The Importance of Playing Futsal At A Young Age
Guest Columnist Abdelghani Toumi – San Diego Strikers Technical Director
When I was young, I played street soccer and futsal — and by age 12, I was very technically proficient with both feet.
I’m no Ronaldinho, Messi, or Neymar, but an ordinary youth coach for the past 28 years.
I remember playing with neighborhood kids and taking penalty kicks with my weaker foot in order to start. I don’t remember how this democratic idea of making teams started, but it was the norm and it clearly put a value and incentive on technical execution with both feet for all kids.
Everyone knows that today, playing in the streets is not an option in the USA, but futsal can provide similar experiences. My goal in this article is to make a plea on behalf of the millions of current and future grassroots soccer kids who aspire to develop and enjoy playing soccer as a lifelong experience.
My plea is to incorporate futsal for the development of dribblers.
While Futsal has been part of the American soccer landscape for sometimes, in the past 20-25 years the outdoor game took priority because it was readily accessible due of the sheer number of established and newly formed clubs competing for players. While clubs genuinely looked to develop the players’ technical skills and personal traits, the focus on game performance, results, league standing, and tournaments quickly commercialize the youth game.
As a result, the development of players’ technical execution, individualism, game understanding, and independent decision-making took a back seat.
The results of this approach are evident in the way we have coached kids for these many years.
More and more players are deficient in technical execution and game understanding.
For example, in games, I used to coach more passing ideas to help achieve the needed outcome of game situations which made players more reactive to coaching instruction. Players were forced to adapt their game to my coaching. This is what U.S. Soccer coaching education labels as “coach-centered philosophy” and the Federation is working so hard to undo this conundrum by developing youth coaches to be more player-centered with their approach.
I personally regret having employed the coach-centered model and hope to contribute to raising the awareness of others.
Luckily, having the privilege of being a U.S. Soccer coaching education instructor, I have learned to evolve my coaching philosophy to the point that I believe in developing more dribblers at an early age as a standard player development benchmark.
I know that passing is the way to move the game quicker, but I can see players are passing regardless of the situation. A college coach once shared with me an instance where he suggested to his player (who made an incomplete pass) “You could’ve carried the ball and attacked the space.” She turned around and said, “I’m afraid I’m going to lose it.”
That statement cemented my belief that I need to promote more dribbling at the grassroots ages.
For the past three years, I have incorporated futsal as part of promoting the dribbler. It is important to note that I also integrated no interventional coaching approach to help players on the ball except to remind them of the dribbling as an objective.
Here is what I found out as a result of encouraging more dribbling that I believe passing focused development wouldn’t reveal.
- Players developed better touch to receive and carry the ball into space and change direction
- Players developed better composure under pressure
- Players developed more courage to try again knowing there is a risk for losing the ball
- Players increased their confidence and self-concept
- Players demonstrated their unique personal traits of how they solveproblems
- Players pro-active behaviors figuring out exit options
- Players showed more responsibility to protect and keep the ball
- I became more player-centered in my interactions
- I became more aware of the differential learning of players
- I became more respectful of their different potentials
Now let’s explore the beneficial correlation between futsal and player-centered coaching methods. Very simply, there is a mountain of benefits in marrying these two ideas for the future grassroots players at an early age.
- While it’s obvious that the Futsal game offers more opportunities for players, what was unique is that the four Futsal field players were not restricted in their positions and experimented with all positions during the flow of play. Thus, making a variety of fluid movement, decisions, and executions. In contrast, this was a rare occurrence in the outdoor game except in overlapping runs to support play.
The Futsal players on average were more frequently on and off the ball. I found a time interval being on the ball once every 5 seconds (1:5), while during the outdoor game players showed an average of 1:37 seconds. This means there is 6- 7 times more opportunity to be engaged and develop the dribbler in Futsal.
The interchanges and mobility between positions was far more frequent in the futsal game as opposed to the almost static organization of the outdoor game. This means more variety of decision making and experience.
Additionally, futsal players were constantly assessing and reassessing their space and proximities to opponents
The repetition of the same situational scenario (receiving the ball under pressure and dribbling out) was more prominent (average 27 times) for the futsal player as opposed to (9 times) for the outdoor player.
This high frequency in the Futsal game is an obvious benefit to the technical execution, experiential learning, and decision making for the same situation. This means players have more opportunities to experiment and learn.
- The Goal Keeper’s involvement in play and build up with their feet were very frequent (21 times) in futsal to four (4) opportunities in the outdoor game (this can be further enhanced with modified rules)
- TheshotstoppingopportunitiesfortheFutsalGKfarexceededtheoutdoorgame 7:1
- Thetransitionalplaydecisionswerequickandfrequentduetosomegametime rules
Some additional observations that would make the case for the player-centered approach and Futsal:
- Players played a high percentage of the game (Futsal team had 7 players).
- Since the game moved faster, the coach could not joystick every decision by players which allowed the players to have more ownership, be more focused, instinctual, and independently pro-active in their individual decisions
- Players subbed out knowing their break is short and demonstrated more focus onwhat’s happening on the court in anticipation of getting back into the game
- Players demonstrated intrinsic motivation and work rate
The bottom line is that Futsal is not in competition with the outdoor game, but a natural starting point and extension to it. To evolve the philosophy of player-centered approach in unison with Futsal development during the formative years of 6-12, participants need high occurrence of free play in an environment that provides more frequency and opportunities for individual dribbling expression, problem-solving, independent decision making, and pro-active initiative.
I believe that starting soccer participation with the Futsal model alone and later blending it with the outdoor game environment would be a huge benefit to the 6-12 grassroots player. It will ensure a genuine pathway for a player development model that caters to their needs and expectations during their formative years.
While the humble findings I shared here are not novel nor world shattering by any means, they provided me more resolve in my commitment to continue to promote the early dribbler and advocate on behalf of Futsal as primary formative education for the development and enjoyment of the grassroots soccer player.