Soccer success is about skill according to new university research

This comes as no surprise to many of you that already ‘get this’ intuitively from having played and watched this beautiful game your entire life. And you’ll also understand why I used the above image for this blog post.

Without an appreciation of and commitment to the artistry of soccer we won’t be able to credibly compete at the international level and the growth of soccer here will stall.

Some day the majority of coaches, players, and parents in our country will hold this truth to be self-evident. We still have some way to go, unfortunately, but we have to keep chipping away at this folks. Keep the faith!

The peer-reviewed study, conducted by researchers from Australia and the U.S. in collaboration with elite soccer academies in Brazil, was published last week in Proceedings of the Royal Society of London.

This new study used analytic techniques developed in evolutionary biology to determine the impact of a player’s skill, athletic ability, and balance on their success during a game.

The researchers found it was their skill — not speed, strength, or fitness — that was the most important factor.

“Higher skill allows players to have a greater impact on the game”, Professor Wilson said.

“Accurate passing and greater ball control are more important for success than high speed, strength and fitness.

“It may be obvious to soccer fans and coaches that players like Lionel Messi and Neymar are the best due to their skill.

“However, 90 per cent of research on soccer players is based on how to improve their speed, strength, and agility — not their skill.”

Professor Wilson is collaborating with elite soccer academies in Brazil, where he is testing new protocols for skill development in junior players.

“Our research shows that skill is fundamental to player success in soccer,” he said.

“Skill is complex and multidimensional — and we need to measure all aspects of it — with the next step to work out how to improve these aspects in developing players.

“Brazilian football academies understand the importance of developing skill in young players, which gives us a great opportunity to test our ideas and find new ways to improve youth training.

“Professor Wilson hopes to bring his knowledge back to Australia to improve the nation’s international standing and World Cup potential.

“Australia will only become a successful footballing nation if we innovate rather than replicate,” he said.

“There are kids with an incredible amount of skill who aren’t being selected for teams and training programs because they can’t run as fast at nine, 10, or 11 years old.

“These kids need to be given a chance and the science of skill is on their side.”

Playing to win felt great! And that’s the problem.

I coached my youngest daughter’s U11 futsal team this winter, which ended with the U.S. Futsal Northwest Regionals in San Jose a couple of weeks ago. They ended up second.

During the season we emphasized learning to play the game ‘right’, which includes ball control, skills, and playing out from the back. The emphasis was on ‘player development’, which doesn’t pay off until years later.

We played the same way during the tournament, including playing out from the back and using dribbling and/or passing to work the ball into the final third.

We won against all teams this winter (partly because their players were relatively weak) apart from one aggressive team with stronger players that didn’t give my girls any time on the ball, including when we were trying to work the ball out from the back.

These opposing girls were clearly the best opponents we had faced all winter – their futsal club had ‘recruited’ very good players from various outdoor clubs in places like Santa Rosa and the Greater Sacramento area.

So we lost the ball a lot near our goal and then all the opponents had to do was take lots of shots on goal.

They had a couple of skillful players that did some nice things, but overall this was aggression and intensity overcoming players that are still learning to control the ball at age 10/11.

The score during our group game was 5:13 against us, and it could have been worse.

Turns out both teams ended up in the Final so we played them again.

To give my team a chance to win I decided to change our tactics.

Instead of playing out from the back I told the girls to kick that ball up the field and then pressure the other team in their half.

I also kept one girl deep in the other team’s half. I instructed my girls to kick that ball up the field in the general direction of our lone forward and then run after it to pressure the other team in their own half.

This worked wonders. The other team lead 3:2 with five minutes to go, but the score should have been 3:2 in our favor if it wasn’t for two refereeing mistakes. And we had a couple more great chances but couldn’t finish.

To be clear, I’m not complaining about the referees and neither I nor the players or parents protested during or after the game.

The only reason I’m bringing this up is to point out how evenly matched the teams suddenly were.

We went from a completely one-sided 5:13 to a de-facto 3:2 by changing our tactics dramatically.

The game was very exciting and everyone was happy despite the loss. The overall feeling was that the girls battled hard and could have won the Final. And also nice to avoid a repeat of the earlier drubbing.

It felt great!

Now here’s the key issue:

My only objective was to win that Final. The tactical changes and the player instructions had only one goal in mind: to win. There was zero player development.

The quality of soccer was poor. No team controlled the ball for more than a few seconds and it was mostly hustle and long balls to avoid pressure.

Now imagine you’re a coach of one of our outdoor club teams. You’re playing in leagues and tourneys with relatively evenly matched opponents and often stronger teams.

In contrast, recall that our futsal opponents this winter were significantly weaker than us. So it was easy to play the ‘right’ way….even if we lost the ball playing out from the back the odds of the opponent scoring a goal was relatively low.

For the mathematically inclined: the probability weighted ‘cost’ of playing the ‘right’ way (in terms of losing games) was low compared to the gains.

The vast majority of coaches feel the pressure to win games, leagues and tournaments to keep players and their paying parents happy.

The coach needs to pay his/her bills and put food on the table, and the amount they earn is directly related to how satisfied families and the club’s Director of Coaching are.

And it just feels great to win more often than not. One can get addicted to the euphoria of winning, the happy faces, and the write-up on the club’s website…

It becomes very difficult to truly develop players because you will lose a lot of games for many years.

For example, playing out from the back and encouraging players to develop and apply dribbling skills will backfire for many years.

However, players that develop the right way will eventually dominate the same opponents that beat them up when they were younger.

My oldest daughter’s U15 team learned to play the right way. The skills, the dribbling, the off-the-ball movement, the accurate passing, the shooting technique….are nice to watch.

They demolished the opponents 13:0 in the Final of a major tournament, won Regionals and Nationals last year, and are undefeated in all futsal competitions.

And they always (!) play out from the back, they always (!) use skills and ball control and beautiful passing combinations.

They easily beat opponents that try to use physical aggression and/or kick the ball up the field. In fact, we like this because we regain possession and simply work the ball back into the other team’s final third.

It’s a simple law of nature that the other team can’t score without possession. The only team that can score is the team that possesses the ball.

“For me ball possession is the most important thing. It’s the first step and then the second, third and fourth steps can come after. With the ball, you have more possibilities to create something and to concede fewer chances. Soccer is about having the ball, playing and dealing with the ball. Because when we have the ball we score a lot of goals and we don’t concede a lot.”

Pep Guardiola 2015

Here are two brief clips from that U15 Final to give you a taste for their technical skills and ball possession abilities:

To get to this point of soccer skills and IQ you need to have learned all those more sophisticated soccer skills.

It is an absolute guarantee that these girls would not even be close to their soccer proficiency if they hadn’t put in the hard work and patience and been coached to develop as players from a young age.

We were fortunate to have had coaches that for the most part focused on player development and not ‘winning’ and the parents supported that development ‘project’.

So which route do you take? Have some fun and focus on winning these next couple of years or be patient and focus on learning to become better soccer players despite many painful losses and no trophies?

It takes a very strong coach and DOC to truly focus on player development. And patient players and parents.

Everything is stacked against it, but it’s the only way to elevate soccer in our country.

And it’s the only way if you want your son or daughter to become the best they can be at soccer.

And if a club and/or coach prefers to mostly ‘play to win’ then that is fine too. Many players and parents might well prefer this.

But please don’t pretend you’re doing otherwise. Be honest and transparent about it, and let players and families decide which route they want to take.

That futsal Final felt great and I would do it the same way again. But I’m glad we only had to play that way once this winter.

However, outdoor coaches playing most games against evenly matched or stronger teams will have a strong incentive to ‘play to win’ most of the time. Keep this in mind.

Play with happiness. Play free. Be creative. Just play with the ball.

Read the below letter from Ronaldinho and then watch the clip at the end. Enjoy!

Dear eight-year-old Ronaldinho,

Tomorrow, when you come home from playing football, there will be a lot of people in your house. Your uncles, friends of your family and some other people you won’t recognize will be in the kitchen. At first, you’ll think you’re just late for the party. Everybody’s there to celebrate the 18th birthday of your brother, Roberto.

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Ronaldinho the boy with brother Roberto

Usually when you come home from football, mom is always laughing or joking around.

But this time, she’ll be crying.

And then you will see Roberto. He will put his arm around you and bring you inside the bathroom so you can be alone. Then he will tell you something you won’t understand.

“There was an accident. Dad is gone. He died.”

It won’t make sense to you. What does that mean? When is he coming back? How could dad be gone?

Dad was the one who told you play creatively on the football pitch, the one who told you to play with a free style — to just play with the ball. He believed in you more than anyone. When Roberto started playing professional football for Grêmio last year, Dad told everyone, “Roberto is good, but watch his younger brother coming up.”

Dad was a superhero. He loved football so much that even after working at the shipyard during the week, he would work security at Grêmio’s stadium on the weekend. How could you never see him again? You won’t understand what Roberto is telling you.

You’re not going to feel sadness right away. That will come later. A few years from now, you will accept that Dad is never coming back on earth. But what I want you to understand is that every time you have a ball at your feet, Dad will be with you.

When you have a football at your feet, you are free. You are happy. It’s almost like you are hearing music. That feeling will make you want to spread joy to others.

You are lucky because you have Roberto. Even though he’s 10 years older and already playing for Grêmio, Roberto will be there for you always. He won’t just be a brother, he will become like a father to you. And more than anything, he’ll be your hero.

You’ll want to play like him, you’ll want to be like him. Every morning, when you head to Grêmio — you will play for the youth side, while Roberto plays for the senior team — you’ll get to walk into the locker room with your big brother, the football star. And every night, when you go to bed, you’ll think, I get to share a room with my idol.

There are no posters on the walls in the bedroom you share, there’s only a small TV. It won’t matter anyway, because you won’t have time to watch any matches together. When he’s not traveling for matches, Roberto is taking you outside to play more football.

Where you live in Porto Alegre, there are drugs and gangs and that kind of stuff around. It’s going to be tough, but as long as you are playing football — on the street, at the park, with your dog — you will feel safe.

Yes, I said your dog, by the way. He’s a tireless defender.

You’ll play with Roberto. You’ll play with other kids and older guys at the park. But eventually everyone will get tired — and you will want to keep playing. So make sure you always take your dog, Bombom, out with you. Bombom is a mutt. A real Brazilian dog. And even Brazilian dogs love football. He’ll be great practice for dribbling and skills … and maybe the first casualty of the “Elastico.”

Years from now, when you are playing in Europe, a few defenders will remind you of Bombom.

Childhood is going to be very different for you. By the time you’re 13, people will have started talking about you. They’ll talk about your skills and what you’re able to do with a ball. At this time, football is still just a game to you. But in 1994, when you are 14, the World Cup will show you that football is more than just a simple game.

July 17, 1994, is a day every Brazilian remembers. On that day, you’ll be traveling with the Grêmio youth team for a match in Belo Horizonte. The World Cup final is on TV, and it’ll be Brazil against Italy. Yes, that’s right, the Canarinho will be in a World Cup final for the first time in 24 years. The whole country will seem to stop.

Everywhere in Belo Horizonte, there will be Brazilian flags. There will be no colors except green and yellow that day. Every single spot in the city will have the match turned on and be filled with people.

You’ll be watching with your teammates. The final whistle will blow with the score tied 0–0. The game will go to a penalty shootout.

Italy misses their first PK, and so does Brazil. Then Italy scores. And then … Romario steps up. His shot curves to the left … hits the post … and flies in the goal. The guys on the team are screaming and yelling.

Italy scores and there’s silence again.

Branco scores for Brazil … Taffarel makes a save for Brazil … Dunga scores for Brazil.…

Then, the moment that will not just change your life, but the lives of millions of Brazilians.…

Baggio steps up to the spot for Italy and misses.

Brazil are World Cup champions.

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During the crazy celebration, it’s going to become clear to you what you want to do for the rest of your life. You’re going to finally realize what football means to Brazilians. You’re going to feel the power of this sport. Most importantly, you will see the happiness that football can bring to regular people.

“I’m going to play for Brazil,” you’ll tell yourself that day.

Not everyone is going to believe in you, especially with the way you play.

There will be some coaches — alright, one in particular — who will tell you not to play the way you do. He will think you need to be more serious, that you need to stop dribbling so much. “You’ll never in your life make it as a footballer,” he’ll say.

Use those words as motivation. Use them to keep you focused. And then think about the players who did play the game beautifully — Dener, Maradona, Ronaldo.

Think about what Dad said, to play free and to just play with the ball. Play with joy. This is something that many coaches will not understand, but when you are on the pitch, you will never calculate. Everything will come naturally. Before you have time to think, your feet have already made a decision.

Creativity will take you further than calculation.

One day, just a few months after you watch Romario lift the ’94 World Cup, your coach at Grêmio is going to pull you into his office after training. He’ll tell you that you’ve been called up to the Brazilian under-17 national team.

When you get to the training camp in Teresópolis, you will see something that you will never forget: When you walk into the cafeteria, you’ll notice the framed photos hanging on the walls — Pelé, Zico, Bebeto.

You’ll be walking the same halls as those legends. You’ll sit at the same cafeteria tables that Romario, Ronaldo and Rivaldo sat in. You’ll eat the same food they ate. You’ll sleep in the same dorms they slept in. When you put your head down to sleep, your last thought will be, I wonder which of my heroes slept on this pillow, too.

For the next four years, you will do nothing but play football. You will spend your life on buses and training pitches. In fact, from 1995 to 2003, you will never take a vacation. It will be very intense.

But when you turn 18, you will achieve something your father would have been very proud of. You will make your debut for Grêmio’s senior team. The only sad part is that Roberto won’t be there. A knee injury will cut his time at Grêmio short and he’ll go to Switzerland to play. You won’t get to share the pitch with your hero, but you’ve spent so many years watching Roberto that you’ll know what to do and how to act.

On match days, you’ll walk through the car park where your father used to work security on the weekends. You’ll enter the dressing room where your brother used to take you as a kid. You’ll pull on the blue and black Grêmio shirt. You’ll think: Life can’t get any better than this. You’ll think you have finally made it, playing for your hometown club.

But this is not where your story ends.

The next year, you will play your first senior match with the Brazilian national team. A funny thing will happen. You will actually show up to your first training camp a day later than your teammates. Why? You’ll be delayed by a match with Grêmio in the final of the Campeonato Gaúcho tournament against Internacional.

Playing for Internacional will be the captain of the ’94 World Cup team, Dunga.

You will play very well in this match. So when you arrive to the pitch for your first day of training with Brazil, your new teammates — the guys you watched win the ’94 World Cup — will be talking about one player: the small kid wearing number 10.

They’ll be talking about you.

They’ll be talking about how you dribbled past Dunga. They’ll be talking about your title-winning goal. But don’t get too confident, because they’re not going to go easy on you. This will be the most important moment of your life. When you get to this level, people will expect many things of you.

Will you keep playing your way?

Or will you start to calculate? Will you play it safe?

The only advice I have to give you is this: Do it your way. Be free. Hear the music. This is the only way for you to live your life.

Playing for Brazil will change your life. All of a sudden, doors you never even knew were available to you will start to open.

You’ll start to think about playing in Europe, where a lot of your heroes went to prove themselves. Ronaldo will tell you about life in Barcelona. You’ll see his awards, his Ballon d’Or, his club trophies. Suddenly, you’ll want to make history too. You will start to dream beyond Grêmio. In 2001, you will sign with Paris Saint-Germain.

How can I tell a kid who was born in a wooden house in a favela what life will be like in Europe? It’s impossible. You will not understand, even if I tell you. From the time you leave for Paris, then Barcelona, then Milan, everything will go by very, very fast. Some of the media in Europe will not understand your style of play. They will not understand why you are always smiling.

Well, you are smiling because football is fun. Why would you be serious? Your goal is to spread joy. I’ll say it again — creativity over calculation.

Stay free, and you’ll win a World Cup for Brazil.

Stay free, and you’ll win the Champions League, La Liga and Serie A.

Stay free, and you’ll win a Ballon d’Or.

What you’ll be most proud of, though, is helping to change football in Barcelona through your style of play. When you arrive there, Real Madrid will be the power of Spanish football. By the time you leave the club, kids will be dreaming of playing “the Barcelona way.”

Listen to me, though. Your role in this will be about much more than what you do on the pitch.

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Ronaldinho as World Cup Champion

At Barcelona, you’ll hear about this kid on the youth team. He wears number 10 like you. He’s small like you. He plays with the ball like you. You and your teammates will go watch him play for Barcelona’s youth squad, and at that moment you’ll know he’s going to be more than a great footballer. The kid is different. His name is Leo Messi.

You’ll tell the coaches to bring him up to play with you on the senior side. When he arrives, the Barcelona players will be talking about him like the Brazilian players were talking about you.

I want you to give him one piece of advice.

Tell him, “Play with happiness. Play free. Just play with the ball.”

Even when you are gone, the free style will live on in Barcelona through Messi.

ronaldinho and messi

A lot will happen in your life, good and bad. But everything that happens, you will owe to football. When people question your style, or why you smile after you lose a match, I want you to think of one memory.

When your father leaves this earth, you won’t have any movies of him. Your family doesn’t have much money, so your parents don’t own a video camera. You won’t be able to hear your father’s voice, or hear him laughing again.

But among his possessions, there is one thing you’ll always have to remember him by. It’s a photo of you and him playing football together. You are smiling, happy — with the ball at your feet. He is happy watching you.

When the money comes — and the pressure, and the critics — stay free.

Play as he told you to play.

Play with the ball.

[Click here for a clip showing Ronaldinho play with the ball and his opponents.]

—Ronaldinho

signatureronaldinho

The original was published by The Players’ Tribune. Click here for the original article in English, here for the Spanish version, and here for the Portuguese version.

One more time: the critical importance of small-sided games

I was watching the European La Liga Promises youth tournament a couple of weeks ago and, apart from the quality soccer these U13 kids from around Europe (and especially Spain) are already displaying, what struck me the most was that these 12 and 13 year old boys were playing 7v7 (!) on small fields with small goals.

Note also the additional line running vertically across the field about five yards in front of each penalty box. Opponents are not allowed to cross this line during goal kicks to encourage playing from the back instead of punting the ball up the field.

I’ve known that youth soccer in Europe, and especially in Spain, is played on smaller fields with fewer players for longer, but seeing it in action at this elite youth tournament reminded me of how important this is for player development.

Take a look at the Spanish age chart below. The third row, Alevin, is U12, the fourth row is U13 (aka Infantil B) and the fifth/last row is U14 (aka Infantil A). U12 plays 7v7, U13 9v9, and then U14 plays 11v11. (But note that the U13s still played 7v7 at the above La Liga Promises tourney).

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Click here for an excellent presentation on the importance of small-sided games. I’m pasting a couple of quotes and key slides from that presentation here:

“Over the years, we (the U.S.) have relied on athleticism and fitness. But times are changing, and we can’t rely on that any more. In small-sided games, you can’t take plays off. The girls we saw training were all totally engaged. You can’t start to do that at age 25.”

Carli Lloyd (World Cup Champion 2015, World Female Player of the Year 2015 & 2016)

“When you play on big fields (as a young player), there is not much demand for clean technique. I developed technique later. When I went to college, I still had a very weak left foot.”

Heather O’Reilly (World Cup Champion 2015)

In 2016 U.S. Soccer introduced very important changes along these lines (click here for the full U.S. Soccer presentation on the value of small-sided games) and I very much hope that all leagues, clubs, and coaches in our country fully implement these changes.

As the below chart shows, U.S. Soccer hasn’t gone as far as Spain, unfortunately, but this is a big improvement already.

Our U12s are now supposed to continue playing 9v9 on smaller fields (this ended at U11 Spring before), and the U13s then start with 11v11 on full-sized fields. In Spain the U13s still play 9v9 for another year though and the U11s and U12s play 7v7.

small-sided-games-chart

If longer-term player development and teaching quality soccer is the goal of a club and coach then there is no question that small-sided games and focus on skills and technique is essential. Click here for a very good webpage listing the benefits of small-sided games.

We need to do much more of that in our country and I personally hope that U.S. Soccer will fully adopt the Spanish approach to even smaller-sided games for longer in the near future.

Taking this one (small) step further, I would love to see futsal as a regular year-round part of the youth soccer experience, at least until age 12, but ideally 14. For example, instead of, say, three outdoor practices per week, let’s do two outdoor sessions and one futsal session focusing on skills, technique, and ball control – all in tight spaces.

If you’re unfamiliar with futsal simply search my blog using keyword ‘futsal’. And if you’re interested in where to play futsal in NorCal click here.

Probably the biggest hurdle are the economics given that youth soccer in our country is a private market with clubs operating as businesses (which is not the case in Europe). Click here for a blog post on how much youth soccer can cost and click here for a blog post on our ‘pay-to-play’ system if you want to learn more.

The economics become more difficult as rosters are reduced for smaller-sided games. Coaching, say, 16 or 18 kids at the same time is much more profitable than, say, 10 or 12.

And there will also be resistance from parents who’s son or daughter doesn’t have the skills and ball control needed to be successful in smaller-sided games, nor the interest to work hard on skills development.

These parents will push for larger games because the lack of soccer ability is much easier masked on a big field playing 11v11, especially if he/she is good at running and physically on the larger end of the spectrum in his/her age group.

This youngster will be able to stay with a top team for longer, but will end up being a worse player over the medium- to long-term.

And coaches will have to do the hard work of teaching skills and technique in more detail for longer. Many don’t have those skills themselves, unfortunately, and it’s easier to focus on ‘bigger picture’ 11v11 coaching.

That said, we’re heading in the right direction and we are going to see the fruits of the changes U.S. Soccer has implemented in the coming years.

We won’t compete internationally until we develop players like Coutinho. Period.

 

Where to play futsal in NorCal

Please leave a comment at the end of this post if you know of any more futsal clubs, leagues, and/or tourneys so I can update this post. It would be great to make this list as complete as possible. Thank you!

Tens of thousands of kids across NorCal are getting ready for the winter futsal season. Most of the clubs mentioned below offer year-round futsal programs, but there’s definitely a huge surge during the winter months when the outdoor soccer season slows down.

I can’t say this enough – you MUST try futsal. Your sons and daughters are almost certainly going to have a blast and will learn a lot too. It’s excellent for player development. And you will enjoy watching the games – there’s much more action than outdoor soccer and your son/daughter is in the middle of the action pretty much all the time – there are only four field players per team.

If these clips don’t convince you then I don’t know what will: FIFA clip on futsal and superstar Falcao and this compilation of futsal skills.

You don’t have to join a futsal club or be part of one of our soccer clubs to participate – many futsal teams are coached by volunteer parents with soccer background. Simply pull a group of seven to nine outdoor teammates or friends from different outdoor clubs together, register your team, and go play.

With the help of awesome soccer mom Gaby and encyclopedic soccer dad Mark, here goes:

FUTSAL CLUBS (click on the club name for website or FB page)

Futsal Kingz – skills and fun for all levels and age groups, both boys and girls, across various locations in the South Bay. Tim Newsome and his team are GREAT! I can’t recommend them enough. Sessions and camps year-round, both competitive and recreational. Also compete in tournaments, most recently winning U.S. Futsal Nationals in the U8 and U9 age bracket.

World United Futsal Academy (WUFA) – competitive futsal mostly for boys, but girls are welcome too. Led by Vava Marques, USA National Futsal Team Coach, who grew up playing the game competitively and pro in Brazil, and Daniel Berdejo-del-Fresno, who grew up in Spain and most recently was the Head of Coaching & Sports Science at the International Futsal Academy in England and since 2010 on the coaching staff of the England Futsal National Teams. Daniel also wrote a free book on futsal coaching.

World-class coaching for the strongly committed soccer/futsal players. Year-round sessions. Close relationship with FC Barcelona’s futsal program in Spain, including training at FC Barcelona’s facilities and hosting of FC Barcelona futsal coaches in Palo Alto.

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Burlingamer in the North Bay and in Evergreen (South/East San Jose). This also includes the Gamer Futsal School. Nice facility and quality coaching year-round. GFS owners Jen Short and Roxy Kamal also serve as the U.S. Futsal Women’s National Team Coaches, and teams compete in various tournaments.

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Legends Futsal in Central and South San Jose. One of the oldest futsal clubs in the Bay Area. Very competitive across all age groups for both boys and girls. Also now have a semi-pro mens team I believe.

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Futsal Without Borders in San Jose. Organized by passionate soccer mom, Diana. Compete in Bay Area, regional, and national futsal leagues and tourneys, and also organize international futsal trips, but little ongoing coaching and player development. Primarily recruiting kids from the strongest outdoor soccer clubs to maximize performance at tourneys.

Bulldogs Futsal – based in Pleasanton and affiliated with Ballistic United Soccer Club. Compete in leagues and tourneys. Also click here for more information. Founder Rob Bell wrote a book on futsal.

Futsal 415 in San Francisco. Compete in leagues and tourneys. Regular practices.

Stanislaus United in Modesto. Compete in leagues and tourneys. Regular practices.

Futsal Factory in Sacramento. Compete in leagues and tourneys. Regular practices.

Anthem FC in Sacramento. Compete in leagues and tourneys. Regular practices.

Futsal Gilroy Fuego in Gilroy. Compete in leagues and tourneys. Regular practices.

Liga De Leon in Marin County. Regular practices and in-house league.

There are lots of futsal camps and weekly drop-in practices, plus futsal coaching workshops. Some outdoor soccer clubs such as De Anza Force, Red StarLFC Bay AreaSan Juan SC, and Lamorinda SC organize in-house futsal activities too, but I’m not listing those here. Some of these are small-sided games played on turf, so make sure you confirm if these clubs offer real futsal.

WINTER FUTSAL LEAGUES (click on the league name for website or FB page)

Futsal San Jose – this league is the most popular in the South Bay/San Jose area. Hundreds of teams across all age groups, both boys and girls, compete from the first weekend in December to end-February. This league uses a clever ranking and game scheduling system that matches teams based on previous weekends’ game results. Sign up now!

Stanford-Palo Alto Futsal League – teams compete in January & February. This league is organized by Vava Marques from WUFA (see above). Teams are grouped by age and ability. Sign up now!

San Francisco Futsal League – organized by SF Recreation & Parks and played at 13 centers across the city from January to March, U5-U18 boys and girls teams compete in recreational, intermediate, and advanced divisions. Note that the city website refers to ‘indoor soccer league’, but it’s futsal.

Gilroy Futsal League – based down South in Gilroy. Facebook page here.

Alameda Futsal – their website is a little outdated, but click here for the Facebook page.

Diablo Valley Futsal League – based in Walnut Creek/San Ramon. Facebook page here.

NorCal Futsal League – based in Martinez.

East Bay Futsal League – based in Oakland/Alameda.

East Bay Winter League – based in El Cerrito. Hosted by Tottenham Hotspur East Bay.

Mustang Futsal League – based in Danville. Organized by Mustang SC but open to all.

Northern California Futsal League – based in Rocklin and Mather. Run by Futsal Factory for competitive teams/players. Also run the Northern California Developmental Futsal League for less competitive teams/players.

Marin Futsal League – based in Mill Valley. One of the longest-running and largest futsal leagues in NorCal. Also have a Facebook page here.

Also, this webpage lists leagues and clubs including some that aren’t listed above. Some of the information seems to be out of date though.

FUTSAL TOURNAMENTS (click on the tourney name for website or FB page)

Blackhawks Annual Holiday Futsal Tournament – December 29/30 in Sacramento, CA. Open to comp, rec, and high school teams.

U.S. Youth Futsal Northern California Regional Championships – December 3/4 in Rocklin, CA. Only four weeks to go if you’re interested – sign up now! Winners of this tourney can compete at Nationals in Kansas Feb 17-20.

U.S. Futsal Northwest Regional Championship – March 10-12 at the San Jose Convention Center. Very competitive tourney. Winners and runners-up can compete at Nationals below.

U.S. Futsal National Championship – July 13-16 at the San Jose Convention Center. Very competitive.

Keep in mind that the above two Nationals don’t actually attract the various Regional/State Champions from around the country because youth teams are not (yet) willing to travel far (and incur the cost) for futsal. So Regionals can often be more competitive than Nationals. This will change over time with futsal’s continuing growth.

By way of background, U.S. Youth Futsal and U.S. Futsal are the two competing national futsal organizations. My understanding is that both have the same status with the U.S. Soccer Federation, and that USYF is stronger on the East Coast while USF is stronger on the West Coast.

Please leave a comment below if you know of any more futsal clubs, leagues, and/or tournaments. Thank you!

Futsal season opens in six weeks! It’s super fun and awesome for player development.

Unprecedented probably in any sport: *opponents* celebrate retiring futsal legend Falcao after defeating his Brazilian team in the Quarterfinals of the Futsal World Cup

Have you ever seen a professional sports team celebrate an opponent during a major competition? This speaks volumes about Falcao’s status in the world of soccer, and futsal in particular.

Falcao retired today at age 39. He brought immeasurable joy to futbol and inspired a generation of players, including Neymar, through his ginga. He lifted futsal to new heights and will be forever remembered alongside greats such as Pele, Cruyff, Maradona, Ronaldinho, and Messi. Thank you for the magic, Falcao!

And respect to the Iranian players for this kind of sportsmanship!

Here’s a 40-second clip showing the celebration immediately after the Quarterfinal and then take a look at the FIFA clip on Falcao.

 

Blind players in Brazil using sound to play the game they love

Youth National Team coach: “Players aren’t as creative as they used to be”

If you’re familiar with my blog then you know how important I think creativity is for player development and that I’m concerned about an overemphasis on quick passing at too early an age. I hear “don’t dribble” too often.

Click here, here, and here for just some of my posts on this topic.

So I was glad to read the following comments from our U16 National Team coach, Shaun Tsakiris, during an interview with GoalNation at Surf Cup a few weeks ago:

“It’s interesting, I think our youth soccer players aren’t as creative as they used to be.

We’re so structured in training that we’ve lost a little creativity in our players. I think we’ve created more good players and less special players.

I often remind myself not to take the love of the game and the creativity away from my players.

While the Federation has made great strides in coaching education in the past few years, even I have to remember not to over-structure.

It is our responsibility as coaches to help our players develop the creative aspects of the game.”

Breathtaking: Happy Birthday, Messi!

You MUST watch this movie

If you have any interest in soccer and want to understand the essence of the beautiful game then you ABSOLUTELY have to watch this movie. Trailer below.

Watch it with your sons and daughters. And then share it with your friends and teammates…and your coaches!

It’s about much more than Pele. It’s about the heart and soul of soccer – about ginga, about technical skills, about creativity, and about enjoying the game.

“I don’t know if we will win, but we will show them a beautiful game.”

Brazil Head Coach before taking the field in the Final of the 1958 World Cup

If you know my blog you will know that I’ve written about this many times, including here, here, here, and here. I could go on.

Big investment in futsal

Mark Cuban has jumped into futsal here in the United States. And, according to the Dallas Morning News, FC Barcelona, Atletico Madrid, Corinthians, and Boca Juniors will all own individual franchises.

In addition, some of Cuban’s NBA peers are also getting involved, including the Buss family, owners of the LA Lakers, and Mikhail Prokhorov, the Russian oligarch owner of the Brooklyn Nets.

The aim is to put together the preeminent futsal league in the world, bringing the best talent the game has to offer to the United States.

The attraction is the money spent on sports and, increasingly soccer, here. Our facilities are also typically very good and existing venues can easily be converted to futsal arenas.

And click here for an article discussing some of the rules modifications.

It’s early days, but let’s hope this works out!

Here’s a photo taken at the UEFA European Futsal Championships that is currently underway – 11,000 in attendance!

futsaleuros

And here’s a clip showing the dramatic 2:1 quarterfinal win by Serbia over Ukraine with 0.30 seconds left on the clock. Note the electrifying atmosphere!

You have to click on the link to YouTube unfortunately. And the deciding goal is at 2:25.

 

Nice goal @Futsal Euros

Futsal Euro Championship now underway until Feb 13. Watch live at www.uefa.tv.

Bay Area youngster at Real Madrid youth academy

I came across this recent article in the San Jose Mercury News courtesy a tweet from @24x7soccerus that describes one of our local boy’s experiences at the Real Madrid youth academy in Spain. I paste the full article below.

His name is Joshua Pynadath (click here for his Real Madrid profile) and I believe he’s in eighth grade now. Here’s a clip of Joshua @Real Madrid:

He was at local club Red Star Soccer Academy for a couple of years and then moved to local club De Anza Force. Jeff Baicher, DOC at De Anza Force, recommended Joshua to Real Madrid in Spain when his parents moved to Spain for work.

If you have a more recent update on how Joshua is doing or know of other Bay Area youngsters who made it to a top youth academy in Europe please leave a comment at the end of this post. Thank you!

Also, click here for a clip that Joshua made. Nice juggling skills!

Real Madrid soccer academy grooming Bay Area seventh-grader
By Elliott Almond – ealmond@mercurynews.com – Feb 18, 2015

Seventh-grader Joshua Pynadath used to watch YouTube videos of soccer star Cristiano Ronaldo to improve his skills.

Now he attends the same school as Ronaldo’s kids — and the children of Brazilian star Marcelo as well.

Joshua, of Los Altos Hills, has spent the past 11/2 years training at a youth soccer academy known as “La Fabrica,” or the Factory, the grooming ground for Ronaldo’s storied Spanish team Real Madrid.

“Seeing all of the stars in person makes the sport that much more real,” his mother Jackie Pynadath said in an email from Spain.

Joshua’s development abroad highlights soccer’s globalization as the world’s richest clubs like Real Madrid scour the planet looking for eligible kids as young as 6 to become the next Lionel Messi.

It’s too soon to talk about Joshua, all 4-feet-9, 73 pounds of him, as reaching the heights of Messi. The Argentine striker joined Barcelona FC at 13 and blossomed into one of history’s best players.

When Joseph and Jackie Pynadath relocated the family to Spain for her job in the summer of 2013, they didn’t know how their kids would respond.

But they have adjusted to the language, customs and fashion. It has gone so well they have remained for a second year, and after that, who knows. Joshua, a left-sided midfielder with uncommon maturity, also has thrived in Real’s system.

“He has a lot of interesting characteristics for a player his age,” said Jeff Baicher, coaching director of Pynadath’s De Anza Force youth club.

Baicher, a former Major League Soccer and U.S. national team forward, says no one can predict whether Joshua will make the pros, much less graduate to American stardom. But the one-time Force midfielder “has the makings of being a phenomenal player,” Baicher added.

For now, Joshua’s parents aren’t talking about the future.

“It is such a long journey in soccer with so many unknowns that we only look at the present,” Jackie Pynadath wrote.

The parents have gotten a firsthand look at “how incredibly rare and difficult it is” to make it. Joshua’s younger brother, Jason, 11, is playing on a 7 on 7 training team in Madrid.

“The kids know plenty of former good youth players over here that did not reach the levels they thought they would so it’s a healthy dose of reality,” Jackie said.

But the Pynadaths might face a difficult decision with Joshua, who turns 13 on Friday. He could be asked to join the U.S. residency program in Florida within two years after the seasoning in Madrid.

Unlike the U.S. high school and college system, soccer players outside America develop through professional clubs. It would be like baseball creating a Little League system with youth farm teams.

The Real academy started in the 1950s and has been modeled around the world. The Earthquakes and many other Major League Soccer teams have started academies so they can identify — and keep — local players.

La Fabrica has about 200 players participating on a dozen age-group teams. One of its kids is Argentine Leonel Coira, who signed three years ago at age 7.

Joshua Pynadath’s path started at 5 with low-level teams before he joined the Force, a Cupertino club that also developed Marc Pelosi of Liverpool FC and Christian Dean of the Vancouver Whitecaps.

Baicher sent video of Joshua to a contact in Madrid after Jackie Pynadath got the chance to transfer to Spain with her company. Joshua joined the club and now practices at Ciudad Real Madrid’s state-of-the-art facilities where his picture is on the entrance wall as he heads to his locker.

“No matter how good these kids are at this age here, they are all fighting tooth and nail on each possession at every practice since there’s always another high-quality player ready to take their spot,” Jackie Pynadath wrote. The mom added that Joshua has become mentally tougher as a foreigner.

But the Pynadath boys also have improved by living in a soccer-obsessed country. They’re kicking the ball around at recess or playing an abbreviated version of the game called “futsal” in the park.

“No coaches, no parents, no set teams — just unscripted, open play where your ability with a ball is the only currency,” Jackie wrote.

[Please note some of my recent posts here, here, and here on the importance of a strong soccer culture Joshua’s mom writes about.]

The boys, now fluent in Spanish, told their parents they wanted to stay when the first year came to a close in June. Joseph and Jackie weren’t ready to return home, either.

The parents view the experience as a “priceless gift” for their sons, who have learned the strength of a united family.

“As long as we are together, it feels like our home,” Jackie said.

 

Your son or daughter is playing futsal this winter, right? It’s super fun!

Observations on the behavior of FC Barcelona youth players and coaches

We just returned from training with FC Barcelona and a futsal tournament in Spain. We played against a couple of FCB teams, saw many more walk around and prepare for games, talked to some of their coaches, and had the privilege to be in a FCB facility.

I was impressed with the professionalism and politeness of the players and coaches. They were well behaved, organized, focused, and showed a lot of sportsmanship.

Coaches calmly gave brief instructions and the youngsters responded immediately. No delays or horsing around.

They walked around in teams with their coaches and used downtime between games to watch other games. And they really watched, even the ten and eleven year olds.

None of the youngsters tried to stand out through special hairdos or fancy equipment or behavior meant to draw attention. 

To be clear, the kids did not look bored or robotic. They were smiling and enjoyed their time together. They were creative on the court.

Discipline, focus, and an emphasis on the team rather than the individual are not incompatible with having a good time and playing creatively. At least in the case of these FCB youngsters.

This was tangible experience of the holistic system of player development that FCB has through their La Masia boarding school and the strong value system that permeates the club.

The club’s slogan “més que un club”, which is Catalan and means “more than a club”, was on display. FC Barcelona aspires to be not just a soccer and sports club, but also the best ambassador for sport in Catalonia, Spain, and defender of human rights and democratic freedoms.

To help achieve these goals FC Barcelona contributes 0.7% of its income to the FC Barcelona Foundation and contributes to the humanitarian work of UNICEF through substantial annual donations and the display of the UNICEF logo on their jerseys.

Messi and Ronaldo on futsal

“During my childhood in Portugal, all we played was futsal. If it wasn’t for futsal, I wouldn’t be the player I am today.”

Cristiano Ronaldo

“As a little boy in Argentina, I played futsal on the streets and for my club. It was tremendous fun and it helped me become who I am today.”

Lionel Messi

Spanish street soccer culture

I came across this futsal court wandering through a neighborhood in central Barcelona this morning.

This is soccer culture. Easy access for the kids that live around here, emphasis on street soccer, and skills in a small space.

Imagine what could be if this was possible in the U.S.

Superstars that became great with the help of futsal. Your kid is playing futsal this winter, right?

Unbelievably skillful and creative youngster – enjoy!

The Pele of futsal – Falcao. Enjoy!

Best ways to play futsal in the Bay Area

CLICK HERE FOR A FULLY UPDATED AND EXPANDED POST, WHICH REPLACES THIS OLDER POST.

Some of you asked for suggestions for quality futsal in the Bay Area. I can fully recommend the following:

wufaWorld United Futsal Academy – competitive futsal for boys and girls with @VavaMarques, USA Futsal Team Coach. Grew up and played competitive soccer, including futsal, in Brazil. World-class coaching for those that want to compete and take their futsal to the next level. Vava is also a great person.

http://www.worldunitedfutsal.com/

https://www.facebook.com/WorldUnitedFutsal/timeline

futsalkingz@Futsal Kingz – skills and FUN for all levels and age groups across various locations in the South Bay. Tim Newsome and his team are GREAT! I can’t recommend them enough. Sessions and camps year-round.

http://www.futsalkingz.com/

https://www.facebook.com/futsalkingz

Winter futsal leagues:

Futsal San Jose – http://futsalsj.org/teams.shtml – December to February – sign up now! I estimate around 250 teams join this league with a clever ranking system every winter.

Stanford-Palo Alto Futsal League -http://usyouthfutsal.com/stanfordpaloaltofutsal/index_E.html – January & February – sign up now! I estimate around 100 teams join this league every winter.

You don’t need to be affiliated with any of the soccer clubs in our area to join these leagues. Some competitive club teams join and are often ‘coached’ by a parent volunteer. Simply create your own teams and sign up.

Additional established futsal venues and/or clubs worth mentioning because of their presence over many years, but that I have no direct experience with, include:

Burlingamers in the North Bay – http://www.burlingamer.com/index

Legends Futsal in San Jose – https://www.facebook.com/legends.futsal

Now sign up, go play and have a blast!

Futsal season kicks off in a few weeks. You MUST join! It’s super fun and great for skills!

You don’t understand soccer until you understand its essence: artistry and creativity.

A plaque at the Futebol Museum in Brazil, introducing life-sized models of Brazilian futebol legends as shown in the image above, reads:

“There are 25 of them, but there could easily be 50 or 100 because they were the founders of football, an art form which is played in Brazil. Gods or heroes, idols of various generations whose feet take us to a place where creativity, poetry and magic is nurtured.”

Yes, there are many key aspects of the game, including athleticism, speed, passing, goalkeeping, defending, and shooting, but those fundamentals only play supporting roles during a typical 90-minute performance.

It’s technical skills, sublime touch on the ball, and creative problem solving that make the magic.

We need to encourage this artistry and creativity across all levels of soccer in our country.

We need a critical mass of understanding of this essence of the game amongst players, parents, and coaches.

Only then will we be on a path to joining the top tier of soccer nations.

Only then can we compete with the best and, most important, entertain.

Unbelievable 8 year olds. We need to encourage skills and dribbling more and for longer here in the U.S.!

Data on the benefits of small-sided games

According to a study conducted by Manchester United, playing 4v4 instead of 8v8 yielded:

135% more passes
260% more scoring attempts
500% more goals scored
225% more 1v1 encounters
280% more dribbling skills

European youth soccer has been doing smaller-sided games up to U12/U14 for a long time. U.S. Soccer is now finally implementing the same (click here to see my earlier post on this topic).

Click here to download the ManU study.

[Thank you Peter for bringing this data to my attention.]