#9 – What in the World is Futsal?

The game of futsal looks like a simple game of soccer on an indoor court, but there is more to it than this. In this episode, we break down the game of futsal and will compare it in some ways to the game of soccer. When you’re done listening to this episode, you’ll have a good idea of the lens to view futsal through.
  • History of Futsal [00:03:11]: Learn about the history of futsal – a game that has been around since 1930. The name Futsal is actually a combination of words from the Spanish and Portuguese FUT comes from the word Football as in European Soccer, and Futsal.com says the abbreviation SAL comes from the French or Spanish words Sala or Salon. No matter what we call it, the idea of kicking a ball around indoors = fun. Many moms would agree, however, some changes to the ball go a long way in preventing broken windows.
The game of futsal has many similarities to soccer. Both games are played with the feet. No hands. And both games are played in a rectangular playing area with the objective for each team to put the ball in the opponent’s net. However, there are a lot of differences between the two games. Let’s break them down a little bit:
  • Surface [00:05:42]: The playing surface that futsal players play on makes a big difference in the speed of the game and in the way players receive and pass the ball. In outdoor soccer, the surfaces come in some form of turf or grass. These natural and even artificial surfaces have a profound effect on the ball movement. When a player is on natural grass fields, for example, normal bumps in the ground can make a ball’s behavior unpredictable. A little bump can bounce a ball in any direction at the last second or two before a player takes a touch. Playing on natural fields demands that players open larger surfaces to the ball in order to be confident that they will make contact and influence the ball’s direction.
Grass itself slows a ball down. It creates friction. The peaks and valleys of natural grass fields and the grass slowing effects are minimized on artificial turf fields, but even turf fields offer more resistance than a wooden basketball court. The surface of a wooden basketball court is very consistent, and this changes the way a player takes their touch on the ball.
  • Using the Sole of the Foot [00:07:17]: In outdoor soccer, we teach to use the inside of the foot, for example. In futsal, we teach players to use the sole of the foot. Older or more sophisticated players in soccer will sometimes use the sole fo their foot to control the ball from a pass, but this is more of an exception than a rule. In Futsal, using the sole of the foot is more the rule. The sole of the foot, in this environment, provides more control and less bounce.
  • Playing Area [00:08:02]: The size of the playing area is much smaller in futsal. A Soccer field is anywhere from 70-80 yards wide and 110-120 yards long. A futsal court in the US, by contrast, is between 16 and 27 Yards Wide by 27 and 45 yards long.  Smaller areas mean more pressure on the ball, less running into large open spaces with the ball, more passing, and a lot more short touches / close-in controlled movements with the ball.
  • Receiving the ball [00:08:40]: In outdoor soccer, players are often taught to receive the ball with the inside of the foot farthest away from the pass. So if a pass comes from the Left, players will receive the ball with the inside of their Right foot. If a pass comes from the Right, they receive with the inside of their Left foot.
In futsal, players will often receive the ball with the foot closest to the pass. They might receive a pass from the Right with the outside of their Right foot – a pass from the Left with the outside of their Left foot. This is, in part because of the smaller space and the speed/tempo of the game. Players need to move the ball in much shorter and quicker time and space.
  • Number of Players [00:09:58]: The number of players is fewer in Futsal than in outdoor soccer. Futsal uses a 5v5 format. Having fewer players in the game has proven to give each individual player a lot more touches on the ball. US Youth Soccer has really pushed small sided games – even in the outdoor format – a lot in the last couple of years, because we’ve figured out that it produces better players. Every touch player makes on the ball adds muscle memory and experience.
  • Results from Small SIded Games [00:10:15]: Scienceofsocceronline.com conducted a study of 30 French League 1 matches. They used Match analysis software and captured a wonderful array of data. Players at that level had 47 possessions on average. Each player made two touches per possession for a rounded number of 90 touches per game. That in an 11v11 format at a professional level of soccer.
Soccerawareness.com published a similar study in a book titled Tactical Thoughts on the Development of the New 4v4, 7v7, and 9v9 Game Sizes. On page 407, they call out the following:
  • 11v11 friendly games, 22 touches in 60 minutes (.37 touches on the ball per minute)
  • 4v4 games (Team A), 205 touches in 48 minutes. In 60 minutes, this would have been 256 touches or 4.3 touches per minute.
  • Team B showed 217 touches in 48 minutes – which would be 271 touches in 60 minutes or 4.5 touches on the ball per minute.
That’s an 831% increase in touches between 11v11 and 4v4 games!
I used an application called SoccerMeter (links below) last season to track passing and touches of my players vs the players of the teams we played against. I just pulled up one of my matches randomly to see how my high school aged Club players were doing relative to the studies I cited earlier. In this game, we took 373 first touches vs our opponent (which we defeated 5 -1, by the way) who took 361 first touches. Divided into 11 players, that equals 34 touches per game or .57 touches per minute in an 11v11 format. I compared our .57 touches per minute to the .37 touches per minute of the professional team, and I think that our number is in the ballpark for 11v11 games.
I put the number of touches a player gets on the ball in a futsal environment in the plus column for Futsal. Anecdotally, we see players who come out of a Futsal season better technical players in the Spring. They just seem to have an easier time controlling the ball in close.
  • Differences in the Ball [00:13:40]: Earlier we talked about the consistency of the playing surface and the fact that this changes the way players interact with the ball, but some of that has to do with the ball itself. We don’t use regular soccer balls in Futsal. The ball is a little smaller. So 13 and above will use a ball roughly the same size as a #4 ball in soccer (vs the #5 they’re used to playing with on a larger outdoor field). 12 and under will use a ball the size of a #3 outdoor soccer ball.
The ball itself doesn’t bounce like a soccer ball. If we drop a soccer ball a futsal ball of the same size and shape from the same distance above the ground (we did this with big smiles on our faces when we started playing futsal for the first time) the soccer ball will bounce, but the Futsal ball will kinda go flat and stay on the ground. A Futsal ball is denser than a soccer ball. It’s also a little heavier. The reason for this is construction. The bladder inside a soccer ball is filled with air – whereas the bladder inside a Futsal ball is filled with air and stuffing. That stuffing makes it so the ball only bounces once or twice – and not very high. It also makes the ball more suitable for an inside environment and allows for more close in control.
I’ll post a link to a Youtube video that shows a guy taking apart a futsal ball so you can see the stuffing inside. See the resources section below.
  • Systems of Play [00:16:11]: The systems of play that we can create in a 5v5 that work for Futsal are really dynamic. There is lots of movement off the ball. Players are never static. The players without the ball are often more important to than the player with the ball in an open outdoor field, but this is really magnified on a Futsal court. With so little space, players have to constantly be overlapping runs, pulling defenders apart, changing their shape, and keeping the other team moving. Futsal without movement is not Futsal. It’s a route. The team that moves without the ball controls the court.
For more information on Systems of Play and how to read the numbers, see Episode #4 titled Systems of Play
  • Creating and Taking Away Space [00:18:50]: Futsal systems of play come in smaller shapes that are more compact and need to move more dynamically as a single unit. A 1:2:2 is probably the most common beginner formation. It’s great for teaching the basics, but it doesn’t allow for fluidity of movement that say a 1:1:2:1 would. It also makes a team predictable if the same players stay in the same positions, the opposing team won’t take long to figure out how to best move the ball against you. A 1:2:1 that rotates players around the diamond is much less predictable. A 1:3:1 with that one attacking player acting as a target player and the three in the backline getting compact around a defense. This formation is probably best applied against a superior attacking team where your compact shape in the defensive line with frustrate their attempts to get at your goal.
In the plus column, it’s easier to organize 4 or 5 players than it is to organize 11 players, so movement and transition between systems of play is easier to accomplish in Futsal. A team might resort to a 1:2:2 or a 1:3:1 in a defensive posture, but break out to a 1:1:2:1 in the attack.
When passing the ball, firm contact is necessary. A heavier ball – a faster ball – a shorter space for defenders to cover… Teams in possession either lock the ankle and pass briskly or they suffer turnovers. Loose ankle and sloppy passes are punished quickly on a futsal court, and turnover to an opponent is like turning over the ball in your defensive third.
  • The Importance of Transition Moments [00:20:36]: It’s really not far from wherever a player is on the court to a net. So quick transitions from attack to defense – and defense to attack is critical. Those transition moments happen with much greater frequency in Futsal than they do in open field soccer, so Futsal presents a great opportunity to expose players to transition techniques like getting wide quickly when moving from defense into an attack or apply immediate pressure and getting compact on the defense.
  • Playing for Possession [00:21:07]: In Futsal, playing for possession gets even more emphasis than it does on an open soccer field. Possession in a high-pressure environment like a futsal court really hones player skills and encourages them to have a plan, think quickly, and move the ball to teammates often. It also encourages movement from teammates without the ball – because if the payer possessing the ball doesn’t have options, it results in a turnover pretty quickly.
  • Managing Scoreboard Expectations [00:21:40]: Scoring is higher in Futsal. In soccer, we may see scores as high as 5 points difference. That’s a pretty big difference in soccer. In Futsal, the score can easily get into double digits. Much like basketball, there are a lot more shots on goal – and if the team moves efficiently together, a lot more layups and tap-ins.
  • Taking Diagonal Shots on Goal [00:22:09]: Speaking of shots on goal, the need to shoot across to far post is amplified. The goals are only 3Mx2M – much smaller than outdoor soccer fields. The target goal just isn’t big enough to make direct shots into goal as viable an option as they are on an open soccer field. Diagonal shots across the goal, by contrast, serve to pull the goalkeeper out of position and give the player running to far post, the option to receive the diagonal shot, tap it in or catch a rebound. This does happen a lot in soccer too, but the frequency is higher in Futsal.
  • Toe Poking [00:23:16]: In soccer, we discourage toe-poking the ball. Unless a player is right up in the net or is deliberately trying to make a shot unpredictable for the opponent’s goalkeeper, soccer players opt for more controlled shooting techniques. Toe pokes generate unpredictable movements of the ball and tend to lift the shot off the ground. Toe poking is bad for a high bounce soccer ball, but in futsal, the ball, the court, and space work together to create a dynamic that allows toe poking shots to make the goalkeepers job difficult and go in the goal more.
  • Passing [00:23:58]: There isn’t a lot of running with the ball. In such a tight space, players need to pass the ball, move, and pass the ball again. The pattern of passing and movement dominate the futsal court and individual dribbling is not emphasized as much.
  • Shielding the Ball [00:24:22]: Covering or shielding the ball looks different in a futsal environment. In Soccer, the ball is kept away from pressure and the standing leg helps to keep the opponent at bay. In Futsal, the sole of the foot is controlling the movement, so players tend to be up over the ball a lot more than they would be in soccer.
  • Level of Aggression [00:25:00]: There is no shouldering, charging, or aggressive play encouraged in Futsal. We’re playing on a hard surface, so the rules and officials enforcing those rules are much more strict about hitting or aggressive play. Slide tackling is allowed by FIFA rules, but in our league, we struct that option from the rules we play by. It doesn’t seem to make a lot of sense to eliminate the other aggressive kinds of play, but leave slide tackling in. Our league leans toward safety on this one.
  • Feints, Cuts, and Blocks [00:25:36]: There is a lot of faking in the game of Futsal. We even see official terms like Feints, Cuts, and Blocks baked into the Futsal glossary. The game reminds me of basketball in this regard. In soccer, we talk with more sophisticated players about the concept of making two runs. The first fun is to fake out or draw the defense in a direction we want them to move, the second run is for the ball. In futsal, we see this happening with great frequency. The runs are more like feints of bump cuts, but the concept is the same. Use Futsal as a way to practice ethical deception to keep the opponent guessing.
  • Game Tempo [00:26:30]: The tempo of Futsal is fast. There are “only” 2 20-minute halves in Futsal, but I put the word “Only” in quotation marks because those 20 minutes are hard. Done right, those are 20 minutes of continuous movement. Players have only 4 seconds to put the ball back into play when it does out for a goal kick, a comer, or a kick in. (There are no throw-ins in futsal). You’ll see players come off the court after just 20 minutes of that kind of intensity, and they’re wiped out.
  • Time Outs [00:27:07]: Fortunately, each team can call one 60 second time-out per half, so if you ever find your team gassed and in the cockroach position in the middle of the court, you can have some time to revive them. Of course, FIFA allows for unlimited substitutions on the fly, so allowing your team to get to the cockroach state should never happen.
Summary: If I were to summarize this discussion for Soccer parents, players and coaches, I’d say consider the game of Futsal an excellent way to beef up the skills and give players a new way to experience a game that is similar enough to soccer to make it familiar, but different enough to keep things interesting. US Youth Soccer is now encouraging Futsal in the offseason because of the dramatic effect it can have on improving player skills.
As a coach, I would encourage other coaches to consider picking up a futsal specific coaching credential. The things I mentioned in this show don’t cover everything we need to know in order to help our players get the most out of this game, and a Futsal specific credential typically comes with lots of futsal specific activities you can add to your library, and good advice to help players maximize the experience, and minimize bad habits.
I hope that after listening to this episode you can appreciate the game of Futsal a little more. You know what to look for if your a parent, what to work on if your a player, and what you can do to make the most out of futsal for your team if you’re a coach.
If you have a podcast of your own, or you are a member of another Club, please mention your Club or Website in the comments section so I can share the good things you’ve got going on in your world.

Resources Discussed in This Episode

Bonus Resources


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