So the FA have now invested £300,000 into getting futsal equipment across the UK and that is awesome. As the UK's largest futsal provider one of the key issues is with facilities, obviously it doesn't go far enough to deal with the huge lack of indoor or hard court facilities but it is a great start. But like all things from little acorns oak trees grow. If we take our most recent venture and project, it has motivated us to work with local grassroots clubs and schools to provide more and more tournaments and leagues.
What is worrying me though is that once again we have all pinned our national hopes on a quick fix solution, a magic bullet. We have looked across the world again, seen what other countries have done and then hung our hat on that, futsal is the answer to all of our problems, if we get children playing futsal we will be world champions.
Sorry but that is just nonsense, just from the practical sense, how many nations are currently ranked above the UK in futsal? Both Iran and Kazakhstan have been playing the game longer and much higher ranked than the UK and I am reasonably confident they will not be winning any football world cups any time soon. Ingraining futsal into your national game will not make you a world champion, even the suggestion is laughable.
What probably isn’t up for debate is the obvious technical and psychological improvements the game can have. Due to the constraints within the game, passing must be more accurate, movement quicker, decision making like lightening, close control, high levels of fitness, constant changing of positions the list goes on. But these improvements without the correct environment will not be enough. What's the point of having a game that improves speedy decision making if those decisions are being made for you, whats the point of improving passing accuracy if little Johnny only gets to play for 5 minutes. More significantly, what’s the point of having this breed of technically trained players if by 16 they all leave sport anyway? Despite all this it would be very naive to think that just by creating more technical players we will have more players competing for players at the elite end of sport.
Becoming an elite sports person is a hugely complex issue that takes so many different aspects into consideration. Being a technically proficient player with all the tools in the box is obviously a significant part but without a support system, grit, luck, identification it will not be enough.
But for all of these points what is critical is that environment is correct, evidence is clear we are products of such and trying to ignore this would be rather foolish.
My experience of the current futsal environment is that we are simply importing many of the poor habits that plague mini-soccer and grassroots football, but instead of getting wet and cold at least we are dry. These are, but not limited to:
Adult Centred Competition Banding children
Instruction rich environments Unequal playing time
Unrealistic training practices (drills) Treating children like mini adults.
We are still seeing adults arguing with the referees, some kids not getting any playing time, parents arguing and even fighting on the sidelines.
Do not get me wrong futsal is an awesome game and it is certainly a sport in its own right, but we must face the fact that it will (in the foreseeable future be seen as a football development tool). It is an opportunity to wipe the slate clean and get the groundwork put right before the sport explodes, which it looks like it is going to do.
My final point though is that why once again is it a race to the top? Why is all of our focus on the elite 0.00001% why are we worried about the top 15-20 players in the UK? Surely, with a population that is getting more and more sedentary, more and more obese with huge drains on the NHS we should be worried about getting more people playing sport and active. Perhaps, if we reversed the current trend of 80% of kids leaving sport by 16 and instead had 80% of kids still playing at 16 we would naturally have a bigger talent pool to choose from to go and compete at the highest stages.
My contention is that the way we do things now drives much of the talent out of sport before we identify it, quite possibly the real talent.
Lets design a competition and an environment that is fit for purpose and for those that are playing it.