The use of small-sided games (SSGs) has become popular as a mechanism for creating an environment that develops physical, psychological, technical, and tactical abilities. As a platform, futsal provides many of the characteristics of SSGs – fewer players (5v5) in a restricted area, smaller individual space resulting in increasing technical demands, and a higher number of opportunities for decision making on the ball. Some of the rules of futsal differ from outdoor soccer – free substitutions, restrictions on the behavior of the goalkeeper, the mechanics of penalty kicks, the rules covering foul accumulation, and the use of a smaller, heavier ball.
Futsal has become recognized as an auxiliary method for player development within the soccer community. Many clubs have organized fustal programs as part of an overall player development program. The use of indoor-oriented activities is especially important in regions where weather prohibits or limits the ability of players to train outdoor during winter months.
Yamaki, Carling, and Collins (2018) examined the perception of the efficacy of futsal as a method of soccer player development. The authors organized a showcase event and invited players and coaches to attend. Using a 5-point scale (strongly disagree to strongly agree), Yamaki et al. (2018) observed that cocahes positively revised their opinions of futsal as a soccer training platform. A particularly strong response was to the question as to whether futsal better replicates the constraints of soccer when compared to other types of SSGs. The study contains a detailed set of questions and responses associated with the rules and demands of futsal and the applicability to soccer development. The study concludes that a large majority (~90%) of coaches post-match considered futsal as a useful method of soccer talent development and would consider the application of futsal in their coaching programs. The authors note that
[C]oaches can benefit from the results of this study to inform their coaching practices, utilising a constraints approach to practice in an attempt to enhance player learning … stakeholders and governing bodies should consider the integration of futsal into talent development curriculum design (p. 307).
My first exposure to futsal was about 15 years ago when a futsal program was offered in a local high school gym. It is typically frustrating for players (and coaches) who are used to the space afforded by outdoor soccer – the ball frequently goes out of play, the ball is often kicked back and forth between teams, and there is minimal rhythm. As players become more comfortable with the time and space boundaries and the technical skills required to play in a more physically restricted environment, the quality of the game improves. I integrated futsal into the winter training program of my younger daughter’s team during her middle school years (high school is a winter sport in California), frequently coaching 2 teams. I credit the exposure to futsal with an improved understanding of dealing with pressure under time constraints that I observed with her team when they returned to outdoor soccer.
I contrast the futsal experience with my exposure to “indoor soccer” – a larger field surface with hockey-style sidewalls. My son played several seasons in an indoor soccer facility before the availability of a futsal league in our community. In indoor soccer, a priority is placed in physicality – aggressiveness on the ball, a willingness to play the ball off the wall as a virtual teammate either laterally or off the end-wall – in particular as an option when under pressure. At the time, I appreciated the skills development within the indoor soccer environment. But, on reflection, the desirable characteristics of small-space control were less required when compared to futsal.
The Yamaki et al. (2018) study motivates more research into the physical and technical outcomes of futsal when utilized as a soccer development platform. The study group was relatively small, but the observations and conclusions pass a “taste test.” A great deal of study has gone into the physiological responses in a variety of SSG environments (c.f., Hill-Haas, Dawson, Impellizzeri, & Couts, 2011; other references below) – more research is needed to better understand the benefits and drawbacks of futsal as a soccer training methodology. For example, López-Fernández et al. (2019) notes differences in the movement patterns of players on “ground” surfaces when compared to natural grass.
Futsal provides many opportunities for player exposure to the ball and emphasizes creativity and responsibility within the game. Broader adoption of futsal as a training method within the soccer community has the potential to improve the technical quality of our players.
Hill-Haas, S. V., Dawson, B., Impellizzeri, F. M., & Coutts, A. J. (2011). Physiology of small-sided games training in football. Sports medicine, 41(3), 199-220.
Halouani, J, Chtourou, H, Dellal, A, Chaouachi, A, and Chamari, K. The effects of game types on intensity of small-sided games among pre-adolescent youth football players. Biol Sport 34: 157, 2017.
Jones, S and Drust, B. Physiological and technical demands of 4 v. 4 and 8 v 8 games in elite youth soccer players. Kinesiology 39: 150– 156, 2007.
Lacome, M, Simpson, BM, Cholley, Y, Lambert, P, and Buchheit, M. Small-sided games in elite soccer: Does one size fits all? Int J Sports Physiol Perform 13: 568–576, 2018.
López-Fernández, J., Gallardo, L., Fernández-Luna, Á., Villacañas, V., García-Unanue, J., & Sánchez-Sánchez, J. (2019). Pitch Size and Game Surface in Different Small-Sided Games. Global Indicators, Activity Profile, and Acceleration of Female Soccer Players. The Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research, 33(3), 831-838.
Madison, G., Patterson, S. D., Read, P., Howe, L., & Waldron, M. (2019). Effects of small-sided game variation on changes in hamstring strength. The Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research, 33(3), 839-845.
Yiannaki, C., Carling, C., & Collins, D. (2018). Futsal as a potential talent development modality for soccer–a quantitative assessment of high-level soccer coach and player perceptions. Science and Medicine in Football, 2(4), 299-308.