Fast Forward with Futsal by Carl Wilkinson
Monday 24th September 2018.
St. Georges Park, Derbyshire.
The FA, led by England Head Coach Michael Skubala, set out their vision for the next six years in English futsal to various members of the futsal and football community. ‘Fast Forward with Futsal’ is the name of the strategy and it is the first of its kind in England as it links to the FA’s strategies, objectives and the heavily talked about England DNA.
As the hard copy document is passed around the futsal hall at St. Georges Park there are familiar faces from the futsal community, club representatives and County FA representatives alike and there’s a buzz in the room. England U19s have just played against Nottingham Forest U18s and this is now the afternoon’s activity until England take on Croatia in game number two of their international friendly meeting.
This is our first glimpse of the document and in typical FA fashion it is eye catching and distinctly recognisable as one of their productions. Set within is an introduction and the vision, the mission and index of contents, quickly followed by pieces from Dan Ashworth (then FA Technical director) and Michael Skubala himself.
The contents focus on the five priorities that the FA have identified that will help grow and improve futsal in England over the 2018-24 period. Each priority has defined focus areas which provide additional information.
A HIGH-IMPACT IDENTITY FOR FUTSAL IN ENGLAND
ESTABLISH COMPETITION AND PLAYER PATHWAYS
BUILD A SPECIALIST FUTSAL WORKFORCE
CREATE THE ENVIRONMENT TO PRODUCE SUCCESSFUL ENGLAND FUTSAL TEAMS
Back in the room and things begin to take shape as the invited take their place in the stands, in front of the panel that has been created to seat Mark Clemmit (host), Steven Day, Hannah Marshall and Michael Skubala. Steven and Michael both provide insight from an FA point of view but Hannah provides a different level of insight for the audience - one of which that details futsal from outside of the FA and has a ‘boots on the ground’ approach, so to speak.
The next hour flies by as we hear the panel on the beginnings and reasonings for the strategy and how this hopes to improve the game in England, before the floor is opened for members of the audience to ask questions.
While there are some dissenting voices regarding the lack of action so far, it is worth keeping in mind that this strategy does include targets and is set across a span of six years.
First on the list of priorities is creating a high-impact identity for futsal in England.
Improve visibility, particularly online
Increase national and international profile
Embrace best practice
Create partnerships with like-minded organisations
With each of the four focus areas having yet more points to them (to see the full document, click here), this is one of the priorities which interests me most as this is something that is always relevant and topical in the social media world but is also one of the vital things for newcomers to the game to understand.
The second priority on the list is to drive participation by attracting new players and retaining existing ones.
Track current participation numbers and driversEmbed futsal in the FA’s support for schools’ footballEstablish futsal as a core offering of grassroots clubsMaximise the role of FA-funded colleges and universitiesEmpower county FAs to co-ordinate futsal growthHarness the power of the private sectorImprove the quality, quantity and accessibility of facilities to play futsal
A big list of actions (again containing additional points for each focus area) and a huge task for the FA to deliver. Up until now futsal participation hasn’t really been tracked in England so the numbers (10,000) are an approximation, but the hope is to achieve 150,000 futsal players participating regularly across both genders and all ages.
To reach such a number by 2024 (which will be growth of approx. 15x from its starting point) requires an enormous amount of resource and we all need to play our part in reaching this. Participation targets are usually contentious as the definition of ‘playing regularly’ is subjective and, in this case, one would think that the majority of the 150,000 figure is going to be made up of grassroots footballers playing futsal in and around their football.
For junior leagues, playing futsal throughout the winter is a great way to beat the bad weather and keep their teams active but if futsal is only played for a 12-week period should that count towards playing futsal regularly? Likewise, if a football league incorporates futsal into their programme but play the game once every six weeks, should that count towards playing regularly? It is unlikely that these types of teams will be coached in futsal as it is simply a tool for developing their football and whilst that is great for them, this is where the ‘futsal for futsal’ enthusiasts will have to take a deep breath and make like Elsa from Frozen.
Schools are going to be a big area of development in the future and, in my opinion, will be the area of development that will truly make the game explode – and we haven’t had the explosion yet. The Youth Sport Trust, English Schools’ FA (ESFA) and Independent Schools’ FA (ISFA), along with Premier League (PL) and English Football League (EFL) community teams are all mentioned in the document and their reach into the wider network of football will be a great help if/when they are fully bought into the strategy. Just imagine futsal goals being standard in all schools/colleges/universities and no more need for the letterbox 5-a-side goals!
The third priority is to establish competition and player pathways.
Encourage youth leagues to take a winter break and offer futsal
Review competitions to better link grassroots to elite
Evolve the National League structure to better support England teams
Launch a short, high-impact futsal tournament futsal competition to raise profile
Embed futsal in the women’s and girl’s competition/player pathway
The phrase used throughout the document is for futsal to become the ‘indoor game of choice’ for people in England and if we are to achieve this then there has to be a competition structure that allows for participation level, right through to elite level.
The current National League set up is SL / D1N, D1S / D2N, D2M, D2S for the men’s and WN, WM, WS for the women’s and is about to be updated ahead of the 2019/20 season with an FA operated league competition. This sits alongside the British Universities and Colleges Sport (BUCS) which also features a futsal structure.
We are starting to see many grassroots leagues turn to futsal during the winter period as well as some dedicated futsal leagues beginning to flourish. Interspersed around these are the independent leagues and tournaments that are working regionally / nationally to do their bit, too, so I think the landscape for futsal is looking better than it ever has but this is still small fry compared to having ten times this amount playing the game. So much opportunity to come for both boys and girls.
The next stage of development is perhaps some way off right now but we need to tie some of these together and work with the National League futsal clubs to develop a player pathway so that grassroots clubs and leagues have somewhere for their players to go to once they reach that age. We don’t really see them outside of the FA Futsal Fives leagues but will there come a time in the near future where we see open age grassroots teams still playing the game once they progress past u16?
Priority number four is to create a specialist futsal workforce.
Promote futsal coaching courses to existing licensed FA coaches
Encourage teachers to take an FA futsal coaching course
Increase the number and quality of futsal referees
Standard stuff. If you want more futsal, then you need more coaches and referees. The immediate pool is obviously going to be people that are already involved in football as just about everybody that gets involved does so on the back of seeing it after being involved in football.
In time there will be a group of youngsters that leave school age 16 that have played futsal for almost all their sporting life and may choose that over football to coach and/or referee. We’re within touching distance of this happening and it will happen throughout the next six years as laid out in the strategy.
One thing I do particularly like is that one of the notes mentioned in the strategy is that to coach futsal effectively you must have the ability to bring out specific futsal skills and techniques. This goes back to my thoughts on the five non-negotiables that give futsal its identity not being enough in isolation to make it futsal. To coach the game and coach the game well there is more to it.
One thing I would add to the list (and I’m biased) is that we need a futsal specific workforce in terms of storytelling. We can put all this great work in place but if nobody captures, documents and distributes it then who gets to see any of it? Creating connections and helping to inspire the next generation can only be done if it is visible.
The final priority is to build the bedrock for successful England futsal teams.
Embed futsal in the talent and grassroots pathways for young players
Shift responsibility for England futsal teams
Establish a competitive England women’s futsal team
Further research the contribution futsal can make to player development
Make futsal a recognised progression for players exiting club academies
Build ‘dual career’ opportunities for elite futsal players
Commercialise the sport
As far as the FA are concerned you could argue that this is what everything builds towards. The pinnacle of the game is the National Team. We want the best coaches. We want the best referees. We want the best players. Why? So we can showcase it at world level.
The announcement of a women’s team is exciting and though it remains unannounced for now (with lots of work to do, presumably) it is now something for the women / girls to aim for.
Building dual careers and/or creating sustainable pathways for elite players is vital as we head towards the commercialisation stage of the league and as a bi-product this creates an elite performance environment where players can develop for both their clubs and the National Team. The aim set for 2024 is a World Ranking of top 20 and currently whilst this is out of reach, it shows a great forethought by the FA to aim at it.
To make futsal The FA’s – and the nation’s – indoor game of choice for young players
To ensure every young player experiences futsal as part of their development
Our targets by 2024 in the categories shown we will have:
PARTICIPATION: 150,000 futsal players participating regularly across both genders and all ages
WORKFORCE: 15,000 FA-qualified futsal coaches at FA Level 2 and UEFA ‘B’ (currently 900)
FACILITIES: A defined network of futsal facilities, covering every County FA
INTERNATIONAL: An England men’s futsal team in the top 20 of the world rankings (currently
54th (50th at time of writing))
An England women’s futsal team
The FA’s Fast Forward with Futsal Strategy for 2018-24 can be downloaded here Fast Forward with Futsal and is well worth a read if you are interested in futsal already or whether you are just discovering the game and want to know more.