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Futsal

Futsal, football’s small-sized, indoor version, is now among the fastest growing team sports in Europe. The FA’s Tony Snow outlines the reasons behind the success

by Tony Snow, Football Association | Published in Sports Management 2014 issue 4
Read on turning pages | Download PDF of this issue
Futsal is growing at all levels across Europe
Futsal is growing at all levels across Europe

Brazilian star Ronaldinho swears by it, Ballon d’Or winner Lionel Messi says it’s the reason why he became the player he is today and perhaps Pelé would never have reached his legendary status without it. Such is the influence of futsal.

Hailing from the large urban conurbations of Uruguay and Brazil in the 1930s, futsal is football’s little brother – an exciting, fast-paced small-sided football game that places a large emphasis on technical skill and ability in situations of high pressure.

Densely populated cities and a shortage of playing pitches forced a football mad populace to play small-sided football and in 1936 the first rules emerged. The name futsal was chosen by FIFA and is a combination of the Spanish words for ‘football’ (futbol) and ‘hall’ (sala). Subsequently as it has proved, it is an excellent breeding ground for football competencies which can be translated into the 11-a-side format of the game.

As it grew from its South American roots, it has not only helped produce some of that continent’s finest players but has also had a defining influence on the European stage. Barcelona’s tiki-taka has its foundations in futsal, with Iniesta and Xavi among the ones to play the game to develop their skills.

Keeping it small
Portuguese superstar Cristiano Ronaldo, another disciple of futsal, cites the small playing area of the pitch as a key factor in the way it improves personal skill.

“If it wasn’t for futsal, I wouldn’t be the player I am today,” he says. “It helped me improve my close ball control, for example. Whenever I played futsal I felt free.”

Football and futsal have a great deal in common – players of both must be able to master the ball and make quick decisions – but there are subtle differences too. One of these is the size of the ball – Futsal is played with a size 4 as opposed to a regulation size 5 ball.

Futsal is a five-a-side game, normally played on a flat indoor pitch with hockey-sized goals. It is played to touchlines and all players are free to enter the penalty area and play the ball over head-height. Games are 20 minutes per half, played to a stopping clock (similar to basketball) with time-outs permitted.

There are a number of differences between futsal and the various versions of “small-sided” football played in England. However, the dominant elements are the absence of rebound boards and rules which encourage and foster skilful, creative play above the physical contact, which tends to be a feature of the English game. As a result, futsal is an extremely powerful way for kids to develop their touch and dribbling skills.

Technical prowess
Although futsal is very much a game in its own right, it creates an environment which allows young people to develop and practice many skills which are transferable to the 11-a-side game. Because of its nature, futsal supports the technical development of young players in a multitude of ways. The smaller confines of the pitch make it harder to find space, the line markings prevent easy escape from tight situations (unlike traditional five-a-side, where the ball can be played off the wall) and the smaller, heavier ball supports closer ball control and manipulation.

Research indicates that individuals playing futsal receive the ball six times more often than they do playing 11-a-side football, resulting in players needing to pass, control, feint and dribble more often. As well as having more touches on the ball, players will often receive the ball under pressure from opponents, developing their confidence on the ball.

Futsal as a game naturally brings players into regular one-on-one situations with their opponent. This encourages players into quick decision-making – whether to try beating the opponent using dribbling or through passing to a team-mate. Another core attribute futsal teaches young players is the importance of ball retention due to the threat of an immediate counter-attack.

Confidence on the ball, receiving a pass under pressure, decision-making in one on one situations and ball retention are all fundamental skills that coaches look to develop in young football players – all which are practiced regularly in a game environment of futsal.

Due to the limited space on a futsal court, the game intrinsically encourages movement and rotation from players, as well as a sense of innovation and creativity, to unlock defences and to create some space for themselves and their team-mates. In many ways it replicates the skills required from successful attacking midfielders and forwards in the 11-a-side game when trying to break through opposition in and around the 18-yard box.

The rise and rise of Futsal
Since 2003 the FA has been supporting the introduction of futsal in England and during that time the game has grown rapidly. From humble beginnings, with limited awareness and even more limited structures, The FA has established a framework for promoting and developing the sport. A number of initiatives have been launched and expanded to drive the growth of futsal in England.

The FA National Futsal Leagues were established in 2008 and are divided into three regional leagues (North, Midlands and South). Each comprises two divisions which are played throughout the season. The top teams in Division 1 at the end of the season progress into the FA National Super League and on to the Grand Finals to contest for the title of National Futsal Champions. The National Champions progress into the UEFA Futsal Cup to represent England.

Meanwhile, the FA Futsal Cup has been running since 2003 and is the oldest national futsal competition in England. The ‘FA Cup of Futsal’ offers clubs the opportunity to progress through the tournament to play the top clubs in the country. In 2014 more than 500 male and female teams entered the competition.

At the very top of the elite set-up sits the England Senior Men’s Team. The team enters the FIFA Futsal World Cup and UEFA European Futsal Championships, as well as playing a number of international friendly matches each season. Beneath the England team is the England Development Squad and eight Regional Centres of Futsal Excellence for 16 to 19-year-olds, which support the identification and development of talented futsal players.

Grassroots
There are also a number of grassroots structures to support organised games. The FA Futsal Fives are local recreational futsal leagues which The FA has established to help provide local opportunities for participants to play the game. There are currently more than 60 adult and youth futsal leagues running across the country.

The FA National Youth Futsal Festival has been running since 2007 to encourage young people to participate in futsal. Boys’ and girls’ teams from across the country between the ages of 10 and 16 progress through regional festivals to reach the National Youth Futsal Festival. This event is hugely popular and is helping to promote the game in schools and youth clubs. In 2014 more than 2,500 teams participated in this competition.

British Universities and English Colleges (BUCS) Futsal Championships are two competitions which have been going from strength-to-strength over recent years, with a large number of colleges and universities across Britain entering male and female teams. BUCS announced in 2014 that over the past three years futsal has been the fastest growing team-sport in universities.

To support the leagues, The FA has established a number of coaching and refereeing courses to support the development and learning of both coaches and referees within futsal.

Getting involved
The FA is keen to support organisations and facilities which are interested in and motivated to develop local futsal participation opportunities. It provides licences to local delivery partners to run and operate youth and adult FA Futsal Fives leagues. As part of the license The FA will provide grant funding to help set the league up, as well as a host of FA branded marketing and operational resources to make it easy for the operator to get things started. There are currently more than 60 leagues operating across the UK that not only increase participation in and awareness of futsal, but also generate significant financial returns for the local delivery partners.

The FA is also aiming to be flexible when it comes to facility requirements. It recognises that facilities can act as a limitation and barrier to playing futsal across England. However, at the recreational level of the game, The FA believes that with a little bit of creativity and flexibility, facilities should not pose too significant an obstacle for recreational and social participation in futsal.

Although The FA encourages teams and participants to seek to play futsal on a proper full-size indoor futsal pitch with appropriate markings, it’s clear that this will not always be possible – especially as the sport is still in a developmental stage. By getting in touch with the FA, operators will be able to find the best solution to provide a workable futsal facility.

Find out more

To find out more about how you can adapt an existing sports-hall to incorporate futsal, The FA has produced a guidance resource with further info:
www.sportsmanagement.co.uk/FUTSAL
If you are interested in becoming an FA Futsal Fives license holder, contact Stephen.Brown@TheFA.com

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