While Shoeless Soccer (see previous post) touts hard surfaces as a great teaching tool for younger players, especially as an alternative to thick grass, it’s unlikely that all of the families in your local club are going to sign up their kids to play on pavement instead of the local elementary school field.
But would it be an interesting option for some players? And would everyone benefit if hard-surface soccer (we’re going to skip the “shoeless” and “shin guard-less” recommendations, which clubs aren’t going to sanction in a modern litigious environment) as a year-round option, not just in winter futsal?
I’m still a little skeptical that a typical random assortment of 6-year-olds will stop playing magnetball and magically start spreading out and controlling the ball just because they’re on a faster surface than grass. But a self-selected group of 6-year-olds with a bit more aptitude for the game just might.
I once coached a player from Argentina. He turned up at our first practice in a Messi shirt and impressed everyone at practice with his footskills. Then he was a non-factor in games because he could never get the ball out of the mob that chased it around the field. I didn’t see him again after that season.
Another player on my U-Little teams had a knack for running into open space, where he would wait for a pass that would set him up for an easy goal. That pass never came. He plays baseball now.
Maybe if the club offered an alternative soccer experience, it would attract like-minded players who could grasp the concept of using all the available space, not just the space around the ball.
So here’s an idea for your local club: Offer futsal not just in the winter but in other seasons as well. Kids could sign up for this instead of or in addition to the traditional outdoor league.
And you can make the financial argument that you’ll have more “field” space! One reason so many kids play on bad grass fields is because clubs are desperate. If some kids are playing in gyms, which are mostly vacant when it’s not basketball season, fewer kids need outdoor fields.
Surely some clubs are already doing this. How’s it working?
One thought on “Diversify U-Little soccer programs with futsal”
Important ideas here. Definitely agree that futsal should be a part of the mix of every club and even Parks-and-Rec program.
Have definitely enjoyed your post and podcasts since discovering them.
A couple of thoughts: You write, “While Shoeless Soccer (see previous post) touts hard surfaces as a great teaching tool for younger players, especially as an alternative to thick grass, it’s unlikely that all of the families in your local club are going to sign up their kids to play on pavement instead of the local elementary school field.”
I ask, but why wouldn´t they? Because it´s pavement? Americans play basketball on pavement all the time. We used to play stickball and touch football on pavement. Kids play on pavement every day at recess. So pavement itself isn´t a problem.
So perhaps you´re suggesting they wouldn´t sign up because the game played on pavement isn´t soccer? But what is soccer in the first place? What is its essence? Is a big grassy field at the heart and soul of soccer? It simply can´t be. People all over the world play soccer on pavement all the time. In fact, that—and hard-packed dirt—is where many of the world´s greats originally hone their game. One of the key points of Shoeless Soccer is that it´s only on hard, fast surfaces that kids can learn to play the game at the speed necessary to compete with the best. In contrast, introducing kids to the game on the thick grassy fields of America does them a tremendous disservice.
Later you write:
“I once coached a player from Argentina. He turned up at our first practice in a Messi shirt and impressed everyone at practice with his footskills. Then he was a non-factor in games because he could never get the ball out of the mob that chased it around the field. I didn’t see him again after that season.”
I would argue: if the games were played on a hard, fast surfaces, his skills would have been much more effective. Thick grass slows down the game for all of us, but especially for little kids. Their skills don´t work in the grass. And it allows the rest of the kids time to gang up and mob the only kid with skills. Grass, at least the kind growing on most of our fields here in the US, kills skills. And it rewards mediocrity. Big, fast unskilled kids excel in thick grass. Of course the young Messi-protege went home. Our conditions kill the clever game he had been taught to play.
So, if we want our kids to learn the creative, open, free-flowing game that brings joy to the rest of the world, we´ve got to encourage the conditions that make that game what it is in the rest of the world. From my travels to many parts of the world, with the exception of England, the soccer that kids play most of the time is always played on hard, fast surfaces. Why do we insist on something else in this country?
And getting back to the question of parents signing their kids up, it´s my experience as a parent and a coach that parents sign their kids up for what the experts and authorities tell them is (and lawyers back as) the proper practice. Nobody gets sued for playing barefoot beach soccer or beach volleyball. Nobody gets sued because no one wears shin guards at practice in Spain. The wearing of shoes and shinguards, the need to play on wide-open grassy fields, are all just traditions that somehow we´ve decided are sacred.
Unfortunately, particularly in the case of the grass, (I´ll confess that taking off the shoes is not so crucial, though it is helpful) these are traditions that actually hamper quality soccer especially at the youngest ages.
Now whether or not anyone in charge has any incentive to think outside the American soccer box and challenge these traditions is another matter.
Your blog and your podcast are at least pushing the conversation. You´re absolutely right that we need to stick futsal in the mix. I´d just add a caveat, perhaps a little pet-peeve: as always, in this country we seem to always go to extremes. I recently heard a guest on one of your podcasts who I otherwise agreed with mention a $60,000 price tag to build a futsal court. If that is futsal, no thanks. All we need is a hard, flat surface. Sure, an official futsal ball can help. And a fenced in or walled area always help keep the game moving when the ball goes out of bounds. But we don´t need to treat futsal like yet another special sport needing all sorts of special equipment. All we need is a ball and a hard surface. And in this day-and-age, an adult to organize (unfortuante but, again, necessary). And then let the kids play.
But overall, let´s keep this dialog going. Important stuff. Enjoying your work. Keep it up.