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Indoor Soccer vs Futsal
Where no MISL style indoor option exists, Futsal is certainly more beneficial than not playing at all.
However, being the consummate analyst I've done an Indoor Soccer versus Futsal study and, as a result, firmly believe that, when compared to indoor, the combination of a different ball, no walls, the hard surface and having to split an outdoor squad into two Futsal teams, takes away from the development of a great field player, goalie and superb team.
The reasons for this are as follows:
When dribbling and receiving, the low bounce Futsal ball does much of the work for the player because it doesn't explode away from clumsier touches like a regulation soccer ball. This lulls players into a false sense of security and allows them to get away with poor technique, so that when they return to playing with a regular ball, they exhibit bad habits that have to be broken before positive technical progress can resume.
When shooting or passing, the low bounce Futsal ball stays artificially low. Consequently, upon returning to a real soccer ball, players are less able to use the correct technique and have to discard bad habits before progressing. This “two steps forward one step back” method delays the grooving of correct technique.
In the world of Physical Education one of the key principles is specificity of training, i.e. making training as specific as possible to the real game. The only logical justification for ignoring the “Specificity of Training” approach is where the challenges attempted actually exceed the difficulty of those specifically posed by the real game. Because it is easier to keep the heavier Futsal ball low when shooting, players can be technically lazy yet still receive reward and reinforcement for poor technique. The Futsal ball disguises a tendency to "get under" a real ball and allows players to hide poor shooting technique until they use a real ball again. Players who have become familiar with striking a Futsal ball have to re-learn how to keep a normal soccer ball low when they return to the outdoor game. Consequently, they waste their winter learning opportunity in a process of partial self-deception.
Believing they are getting better when in reality their technical skills are actually going backwards. There can be little benefit to learning real soccer ball techniques with a Futsal ball. This is an exercise in simple logic, however, to test the theory empirically I used a Futsal ball in practices. When my players used poor technique they were able to keep it closer in the dribble and lower in the shot than a normal ball.
Although this may seem like a minor point, developing a great player demands attention to even the tiniest detail. A hundred miniscule, yet positive, realistic and specific adaptations can make an absolutely massive difference in long-term development.
Conversely, the bad habits acquired by using a Futsal ball can be very harmful.
While “No Walls” may appear to be an advantage the opposite is actually the case. Maximum development will only occur while the ball is actually in play. By comparison with indoor soccer, Futsal wastes significantly more playing time because the ball leaves the field of play to a far greater degree. Furthermore, Futsal is played on a smaller field with a faster gym type surface than that of a traditional indoor field where the turf is designed to simulate real soccer field conditions. Therefore, the ball gets away from players and leaves the playing area far more often. Even with highly skilled players the ball spends much time out of play. Kick-ins are incredibly time consuming and restarting a Futsal game involves constant kick-ins that waste significant time and bear little resemblance to the ebb and flow of an outdoor game on a big field. This constant, “stop and go” restart game steals from the clock and takes away from ball touches and skill development for the players concerned. In indoor soccer players enjoy the maximum training benefit because the ball is always confined to the field by the boards and the game rarely comes to a full stop after an errant shot or pass. This results in significantly more “live” playing time and more development for all concerned.
Futsal promotes negative coaching tactics. In outdoor soccer and Futsal the tactic of kicking the ball out of play is used to interrupt the game, waste time and allow the defense to get numbers behind the ball. In indoor soccer the walls largely prevent the use of this negative tactic. The walls also provide a way to keep passes and kicks from less skilled teams in play thus providing greater ball time and development for all involved.
Walls: The walls in indoor soccer not only keep the ball in play, resulting in more playing time, they also offer each player a skillful alternative when pressured by an opponent. A quick pass off the wall around an opponent is one of the more intelligent and skillful plays of the indoor game. This option does not occur in Futsal where any player who doesn’t have the option of a pass to a teammate, and hasn't been trained extensively in the “Training Soccer Legends” fakes and moves, has to boot the ball up field or out of play, thereby giving away possession and reinforcing negative tactics and skills. This quote from the Dutch maestro Johan Cruyff reinforces this point: “During those (street) games I’d use stone walls, teammates and even the curbs of the pavement. My favorite move was to kick the ball against a wall and control the rebound whilst running at speed, as this split second was often the crucial difference between a great goal or loss of possession”.
Fun: Kids enjoy the specifically designed indoor soccer arena with artificial turf far more than the multi-purpose sports hall or gym situation that Futsal is played in. Kids feel they are playing the real indoor game when they visit an indoor arena specifically designed for soccer and carpeted with indoor turf. Adults pay little attention to this factor but to a child it is often the component that makes the greatest difference.
Goalkeeping: Young goalkeepers love the indoor game because the newer turf surfaces provide an excellent cushion for diving saves. By playing indoor soccer instead of Futsal the goalie avoids the bumps and bruises caused by going to ground on the harder surfaces typical of Futsal. For the goalkeeper to develop maximally any unnecessary psychological barriers with regard to diving and 1 v 1 saves must be removed. In indoor soccer it’s fun to dive around on the padded carpet, therefore goalkeeper skill acquisition in the crucial 1 v 1 or diving save occurs to a greater degree.
Indoor is the only professional indoor game: The M.I.S.L. arena soccer game provides the only indoor North American professional example for the young player to emulate. Conversely, Futsal has no professional presence in the U.S. and Canada and therefore cannot be taken as seriously. Partially because of the example set by the M.I.S.L. young players feel that they are in a very artificial soccer environment when they visit a multisport facility to play Futsal but a “real” soccer environment when they visit an MISL style indoor soccer facility.
For all the above reasons the indoor game is a much better developmental and motivational vehicle that helps maintain outdoor team unity during the long North American winter.
Important Quick Note: It is easy to dismiss this comparative study between Indoor Soccer and Futsal as relatively unimportant in a young player’s developmental experience. However, the great coach realizes that the margin between success and failure is often paper thin and will leave no stone unturned, or opportunity neglected, in the quest for maximum development. If perhaps just one or two players can enjoy a better learning experience because their coach took the time to really think through the costs and benefits of playing indoor soccer versus Futsal, then the hours spent analyzing the costs and benefits are worth it. Any extra opportunity to maximize a player’s potential is well worth the time and in depth study necessary to evaluate the pros and cons before making a logical and credible recommendation. As coaches it is our responsibility to examine the plus and minus factors of all soccer learning environments before making the appropriate recommendation.
Andy is the author of “Training Soccer Legends” a 320 page book with a unique deceptive dribbling and goal scoring individual perspective on youth coaching.
Andy has produced two best selling DVD’s, “Legendary 1 v 1 Moves” & “Training Legendary 1 v 1 Moves”.