this means having a player with the ball performing moves, or some passing lanes. Some may engage in other activities, and also try to translate outside exercises to the courts. Still, this does not come close to matching the environment that created superstars around the world.