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Coaching Your First Futsal Tournament

By Cyrus Philbrick

For many soccer coaches, both veterans and novices, coaching a futsal tournament is a new concept. Although the sport shares the same DNA as soccer, coaches should be aware of the unique benefits that the sport provides and the unique approach to coaching it allows.

Why Futsal?

Futsal is increasingly seen as an ideal way to introduce children to the skills that soccer requires.

Above all else, futsal develops ball skills. By playing with small numbers, players get lots of touches on the ball in tight spaces. Beginner players, U6 and U8, typically play 3 vs. 3 with no goalkeepers. In its pure form, futsal means 5 vs. 5, with four field players and a goalkeeper.

“It is very important for young soccer players to gain confidence as they grow comfortable with the ball at their feet,” said Erica Mastrogiacomo, the recently named Academy Director of the Massachusetts Futsal Association. “Unlike larger games of 6 vs. 6 or 11 vs. 11, in which a tentative player could get lost in the mix for many minutes without ever touching the ball, futsal involves players in action all of the time.”

Futsal accelerates development of other crucial soccer abilities. According to the US Futsal Federation, the sport develops balance, motor ability, agility, coordination, accurate passing and receiving, perception, insight, and awareness.

Coaching Your First Futsal Tournament

Like any tournament, futsal tournaments can be both exciting and hectic. If it’s your first one, here are some tips you should keep in mind:

  • Review futsal rules and the specific rules of the tournament you have entered. Although futsal has few rules, you and your players should know how to make a proper substitution, how to take “kick-ins” and “goal clearances.”
  • Keep your roster small. This helps avoid confusion with substitutes and keeps kids involved in the game. For 5 vs. 5 tournaments, coaches should consider bringing a roster of 8 to 12 players.
  • Consider determining a rotation for substitutions. You can rotate one or two players at a time, or you can replace an entire team of four at once (a la line shifts in hockey). It helps to have an assistant coach minding the clock, to keep track of when to change players.
  • In futsal, substitutions happen “on the fly.” To change an entire team, or goalkeepers, coaches should wait for a stoppage in play such as halftime, a timeout, or an opponent’s goal.
  • In gyms, time and space for warm-ups can be limited. Go over a dynamic warm-up that players can perform in small space. This might include some lunges, jumps, skips, and stretching.
  • Let the game be the coach. You don’t need to give complicated instructions before the game. And you shouldn’t yell instructions to players throughout the game. Instead, talk to the players on the bench about the decisions being made on the field. Try to help them recognize good vs. bad decisions.
  • Encourage and praise good decisions.
  • Give your team (or individual players) a challenge or one focus during each game. For example, focus on forming triangles, or creating combinations, or shielding the ball.
  • Above all, Mastrogiacomo says, “focus on technique and tactics, not the score.”
  • Coaching A Futsal Practice to Prepare for a Tournament

    Part of the brilliance of futsal is that the game serves as a natural teacher. Coaches can sit back and let the exciting nature of the small-sided game grow players’ enthusiasm while improving technique, creativity, and quick decision-making.

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    Despite the game’s organic nature, however, it still requires strategy. Teams that enter tournament games with a free-for-all mentality will pay the price. At practices, coaches should have players practice movements without the ball, and situational awareness.

    Playing with four field players means that teams will want to practice the “Diamond Formation,” a naturally effective shape. This formation gives a team both width and depth on the field. One attacking player gets high up the field, two players get wide on opposite flanks, and one “floor general” forms the base of the diamond nearest his or her own goal.

    The diamond “provides the most opportunities to play in triangles,” Mastrogiacomo says, referring to the most crucial shape in the game of soccer.

    When attacking, players should practice the movements required to form triangles at different places on the field. The diamond needs to be a flexible shape. Players should be in constant motion, rotating places and in and out of position.

    Mastrogiacomo suggests that coaches focus on teaching their teams to recognize triggers – familiar spacing or potential movements – that allow the high player to receive the ball in the most threatening offensive position. Teams can practice many different triggers that spring prepared attacks or defenses.

    This recognition should improve by simply playing the game. Coaches can also run simple drills to improve players’ awareness. Mastrogiacomo suggests running drills like a 3 vs. 1 square drill, which encourages players to form triangles and support the player with the ball.

    Players also benefit from practicing quick combinations, in 2 vs. 1 and 3 vs. 2 scenarios. Coaches can make simple restrictions on regular scrimmages, such as requiring that players perform an overlap or a wall-pass in the offensive third before scoring.

    The tactical aspects of futsal get more complicated as players and teams become more advanced. But, at its’ core, futsal is fun and free-flowing. And any youth soccer team would improve by playing it.

    For the “Laws of the Game” from the US Futsal Federation click here.

    And for more coaching articles and tips, visit the folks at

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