I encourage every opportunity to play soccer - from free play to structured leagues, indoor and outdoor, recreation or academy. The more a person plays - the more opportunities there are to have fun and improve. That's why I signed my son up for futsal again this winter. However, I have seen a lot of hype, mainly among American parents and league promoters, claiming the intrinsic benefits of futsal. At times, this trend has drifted into the absurd - with respected journalists from newspapers like The Guardian pondering whether futsal can produce an American Lionel Messi or Christiano Ronaldo. This has prompted me to publish the following list "5 Things More Important to Your Child's Soccer Development than Futsal".
Are there benefits from playing futsal? Yes, of course, (click here to learn more). As a parent myself, I know that fear of thinking that your child might be left behind if you don't act now. Futsal league organizers never miss an opportunity to exploit this emotion during each registration period. However, the time has come for us to be a bit more discerning, and stop buying everything these clubs and alphabet licensed coaches are selling. I am not suggesting, by any means, that you shouldn't participate in futsal. I just think you should have realistic expectations about the benefits for your child.
You can't take Their Culture: Futsal has its origins in Uruguay and Brazil, where the culture is dominated by soccer - so much so, that the kids play soccer in the streets when there is no alternative. Back then, I imagine they would have played on spacious manicured soccer fields if the facilities were available. If that was the case, American coaches and futsal promoters would certainly tout the benifits of playing soccer on spacious manicured soccer fields. In essence, street soccer gave birth to futsal and the creativity, flair, and speed that comes with it - futsal didn't create anything.
And apply it to Our Culture: This Sunday, I am going to take my boys to our local park to do a quick training session followed by a world cup game against their old man. Located in the heart of Durham/Chapel Hill North Carolina, this particular park has a regulation size turf soccer field, a grass field, and a smaller turf field. I guarantee that we will be the only people playing (with the exception of the local adult frisbee league) on any of the fields. I don't care how many futsal leagues we create, until this changes, I don't think we will see an American Messi anytime soon.
Said plainly, futsal didn't create Messi, just like the blacktops of Rucker Park New York didn't create Dr. J and Wilt Chamberlin - Rucker Park was an outbirth of a broader culture of basketball within the inner cities of America. No reasonable person that knows anything about basketball would suggest that playing at Rucker Park will force you to make quicker decisions and play with greater speed - that sort of logic is reserved only for unsuspecting American soccer parents and is best served with a shovel.
5 Things More Important to Your Child's Soccer Development than Futsal
1. Enjoying the Game: Having fun is key to your child's soccer development and more importantly, their well-being. Adding multiple leagues, elite competition and off-season training could become detrimental if they don't already really enjoy the game. When kids in Brazil, Uruguay, and other developing nations play soccer in the streets with balls made out of socks - they are doing it because they love the game not because mommy and daddy signed them up for a travel team. If your child rarely shows a desire to play soccer outside of the team structure, you may consider using the off-season to recharge and explore other interests - not play futsal.
2. Training Individually (Especially Ball Mastery): Team training does not provide players with nearly enough time on the ball. Improving ball manipulation enables players (among other things) to move faster and make quicker decisions - key benefits touted about futsal. I am not convinced that futsal does this in a way that couldn't be achieved in outdoor training and outdoor game situations. Instead, it's the thousands of hours on the ball that's key - whether it's in the streets of Brazil, a futsal league or at the local park on a cold day in North Carolina. As long as the ingredients of passion, hardwork, repetition, enjoyment and good instruction are in place - the player will blossom with or without futsal.
3. Good coaching: Too often I have seen the same bad coaches from outdoor leagues move to futsal leagues. While I believe playing always provides some benefits, a large part of development happens during training. If the coach is not engaged or competent - the players will likely not receive the benefits of futsal touted by league organizers.
4. Becoming two-footed: With few exceptions, elite players can manipulate the ball with both feet. I am very intentional about training my sons to become both footed. I have seen enough kids using only one foot during futsal games to know that futsal alone won't make them two-footed. Check out my post The Playbook - My Strategy (So Far) For Raising an Elite Soccer Player for my tips on becoming two-footed.
5. Repetition: I have had the good fortune of training youth players of all ages and skill level. The most consistent thing I notice is that they have not spent enough time mastering the basics of ball mastery. Futsal should be a fun part of a curriculum that emphasizes ball mastery - not the vehicle to improve it.
6. You tell me: Comment below and share misconceptions or overpromises that you have heard about futsal. Or maybe you totaling disagree? I would like to read those comments as well.
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