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.
The snowball effect of these misinterpretations regarding Futsal goes further: Most players go to Futsal sessions with the idea that Futsal is only about individual skills for attacking, and often don’t place, or are not stimulated to place, much effort on other areas of the game. As a consequence, coaches, clubs and federations don’t feel fully inspired to invest in Futsal training as their preconceived notions limit the possibilities that they believe Futsal can bring.
How It Should Be
Futsal, including its physical layout, rules, and strategies (or individual and group tactics), can provide great benefits for the development of soccer players, including preparing players to develop characteristics related to “modern soccer.”
We won't be discussing in detail modern soccer in this article, but just mention a few aspects that are required from Futsal players (at highly competitive levels) and are related to what most associate with modern soccer: universality (capacity to play more than one role), high engagement in the game (participating actively in all phases of the games), capacity to perform group actions effectively, effective capacity to read the game and react quickly.
Therefore, it is key that Futsal is practiced and played by exploring all of the possible benefits that it can provide to different phases of the development of players. It has to be challenging and motivating, considering the windows of development and taking full advantage of its characteristics.
Finally, an understanding of the concepts of Futsal strategies is necessary to create an optimal environment of development and allow the full potential of Futsal to take place when associated with an effective organization of transfer between the sports.
Changing the point of view towards Futsal clubs around the country, we know that some have coaches/directors with a good or great knowledge of Futsal. Some of them struggle to get enough players due to all the misconceptions regarding Futsal as a tool for soccer development and because of very limited literature explaining the transfer of benefits.
It is fair to say that many countries around the world face some of the same problems as the United States regarding the understanding of all the possibilities that Futsal “can bring to the table.” The reality of Futsal in each country can vary tremendously. In some countries, soccer players and coaches barely know what Futsal is, while in others, there is a strong culture of Futsal both for amateurs and as a professional sport.
But seen everywhere is still a very limited amount of studies and work in this area, with most of the research focusing on mathematical aspects, comparing the number of touches on the ball and engagements in other scenarios, without a qualitative approach to the data or offering a broader view of the possibilities.
Our goal is to present a broad perspective of the possible benefits analyzing this theme under a variety of points of view. We selected two areas to discuss in the remaining of this article:
A list of ways in which Futsal can contribute to soccer players and team development
Some ideas of how to use Futsal during different moments in a player’s developmental path
How Futsal Can Improve Soccer
There are many ways in which Futsal can contribute to the development of soccer.
Foster unstructured play: “Futebol de rua” (street soccer) originally meant to play some variation of soccer or related game (often created by the players) anywhere that you could. It would include “on the streets” (as the name suggests), or variations, like a garage, a driveway, a backyard, a court, or any other surface that could do the job. The words in the term “street soccer,”, link the term to “places,” but the meaning was also linked to the fact that is was some kind of non-structured activity.
The benefits of it are tremendous bringing the development of soccer-related skills in a variety of environments, the passion for an activity with intrinsic motivation, the development of social skills, and much more.
Building Futsal courts (or adapting/sharing courts, gyms or other spaces) around the country could help bring about more “street soccer” (fostering unstructured play) as well as opportunities for Futsal training.
Besides fostering unstructured play, we could call another 7 “uses” of Futsal to develop soccer players or teams:
1- Friendly initiation: Futsal has characteristics that make it easy for kids to start developing their skills. The physical layout of Futsal, which includes a smoother court surface and a heavier ball (when compared to soccer), facilitates passing and dribbling and is, therefore, more suitable for early initiation and development of more sophisticated moves on the ball. Chances are, if you are playing Futsal inside of a gym, there will be fewer distractions and easier communication between all involved. Playing inside also allows for more control over environmental variables (wind, rain, temperature, etc.). Of course, the smaller number of players per team is another benefit; however, this part can be easily adapted in soccer as well.
2- Developing passion for a sport: Futsal can help develop one’s passion for a sport. It is suitable for tournaments and championships at early ages. In countries like Brazil, players compete in Futsal at very early ages, which helps them develop a great passion for the game. The competitiveness of the sport drives players to have fun while at the same time putting in the effort to excel from the start. Of note, while there are many advantages to early competition, coaches and parents should be careful to keep the emphasis on fun and development and not on performance or wins.
3- More touches, quick thinking, and creativity: This is the way that most people talk about using Futsal as a tool for the development of soccer in the USA. During a Futsal match or training, each player will likely touch the ball many more times than they would if on a soccer field. There are a number of resources showing these numbers. Everything is faster on a Futsal court, so players have to develop “quick thinking” skills. In theory, because the Futsal court is a smaller space, players have to find creative ways to attack. In practice, these benefits will depend a lot on the environment of play. We will talk more about this later.
4- Teaching concepts: The five-player format with limited space and a fast paced environment, makes Futsal a great tool for teaching soccer concepts. You have enough players to create different lines of players, while at the same time they all have to be engaged the entire time.
For example, you can work on:
Offensively: Finding space between lines, width, depth, mobility, and penetration, second and third runners, recycling runs, changing directions of the runs, variations of target play, combinations and deception strategies.
Defensively: Zonal or individual defense and everything in between, high pressure, low line of confrontation, closing passing lanes, double teaming, individual approaching and tackling techniques.
The transition from defense to offense: Choice of possession vs penetration, angles and distance of support and penetrating passes.
The transition from offense to defense: Choice of pressuring the ball right away or containing, decision making for the first steps, quick collective decisions.
The environment of Futsal is not only ideal for teaching these and many other concepts but, when combined with high-level Futsal strategies, it is also ideal for creating competitive activities where players can practice these concepts.
5- Futsal “specific” tactics: High-level Futsal tactics have many different combinations, rotations, and strategies that are considered by many to be “futsal specific.” But, if you analyze the concepts within many of these "specific tactics," you will find that they are very effective in soccer as well. Not just that, but, they can contribute to the development of soccer.
An example would be with variations of the give and go (1-2). Futsal brings it to the next level. Options for when the pass is being closed by the player pressuring the ball, or by the player defending the pass, are well explored in Futsal. As a consequence, players get used to evaluating the scenario until the very last second and readjusting their movements as appropriate.
On our website, we will have many free articles and videos showing some of these movements, concepts, and variations. We want to make sure that these ideas are very clear to our readers.
6- Futsal “specific” set-pieces: This is pretty simple to explain. There are so many set pieces that work well in Futsal that can be adapted to and become interesting strategies on the soccer field. Futsal offers great options for a variety of kinds of soccer set pieces.
7- Create an ideal environment of development: This is one of the best, yet least explored ways in which Futsal can help develop soccer players. In this day and age, in a country like the USA, players with decent coaches can “know” a lot of good “coaching points.” But, they often can’t apply them. In order to not only learn concepts but master them, you need an environment of training where players are consistently required to apply good principles.
You can use Futsal to create this environment. When this environment is created, players will have to be constantly looking around and moving according to their teammates and opponents. Checking-in and out will be the norm for creating space, as well as recycling runs or changing the direction of the runs in order to beat the opponent. We could go on and on about different aspects of the game that would be part of this environment.
Most methodologies have a list of “principles of play.” You can use Futsal to create an environment where the players are actually applying these principles in a competitive environment. The constraints, rules, layout and history of tactical evolution in Futsal make it much faster for you to build such a model of play on a Futsal court rather than on a soccer field.
The path of player development
We will now present our suggestion for an ideal path for players' development:
All of the characteristics of Futsal mentioned earlier in this article, along with the history of soccer superstars starting on the Futsal courts for decades, indicates that Futsal should be the base for the development of a soccer player at a young age.
Ideally, this development should be on the courts, to take advantage of all the benefits of that physical setting. If necessary, due to the lack of physical space in courts and gyms, the best option would be to “reproduce” the Futsal layout on the soccer field, adapting all the variables that can be adapted (like space and number of players).
Still, the methodology of training is key at that age. It has to promote a love for the sport while fostering development at the same time.
Middle school years: The middle school years are a perfect time to go back and forth between soccer and futsal layouts, with players alternating training and competition in both environments. Once again, an appropriate methodology is key. Players will be developing concepts, combinations, and other technical-tactical capacities (in an integrated way) on the Futsal courts, while on the soccer field they would be progressing by playing each time with more space and numbers.
While increasing numbers and space on the field adds one dimension of complexity, developing concepts and a more elaborated model of play on the Futsal court adds a different dimension of complexity to the player’s developmental progression. Each of the two environments (smaller and faster court, bigger and slower field) is ideal for developing certain capacities. Finally, ideally, the overall training should be integrated in order to optimize the flow, learning, and fun.
HS years: At this point, the training should be based on the soccer field. Yet, Futsal can provide support in different ways depending on the reality of the team, which will consist of variables including level, goals, availability of facilities, and natural constraints (like weather). Futsal can be used, for example, for explaining and mastering group actions, like pressuring together, double teaming, forcing to a side, etc. You can use also use a progression of Futsal rotations to practice movement off the ball, reading of the game, scanning the field, playing against different styles while at the same time challenging a player's technical and tactical skills.
College and professional: The way that Futsal can contribute to college or professional teams can also vary according to many circumstances. Of course, when due to weather conditions a team can’t be outside for a while (like during winter in some places), a challenging technical-tactical progression based upon Futsal strategies in an indoor environment could be a great way to keep players sharp and develop new capacities.
We talked a little bit earlier about Futsal “tactics”: decades of years of professional Futsal, in a more “controlled” environment then soccer, with also more “constraints” (especially space) resulted in more advanced tactics for small groups scenarios. We often watch a Champions League match where the commentator after a play says something like: “Wow, this was a genial move/pass/action. It came out of nowhere”. Well, often it was an action that is typical of high-level Futsal.
Our point is that high-level Futsal has a lot to bring to high-level soccer. Indeed, many “innovations of soccer” (for example how to use the goalkeeper to play from the back) are part of Futsal already for a long time. We could make a list of other aspects of “modern soccer” that are typical aspects of Futsal.
Futsal and Small Sided Games (SSG): Finally, we would like to touch on the relationship between Futsal and SSG. They are not opposing things, neither are they the same thing. In a super-short summary, the most important aspect to consider is that Futsal can help improve SSG in 3 different ways: developing the coach, developing players, and using Futsal strategies. We will soon cover more in depth small-sided games along with some of the other topics that were quickly mentioned in this article.
There are many different ways in which Futsal can help in the development of soccer players and teams. Some of these ways are more well-known than others, and, as a result, in many countries, Futsal has not been used to develop soccer players in an optimal way.
Understanding all of the possibilities for development, increasing awareness regarding the transfer between the two sports and improving the methodology are all keys to changing the culture of Futsal in the USA and, consequently, gaining the love of more players, parents and coaches, bringing about a considerable amount of development.
We have been very brief on each topic. If you are a specialized Futsal coach, you can find many free videos and articles on our social media sites to share with players and parents to show the correlation and benefits of Futsal.
If you are a soccer player, parent, coach or director, you will find a lot of information about all the aspects mentioned here as well as how to implement it in a team, club, association of federation in the links below.
We hope this article has provided you with some inside on the subject. Feel free to contact us if you would like to more information on any of these subjects.
Book "Soccer Powered by Futsal: https://www.soccerpoweredbyfutsal.com/book