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At the moment, I am without a coach job (if anyone has an interesting offer, just get in touch), but that does not mean in any way that I’ve been lazy. As a football / soccer coach, you rarely have time to improve yourself or have the space for your own field studies, so I try to use the time I have to educate myself in areas I find interesting.

One area that has interested me for a long time is futsal, a kind of indoor version of football / soccer (which not in any way be associated with that felt ball and tough tackles in slatted chairs). One of the biggest reasons why I have become curious about futsal is that it in many ways removes the things I dislike about football / soccer. More time with the ball per player, no long balls, effective playing time, timeouts allowed for coaches, fluid positions, focus on skill and understanding of the game … Yes, the list runs long and I have not even begun to write about how much fun the sport is to watch.

The other night IFK Uddevalla played against IFK Gothenburg in the Swedish top league, the SFL. They drew 0-0, which apparently was the first time in history that a futsal game ended 0-0 in Sweden. That alone says a lot about how many goals there is in futsal.

To satisfy my curiosity, I went on a course for futsal coaches on Saturday with the Swedish Football Association. Today’s supervisor was Lars Ternström, with dual championships as a coach on his resume as futsal coach of IFK Göteborg Futsal. We were a motley crew of about 10 students who wanted to take us of one of Sweden’s relatively new sports.

In South America, futsal began as a response to the lack of space that existed in the cities, where there simply was not room for large football / soccer pitches. Instead of abandoning playing football / soccer completely, futsal was created, a variant of indoor football / soccer, where the games are played five against five (including goalkeepers) on a surface the size of a handball court. Futsal has been around since the 30’s, but in Sweden, the sport is still relatively new, and our men’s national team (we have no national teams for women yet) have not yet managed to qualify for either the World Cup or European Championship. However, it is the fastest growing sport in the country right now, with about 140 000 licensed players. This compared to ice hockey that has about 64 000 players who are licensed.

It is, as I imagine it was for floorball’s relation to ice hockey, easy to bundle futsal and football / soccer together. It is easy to believe that it is “the same sport, but indoors instead of outdoors” but the differences between sports are striking. Almost as to the degree that I would say that futsal has more in common with sports like basketball and handball than football / soccer.

If we start with the similarities, the feet are main center of attention here. Just like in football / soccer, I pass and shoot with my feet, but that’s about where the similarity ends.

For example, you use much more sole in futsal than you do in football / soccer. There is even a direct necessity to control the ball with the sole in a sensible way. The ball has its own history. It is smaller than a standard football and has a moderate bounce. It feels heavier and is therefore more suited to a game via the ground, the long ball is virtually non-existent in futsal.

There is, because of the size of the court, of course, a difference between the number of practitioners at the same time (five players on each team including the goalkeeper), but there are free substitutions in futsal, unlike football / soccer. The coaches also have timeouts that they can use during a game. When the ball crosses the long side, it is not even throw in, but a play in with the feet.

With this in mind, what did I want to get out of the day that I could pass on to my football / soccer?

One idea I had was if it was possible to use futsal instead of practicing too much at the gym during the winter months. In Sweden, we have a long winter and pre-season training traditionally has contained very little training with the ball. Futsal could be a response to this while developing the individual technical skills and game understanding. Happily, futsal is an interesting complement to this type of gym training, but I much more than that with me from this education day.

One thing that was striking to me is how different the individual movement pattern is in futsal versus football / soccer. In football / soccer, it is normal to follow up a pass with “run with the ball” or go into a new space to be a playable option. In futsal, it is more normal to “back” from the original position and thus rotate with another player. The starting positions are not as important in futsal as there are in football / soccer, the players almost seamlessly switch roles with each other for what is best in the situation. A back can in the next stage become a forward and vice versa.

This makes the players more involved in the game than in football / soccer, but also places greater demands. You cannot sneak cheat in the defense in futsal, the team loses 20% of its total team effort when a player does not defend. Same thing in the attacking game, the team cannot afford to have bad passing players when it comes to attacking. All players are needed in the defense as well as in the attack.

In my head, I thought it was much more skills and less tactics in futsal compared to football / soccer, but oh how wrong I was. The coach’s role is incredibly important in futsal, not only because it is free substitutions and timeouts, but also because it is important to set up the right tactics. Each player is important and needs to have clearly defined roles. Above all, the strategy at set pieces is crucial. To just “shoot the ball” is a guarantee of a conceding a goal, so this needs to be chosen carefully by the coach.

Finally, I had not anticipated that it would be so tough physically to play futsal. Tackling is strictly prohibited, but it does not mean that players should be lazy. The fact that there are so few players on each team, each individual takes up much more space than they do on a football / soccer pitch. In futsal, small teams game is a constant, which is very demanding. Free substitutions are thus understandable. It’s about constantly being in motion to help your teammates. I would not call myself out of shape, but I got sore muscles after Saturday’s practice. That says a lot.

In sum, it was a rewarding education with a good instructor, but the question remains – What is the next step for futsal?

Obviously, there is a breeding ground of many players, but can the media attention increase? I doubt that futsal will outrank football / soccer or ice hockey, but to be the third largest sport in the future should not be impossible. It’s fun to watch, warmer than going to watch football / soccer outdoors, you get closer to the game … All the possibilities are there.

For me personally, now that I’ve got a official futsal coach eduaction, I would enjoy to one day coach a futsal team. I think there are many intriguing similarities (and differences) between football / soccer and futsal that would be interesting to explore in my coaching and leadership.

Futsal may only be in its early stages here in Sweden, therefore it will be exciting to see what the future