Incorporating Futsal Into Your Training

Interview with Luis Fernando Paes de Barros

September 8, 2017
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Luis started playing futsal when he was 6 years old at E.C. Banespa – a traditional futsal club in São Paulo, Brazil. He played until 18 years old when he studied sport science at São Paulo University. Luis started coaching college and school futsal teams in Brazil. Futsal gave him the chance to travel around the world, make friends and learn different languages and cultures. Luis has coached (futsal and soccer) with professional and national teams all over the world (most recently at St George’s Park National Training Center in England). He has been working on a youth development program where he uses his futsal expertise in order to help the development of better soccer players. Currently Luis is running this program at the academy of professional Brazilian club Santos FC who are famous for never having been relegated from the top division and for being Pelé’s club for 19 years. 

How is futsal different to the regular outdoor game?

The technique is pretty much the same with some small differences, like a greater emphasis on controlling the ball using the sole of your foot. For the goalkeepers there is more noticeable difference in technique.

On a regular futsal match all of the players are involved in the game all the time that they are on the pitch. They touch the ball, work on their decision making, use different techniques, on average at least every 20 seconds. In a regular football match some players might not touch the ball for 5 minutes at a time. This is very important, especially when we are talking about the younger age groups. That is the reason that so many football teams use small a sided games as part of their daily training sessions.  We want our players under a game situation all the time and futsal is that, players working on their technique and decision making all of the time.

About the tactical aspects, on futsal you play on a smaller area and with just 5 players, so the formations and the positions are different from football.  But, if you look at the tactical situations created, they are very similar – like covering, defensive and offensive support. In my experience, it is much easier to teach those sub aspects to soccer players who have previously played futsal. Actually, they already know that as they use it all the time in their futsal match and training sessions.

Some other tactical (or sub tactical) aspects are the same: like working the defense on more than one line, and teaching the player how to move with and without the ball to create offensive support and, of course, player superiority.

What benefits does playing futsal have to players who want to improve their soccer?

  1. Better technique – as they are touching the ball all the time. But, as I have been saying in my lectures, it will depend on how you organize your training sessions. If you put the outdoor players on a futsal court, with a regular soccer ball, making them wait in long lines you are just working in a smaller soccer environment – not futsal. I have been seeing that a lot.
  2. Faster and better decision making – again, few players, playing on a smaller playing area.
  3. Better understanding of transition – futsal players are used to changing from defense to offense and vice-versa all the time. So they are working in a changing environment all of the time.
  4. Awareness of their tactical role – players have to change their role all the time, so they need to be aware of their position, their teammate’s positions and the opponents. This transition must be as fast as possible, so we have players that react faster.

If you were coaching a team for one hour each week at an indoor field during their off season, what would you teach them? How many minutes would you spend on each part of the session?

For me it would not differ from a regular training session. Maybe the time that you spend for each part of sessions will be smaller. The most important, always, is to find a theme and progression between the exercises.

If we are thinking about the indoor training as a tool to develop better soccer players, I would use some 3 x 2 , 4 x 3 exercises, and from that you could use small-sided games with the same structure. It is also important to try to use exercises where the players are playing defense and offense – train those functions all of the time.

Which technical skills are most important in futsal?

As I said it is pretty much like outdoor soccer. But there are two skills that I would like to talk about: –

  1. Receive the ball using the sole – not just receive and stand still but receive the ball moving forward. We do not see it very often in soccer, but it is very useful in futsal.
  2. Shielding the ball – it makes the players more confident. When they can protect the ball; when they can hold the ball and do not lose it immediately, they become more confident.

Is it confusing for players using the smaller, heavier balls going back to using regular soccer balls?

Here in Brazil they do that all the time. Usually the players play both sports until they are 14/15 years old, so we do not see much problem for them. Maybe your players will face some problems in the beginning, but for sure they will get used and it will not be a problem for them.

What formation(s) do you like when you play futsal?

In possession I do not have a specific formation that I prefer, but the GK-4-0 is by far the most interesting. But, depending on the game situation, GK-3-1 with the pivot is also very interesting. When the team is out of possession their shape will always depend on the offensive formation of the opponent. My approach is to work on the sub aspects of the defensive and offensive formations, like defensive and offensive support, and movements with and without the ball.

What are the roles/responsibilities of the various players in the formation?

Goalkeeper: in all formations their roles are the same for soccer. Today the new futsal goalkeepers have to know how to play using their feet, especially because they are part of the covering process and they have to start the offensive transitions very quickly (with hands or feet). Besides that, we have the option to use the keeper as a field player (power play).

Field players: One characteristics that we have in futsal is that all players play as offense and defense, changing their roles all the time. They have to know all about the defensive and offensive strategies of their team. In the training sessions is very important to use exercises where they have to change their rules all the time and very quickly, so they get used to that.

Defense: Usually the teams play with one player that is a defense specialist. When the opposing team is in possession this player is the first player in front of his keeper. As duties, he has to communicate with his teammates about the positions and movements of the other team, he is in charge of the covering and usually is a strong and fast player.

Offense: Some teams in specific moments of the game might use a pivot player. This is usually a strong player who can receive the ball with their back to the goal. His duties are to hold the ball up-front so he can bring his team to the opposite half court, usually breaking the pressure of the other team, and also to “prepare the ball” for his teammates to try to score.

On offense we have two players that are also in charge of the transitions (not only offensive but defensive transitions). Usually those players are very fast, skillful and with a great decision-making capacity. They have to quickly break the pressure, bring the ball to the opposite half of the court, and usually they have a great ability to score.

I just would like to add that in the modern futsal, all players must know how to play in all positions and have to know their roles on the defensive and offensive moments of the game. So that is why we see so many players that we call “universal players” who can play more than one position. It is getting harder to find a very good specific pivot player.

How many substitutes do you typically have for each game?

Some coaches like to change their players every 5 to 6 minutes, trying to keep the pace of the game very high. Some other coaches prefer to change just when the players call or they want to change some tactical aspects. It is interesting to watch some games and see coaches changing their 4 field players every time the other team makes the same. They try to find to combinations that work – it can be a tactical chess game for the coaches.

Which teams are the best in the world at the game right now? Where can people watch them play?

There are many good teams around the world. Futsal is growing and I believe that we will have access to watch it more and more. Maybe I will forget some teams, but just to give you an example of how futsal is getting bigger I will give you some names of very good teams around the world: –

  • Spain: Barcelona;
  • Brazil: Brazil Kirin – Sorocaba;
  • Japan: Nagoya Ocean;
  • Russia: Gazprom
  • Kazakhstan: Kairat Almaty

Nowadays we have strong leagues at the Middle East: Kuwait, UAE, Qatar; a strong league in China, in US and in England and northern Europe futsal is getting bigger. We cannot forget Iran, who are always in the biggest international competitions. Futsal is around the world and soon will be a first choice sport for many kids.

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