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Building A Club Fan Base

The awareness of futsal around the world is still relatively low. Some have a distorted image of what it is and may see it as unappealing. The impact is many are denied the opportunity to enjoy playing or watching this spectacular game.

There are those more fortunate who have been exposed to futsal as young players, developing a talent and love for the game. They may aspire to make it their future career but the reality is the possibilities are severely limited due to the professional game’s lack of development.

The Spanish Premier Division is one of the most renowned futsal leagues and has some of the best players in the world. The average salary in the league according to official contract data is just over 28,000 euros a year. A very low amount compared to more popular sports. The result is career opportunities are only available for a few.

I believe effectively promoted, designed and presented futsal competitions are the solution to these issues. These will attract more interest, spreading awareness of what futsal is and funding viable professional playing careers for many more.

An extensive research project I am carrying out on generating fan interest in futsal for my UEFA Masters studies has included an investigation into how clubs build followings. I will share some thoughts on this topic in the I hope it will be helpful for those running clubs.

Creating an Identity

The instinctive presumption is that building a fan base is heavily or uniquely dependent on success on the pitch but research finds it’s not such a significant factor. A survey of adult sport fans by Deloitte found only 10% chose their team based on performance.

This is also demonstrated by core fans, the biggest contributors to sustaining professional sport, whose interest is less impacted by their team’s current performance. Sport is unique in this sense as in any other industry people will quickly switch to an alternative if a product or service doesn’t meet their expectations. How is such unwavering loyalty acquired?

The most important reason fans follow a club is a shared identity and connection. Club management can have a big influence on this and it can be achieved with little investment, unlike success on the pitch. I will provide some ideas on building a club identity that, alongside engaging fans, can help build a loyal supporter base.

The best example of using identity to gain loyalty and influence people’s behaviour is from consumer product companies. They do this through building brands that persuade customers to buy their offerings over the similar alternatives of competitors. They invest heavily in creating and establishing their brand personality, which is the characteristics and values they represent.

One of the most successful examples is Apple who have a formed a brand personality of creativity, innovation and independent thought. I’m sure those in careers where these qualities are desirable choose Apple products ahead of lower priced alternatives more than the average of people on a similar salary level. The evidence for this lies in any coffee shop where digital marketers and graphic designers congregate.

The impact of brands on people’s behaviour and choices can be quite significant. Take this t-shirt example from strategy expert Adrian Goldthorpe who has helped develop one of the world’s most popular sports brands, the UEFA Champions League.

A plain yellow Fruit of the Loom t-shirt costs a few pounds. Stick Brazil football team’s logo on this and the price increases five-fold. Instead print on the Nike logo and it costs around eleven times more. Put the Brazil and Nike logos together and the resulting Brazil National Team shirt is for sale at around 24 times that plain t-shirt.

The functional use and quality of these t-shirts are similar. So why do consumers desire one so much more than the other that they’re willing to pay 24 times the price?

Humans survived by forming groups that had shared values and beliefs, allowing them to co-operate and work together. To be accepted in to a community, individuals must present the relevant identity. An individual can communicate their desired identity through associating themselves with things, such as brands, that have the known and established values they want to transmit.

How does this all relate to a futsal club? They also have brand identities, being the characteristics and values that have become linked to them from their past actions and associations. These will reflect on the fans of the team so will attract followers that want to be part of that type of group and see these as their desired values.

How does a club select the values it wants to associate with? To maximise its fan base it needs to find out about its potential or target audience. For a club trying to establish itself, initially it is likely to be the local community.

They are usually the low hanging fruit as they have the lowest cost/friction/effort to attend your events which is where smaller clubs generate most of their funds. Plus a small club can be close to their community, giving it a competitive advantage over other sports whose bigger size makes this more difficult.

The next stage is to find out what values do they associate with themselves? Maybe they see themselves as hardworking, underdogs, elitists, outsiders or some other identity. These can be found through local knowledge and research, i.e. asking them.

Geographical location is one of the strongest aspects of any individual’s identity so this should be a focus. People strongly associate with the place where they live, where they were born and grew up or the place their parents originate from. The survey mentioned earlier found 40% of fans followed a team because of their hometown and 36% because of their current location or family history.

The bond between sports fans and their teams can be extreme

Promoting a club’s identity with an area can be achieved by having homegrown players in the first team, representing the values of people in the region, getting involved in neighbourhood events, working with local organisations, supporting local charities, hosting games and events within the area, helping address community issues, having an academy where youth players can represent your club, organising get togethers between players and fans at places where they usually meet, and selling local food/products at your event.

Once the preferred identity has been chosen, the club genuinely needs to demonstrate and represent these values in everything they do. Any inauthenticity will quickly become apparent and that is a value no-one will want to be associated with.

Engaging Your Fans

Sharing and representing the same identity with your target audience is the first step but to capture their loyalty you need to engage with them to build a relationship, familiarity and affinity. This is the same process as when two people with common interests meet for the first time. Through getting to know each other they go from strangers to acquaintances and, potentially, close friends. It is the same for building a relationship between a club and a fan.

A fan starts by not even being aware of the club’s existence. Through regular and constant engagement they get familiar with the club and what it represents to become a casual fan and then, ideally, an avid fan. The most effective way to build the relationship will be through in-person engagement such as at your games but digital technologies offer the opportunity to engage with your audiences more frequently to reinforce the connection.

Sports marketing expert Fiona Green of Winners spoke at the Futsal Insights Conference 2019 on how your most devoted fans will become advocates who spread the word to other people. Their existing rapport with the people they speak to and their independence from the club will mean their message is a lot more powerful than if it came from the club directly.

Process of building your fans loyalty can be done through an approach known as Fan/Customer Relationship Management. Source: Winners/Fiona Green

This is one reason why a club should never become complacent and neglect existing fans, in the focus to gain additional supporters, because they will help do your marketing. Further, their affection for the club makes them potential volunteers and these are a vital resource for any developing club.

Examples of Good Practice

This deep connection between a club and its fans can be built relatively quickly if you understand and engage the local community.  Major League Soccer in America has been very successful at this. The league continues to expand and each new club must create a following from scratch in a country where football has historically not been a major sport. Clubs such as FC Cincinnati and Seattle Sounders have formed fanatical fanbases.

By putting the fan at the centre of team’s identity, Seattle have become one of the most popular teams in the MLS. Since their formation and entering the league in 2009, the fans have had significant input into decisions and even chose the name of the team. They have a say on every aspect of operations and vote every four years on whether the general manager should maintain their position.

Involving the fans closely in the running of the club naturally creates that shared identity and a feeling of ownership. The outcome is a highly passionate and loyal fan base that would normally take much longer to obtain.

One of the best examples I have seen in futsal is my former club Futsal Dinamo. They had a head start as they are unofficially linked with the football club so were able to take advantage of the existing strong shared identity. However, by far the main reason they have built a huge following has been a genuine desire to represent their fans.

Their deep integration in the local community has been achieved through activities such as charity games in nearby neighbourhoods, visiting local charities, a fan membership scheme which includes discounts at local businesses, official club/fan get togethers at local cafes or bars and supporting the issues important to their fans. The fans have a say in major decisions, like at Seattle Sounders, as they are the owners of the club.

At every home game they have 1000-2000 fanatical fans who sing and cheer non-stop throughout the entire match. After every game we would join in their songs including going into the stands on occasions. All of these elements have combined to create a strong connection, interaction and identity with the fans that is reflected through consistent large attendances.

I think, as a minimum, every club should have a fan panel to give a feeling of involvement and ownership as well showing the club cares about them. Even if this doesn’t give them the authority to make the major decisions, it should at least be a forum to provide their views with the power to decide less important issues such as the team strip and player of the match. Companies pay to have their customers provide feedback to be able to better serve them and in sport fans will happily do this for free.

With the trends in society, I expect creating a community around a club will only become more valuable creating a big opportunity. Humans are social animals and they want companionship and connection but more of our activities and interactions are being carried out impersonally online and loneliness is now reported to be high even among young people. The decline of the traditional places people met in person such as pubs, youth clubs, religious centers, libraries, office working and high streets offers a huge hole that can be filled by sport clubs.

The Identity Of Futsal

Whilst we are on the subject of identity, an appropriate image is also vital for the sport as a whole to get the interest of casual sport fans, who later will follow individual clubs. One very successful sports marketer commented to me about the surprising lack of interest in futsal saying “I think it is almost a brand issue”.

The identity that attracts fans to sport include drama, excitement, rivalry and competitiveness. As I explored in a previous post we need to get away from the images of an exhibition event, freestyle demonstration or football development tool that do not transmit these values. Academic Jonathan Sibley produced an excellent talk on futsal’s identity at the Futsal Insights Seminar in 2017 that you can watch here.

I hope this article helps those that run clubs to think and discuss about how to grow their audience outside of just doing well on the pitch. As a devoted student of growing interest in futsal, I would love to hear of any initiatives that have been implemented with success.

Through strong connections between futsal clubs and local communities the whole world will be able to discover and enjoy our wonderful sport!

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How Do We Develop Futsal?

In this post I will discuss how I believe we can finally develop futsal so it achieves its tremendous potential and why I think the Futsal Insights Conference 2019 will help equip you so you can play your part.

I have two personal motivations for seeing futsal develop. The first is I’ve been fortunate that futsal has gifted me incredible experiences that I am very grateful for and I want others to have the same. The second is I see so many people that are immensely passionate about the sport, dedicating their limited free time in various roles (coaches, photographers, league organisers etc.). I would love that instead of having to fit this in as their hobby, they could have the opportunity to bring that passion to the game in a full-time career.

For these reasons I am driven to getting more people to play and watch this sport. I include watch because I believe having a strong professional game is crucial for the game’s development and getting more people playing. It provides the aspirational aspect that attracts children to the game, increases awareness, helps fund the grassroots and allows those passionate people I spoke about to work full-time in the game and grow the opportunities for more to play. The base and the pinnacle of a sports’ pyramid fuel each other.

Whilst the sport is still at a relatively early stage of its development, we are not going to have the funds to attract the leading experts in their fields, such as marketing professionals, needed to rapidly grow participation and fandom. Therefore, this role falls on those currently involved to take the game to the next level.

If we want more to experience this wonderful sport, we must take hold of this responsibility to promote and develop the game ourselves. Regardless of if you are involved in the sport as a player, coach, club administrator, governing body representative, fan, social media influencer or whatever.

We all have a huge asset and that is our unwavering passion for the game. But, passion alone won’t be enough. To develop the sport, we must develop ourselves first. We must gain the knowledge so we can attack the challenges the sport faces. Any sport is an inter-dependent ecosystem and progress is limited by the weakest links. For example, a well-organised elite competition with poorly organised clubs will not succeed. As is the same if there are strong youth clubs but a weak governing body.

We must all grow together. We must be relentless in persuading others in the game to improve but our biggest concern must be what we can most influence, that is ourselves. From a personal perspective there are many things I don’t know enough about or don’t have experience in but I am trying to educate myself as much as possible so I can contribute.

Where can we take this sport together?

The need for us all to improve for futsal to develop is the reason for the Futsal Insights Conference 2019. We have been very lucky in getting a speaker line -up (see below) that includes leading sport industry professionals that have addressed the key challenges futsal is facing successfully in other sports such as football, basketball, netball, rugby union and rugby league. In addition, we have people who are driving change in futsal and shaping its future.

This is a unique and invaluable chance for the futsal community to access best practice in sport development as well as understand what is currently happening in futsal that they can get involved with. With a big effort from those in the game now, futsal will reach a tipping point where it explodes. Speaking with people across sport development and the sports industry, there are a lot of people very excited about futsal’s future.

Another element of the conference will be the coming together of a like-minded group of people that are committed and passionate about developing the game. No single person or organisation is going to develop futsal alone. We will achieve this together and the conference will provide a central forum to meet with familiar faces and make new contacts to discuss how we can achieve our shared vision for futsal together.

I ask you to take time to consider what attending this event can offer you. We have ensured the tickets are as low as we can afford so it is as accessible to as many of the futsal community as possible (tickets include lunch buffet & coffee break refreshments plus free use of the on-site car park). We are extremely confident that those attending will enjoy a day that offers value many more times the price of the ticket and you will leave with lots of valuable insights, knowledge and new contacts as well as renewed enthusiasm.

I would be delighted to see you in Manchester on Saturday 2nd March and for you to be part of the growing futsal movement!!

The full-line up that will cover some of the key challenges and limiting factors for futsal’s development at The Futsal Insights Conference 2019 are

Speakers

Owen Laverty (Ear to The Ground) – The Growing Audience For Futsal (more info)

Ian Bateman (The FA) – Futsal in Pro Football & FA National Futsal Strategy (more info)

Fiona Green (Winners) – How to Grow Participation, Audience & Sponsorship (more info)

Stephen Brown (Rugby League World Cup 2021) – A Plan For Futsal Events (more info)

Kevin Routledge (Leicester Arena/Leiceter Riders) – Building Your Own Arena/Lessons from British Basketball (more info)

Laura Malcolm (Manchester Thunder) – Developing An Elite Player Performance Programme (more info soon)

Workshops

MyCujoo – How To Benefit From Your Futsal Content & Matches (more info)

Manchester FA – How To Grow Futsal With Your Local FA (more info)

Futsal Arenas – Cost-Effective Futsal Facilities & Funding (more info)

Jeff McCarthy (Manchester Metropolitan University) – Digital Marketing in Emerging Sports (more info soon)

Richard Moore (Sports Industry Research Centre) – Establishing A Sport in Schools (more info soon)

Futsal Insights Conference 2019
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Creating an Environment For Success

It was one of the biggest games of their season and they had lost. The coach was furious. He had been screaming at his players, not to mention the referees, throughout the game. Now he was giving his players a dressing down after the final whistle.

No player dared respond, the coach was the authority, instead they were slumped, shoulders hunched over and their heads hanging in shame. Maybe the coach thought they had been too fragile and this would toughen them up, or at least establish those that could handle the pressure and those that just would never be good enough. It was a day to forget for this team of under 10s.

This was a real situation I encountered at a youth tournament a few years ago. I was saddened by the fact this game that should be bringing joy to those players’ lives and providing amazing memories, as it has for me, was being exploited and having the opposite effect. As youth futsal grows, witnessing similar situations is becoming more common.

Coaching Philosophy

This coaching approach is based on two misguided beliefs. The first is that the youth coach’s primary role is developing players’ abilities. This is a key objective, but it certainly isn’t the most important. The fundamental responsibility of a youth coach is to provide a positive experience with the outcome that it increases the players’ love of the game.

Never be a child’s last coach” is a phrase used by USA Volleyball’s John Kessel and he recommends one way of evaluating your coaching should be seeing how many kids play that sport again the following season. I would question any youth coach who disregards prioritising players’ enjoyment, is it more of a success to develop a player who goes on to be a professional or a person that grows a love for the game that results in futsal being a sustained positive element throughout their life?

Maybe you inspire them to become a coach themselves, having a multiplier effect on the people able to enjoy the game. At best, 99% of the players you coach won’t have a professional playing career so why focus on catering for the 1%?

Fun is the essence of futsal’s existence. Sports are about play, they are games. They became popular long before they offered careers, solely for the intrinsic pleasure they deliver. Fun is maximised when there is intrinsic motivation to do an activity for the pleasure it provides in itself and you are so engrossed, you become lost in the moment.

Becoming a professional is often way back on the reasons why children want to participate but this focus on reaching the top can be imposed early on youngsters by the adults that surround them. Children should be allowed to arrive at their own ambition to reach the professional ranks because they want a life doing what they enjoy rather than to meet the wishes of others. Pure enjoyment in an activity is impossible when it is all about a future outcome fueled by a desire to please others.

Ignoring this first reason to reject this joyless and hard-line type of coaching is a second, based on a false belief that serious environments where criticism is delivered harshly rather than constructively are optimal for player development and team performance.

This is a common misconception shared at both youth and elite level. An enjoyable environment makes a player, regardless of age, have increased motivation, confidence and ability to perform at their best and improve. As legendary futsal coach Zego, who helped develop 6-time Best Player of the World Ricardinho, says “The child that leaves training happy, learns.”

To instill fun doesn’t compromise the possibilities of becoming a professional but rather increases the likelihood. You need a passion for a sport to be able to dedicate the time to work on your game required to reach the top. Mia Haam, one of the most successful footballers ever, recognised “To be a great soccer player, you must be in love with the game.”

Many acknowledge that playing in the street with friends is one of the best settings for developing as a player. In the streets there is no coach shouting instructions and verbally scolding errors but there is the characteristics of self-discovery, freedom, fun and fierce competitiveness. The environment coaches create should still be challenging and demanding as these are essential elements for enjoyment as well as helping prepare children to be successful and resilient in their futures, whether in or outside the game.

Whenever I am not performing at my best and feeling frustrated or lacking a bit of confidence, I find refocusing on just enjoying playing, not concerning myself with doing well or avoiding mistakes, to be an effective strategy to quickly get back on track.

Having fun is sometimes viewed as incompatible with possessing a winning mentality. More likely, enjoying what you do helps prevent the stress and pressure of high level competition having a negative impact on performance. Did competing with a smile like Usain Bolt, Ricardinho or Steph Curry help or hinder the incredible success they’ve had? In an article on this subject former England International cricketer Ed Smith wroteIf you’re really serious about winning, I eventually realised, you should adopt an equally serious commitment to play.”

The Culture of Youth Futsal

The professional game in futsal is still niche which means, until now, at youth level there hasn’t been too much pressure and focus forced upon youngsters towards reaching the top. This has resulted in a very positive and welcoming culture created by coaches who are motivated by passion rather than personal career development.

However, as the elite game grows and futsal is increasingly adopted to help youngsters in their aim of becoming professional footballers, it is at risk of being unable to resist the toxic cultures you see in other youth sports where everything is centered around elite success.

An example is the highly competitive world of elite football where we witness cases of children treated like inputs in a mass production conveyor belt and any considered “not up to standard” are swiftly and ruthlessly discarded, being treated as mini professionals rather than developing and fragile individuals. Former Chelsea youth player Zac McEachran, who never reached the professional game, discussed his youth football experience;

I was at Chelsea from under-8s. It was four times a week, Tuesday, Thursday, Saturday and Sunday, so it takes up your whole weekend. You do love football but sometimes it’s a lot to ask – you’ve got to be dedicated from a young age. I used to cry sometimes because I didn’t want to go training and mum used to have to get me to go. I was so young and I think at the time I just wanted to play with my friends at a local team. Looking back now, I regret that a lot.

Childhood is a once-in-a-lifetime experience and this period should be treasured. We have the contrast where young footballers are following intense and demanding routines in the pursuit of a dream to follow in the footsteps of their idols, while some of those same idols are wishing they could return to playing the game as children with their mates where the focus was on enjoyment.

Former England International footballer David Bentley looked back on his career and admittedI loved matchdays, the atmosphere and the buzz, but, looking back, the biggest disappointment was coming out of youth team football. Back then I was with my mates, playing Sunday League, you’re winning together with all your mums and dads, that’s when football is brilliant.”

Current England footballer Danny Rose is supposed to be living the dream but warnedEven though I feel very privileged to play football, it’s not something I would – with the things I’ve experienced within the game – be shouting from the rooftops to recommend to people’s children to be a footballer because there are a lot of things that happen on a day-to-day basis at club football that I wouldn’t wish on anybody. There’s pressure, there’s politics – there’s loads of things.

I had a fantastic time as a professional in futsal, but my fondest memories of playing are still of kick-abouts and matches with my friends when I was a child. Many people assume the only difference between being a professional player and playing with your mates is you’re being paid to do it. The truth is quite different.

Professional sport is like most work environments where there are politics, pressures, obligations, constant evaluation, repetitive routines, sacrifices, selfishness and egos that all need to be navigated. One of my former teammates was looking forward to his retirement and, in response to my inability to comprehend this, cautioned “One day you will feel like me”. I found that a very depressing thought and if I do ever stop enjoying playing, I would have no issue turing my attentions to something else.

I think my continued enthusiasm for the game is due to my motivation coming from enjoying the process of improving and learning. This is only achievable if you give 100% all the time and, as long as you do this, you can’t fail. This mentality encourages embracing challenging situations as they are perceived as an opportunity to grow, something positive to search out. I also believe this is key to any success I have had and any contribution I’ve made to the titles I’ve won.

The Role of Futsal

Returning to the objective of developing elite players, wouldn’t we only want this for those under our care if we know they will enjoy that career? Playing professionally is a means to end, to be able to spend a career doing what you love rather than an end goal itself. The best chance of preventing dreams becoming unfulfilling is to create a strong and robust passion for the game, so the people we help develop have the resilience to cope with the setbacks, challenges and difficult periods that are inevitable in any playing career.

As coaches we should facilitate an engaging environment that leaves our players associating futsal with, above everything else, having fun. This is the real inherent quality and value of this wonderful game. Their experience should result in a desire to have futsal as a part of their future whether in the role of player, coach, referee, fan, administrator, advocate or something else and as a coach, that should be considered the ultimate success.

And those lucky few that do make it to the top, will be able to live the dream through possessing an attitude similar to possibly the greatest sportsperson who ever lived, Michael Jordan. The enduring love he developed for his sport was such that he ensured a clause was included in all his professional contracts throughout his career to allow him to play anywhere, anytime.

 

P.S. – Don’t forget to buy your ticket (Early bird discounts available) for the Futsal Insights Conference 2019 in Manchester on Saturday 2nd March 2019. It will feature talks from leading experts in sport development and business on how you can grow the game of futsal as well as providing an opportunity to network with the futsal community and sport industry professionals. Go to FutsalInsights.com to find out which speakers have been announced so far. Full-line up will be revealed soon. www.FutsalInsights.com

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10 Tips For Creating Effective Training Exercises

In the coaching community we are sometimes susceptible to thinking better coaching is a lot about finding better exercises. There is, of course, far more to coaching than just organising and supervising exercises, and to delivering an effective and engaging session. However, they are important and I will offer some ideas from my experiences on how to tailor exercises suitable for the topics and players you are coaching.

Exercise Design

The type of exercises a coach decides to use will depend on their coaching philosophy which will have been defined by their own experiences and research. My personal coaching philosophy utilises a training methodology based around modified game situations (discussed previously here) and I also try to integrate the findings from research on learning to enhance players’ development (discussed previously here).

I like this type of training because game situations place demands on the interacting technical, tactical, physical and psychological aspects simultaneously, as occurs in a match. Plus its enjoyable which is the key reason futsal exits as well as being essential to creating an environment that promotes learning.

With this type of training a coach’s guidance and corrections are still vital but most of the players’ learning comes from experiencing situations and improving through the process of adaption to the demands these situations place on them. An approach that has been referred to as ‘letting the game be the teacher’.

This, therefore, requires exercises that are designed appropriately. One requirement is the exercises cause the specific game situations you have chosen to focus on to be continuously repeated. This is so the players go through the loop of evaluation of the situation, decision, outcome and then feedback enough times to be able to work out the solutions that are most effective.

This quantity of repetition through this loop in a specific phase of play that you want to improve the players in wouldn’t be present in a full match. This is one of the reasons exercises are used in sessions (for an untrained coach a session of only full matches can be a good option as you know the players are learning relevant skills).

If the coach anticipates that the players may not discover or consider the appropriate solutions they may want the exercise to guide or nudge the players into executing them. Through experiencing these incited solutions multiple times, the aim is they acquire the knowledge and visual pictures that become ingrained for future use.

Finding Exercises

You can find exercises from various sources or you can design your own from scratch. There is a continuum between these two where the middle point would be using other coaches’ exercises for inspiration but heavily modifying them to your groups’ needs.

Using other coaches’ exercises can provide fresh ideas and a way to benefit from the knowledge of those more experienced, especially useful for beginner futsal coaches. However, using a strictly ‘copy and paste’ method should be implemented with very careful consideration as the exercises were not tailored to the unique needs of your group. Every coach has experienced how the same exercise can transpire very differently with two distinct groups. An ‘off-the-shelf’ exercise can provide some inspiration but will often need to be modified to your group’s requirements.

Designing your own exercises allows you to better recreate the specific situation you want your players to practise and to do this with consideration of the individual characteristics of your training group. With a new exercise it requires visualising how the players will carry out the exercise and thinking how players might ‘game’ it to score points that may not be appropriate to the aspect you’re trying to work on. This is one of the risks of new exercises but once you put them into action, you will gain feedback and can refine the exercise to improve its effectiveness.

Below I have put some basic principles when designing or adjusting exercises including how to manipulate the constraints (the rules such as playing areas or zones, how points are scored, goals used, player numbers etc.) in order to control the outcomes, avoid working on areas that aren’t in your objectives and to challenge your players appropriately. These can be used both during the planning and implementation of exercises.

10 TIPS FOR EXERCISE DESIGN

10) Adjust difficulty

a)To reduce the difficulty for the attack, increase the size of the area being used and vice versa if you want to increase the difficulty. The opposite is true if you want to decrease or increase the difficulty for the defence.
b) Reduce the number of players as it reduces the number of variables they have to consider. For example, to work on team defence; Instead of starting with 4v4 plus goalkeepers, first work on how they defend 1v1 or 2v2 (e.g. working on the first line in a zonal defence) then 3v3 and finally 4v4. To keep all players involved you can duplicate the exercise if space allows.
c) To reduce the difficulty for the attack create or increase the attacking numerical overload (e.g.  floaters or jokers who can go anywhere or play on the edge of the court) and vice versa. Do the opposite for the defence.
d) To reduce difficulty have the players go in waves, rather than continuous play, so the players are setup and organised when the next wave starts.

9) Work on positional attack/defence instead of counter attacks

When the defending team wins possession they must first pass to their goalkeeper before scoring. This allows the team that lost the ball to get in position. Alternatively, every outfield player of the team in possession must touch the ball before scoring which gives the defence time to get back in position.

8) Work on counter attacking instead of positional attack/defence

a) Introduce a maximum pass limit or time limit before the attacking team must score.
b) Allow the attacking team to score in the goals on both sides/directions.
c) If it is an attacking overload situation, have recovering defenders so slow play is punished with the loss of the numerical advantage

7) Work on open play and not set plays

Ball always starts from goalkeeper when the ball goes out of play. Also good for when you want to keep the intensity of the exercise high or are working on counter attacks.

6) Work on set plays in real game situations

Every time the ball goes out restart with a corner, kick-in or free kick depending on your aim. Restrict touches and size of court to increase the number of times the ball goes out of play.

5) Increase the variability that is present in a real game

a) If you are working on an exercise with set start positions, vary them. For example, in 2v1 counter attacking exercises often start with an attacker on each wing and a defender in the middle. However, 2v1 situations in real matches occur with a great variety of player positions. The maximum variety, with the exception of a normal match, you can achieve is through exercises that are real matches where through some rule the situation you want to create will happen in an almost random moment. For 2v1s a game of 2v2 in half court but when the coach blows the whistle the defender of the ball carrier must momentarily sit down would do this.
b) Create a link into the situation you want to work on. For example, a positional exercise that transitions into a 2v1 counter attacking situation. By doing this you include the unexpectedness and disorganisation that occurs in the real game as well as the link between different phases of play.

4) Encourage movement of players in attack

Can’t pass to the player you received it off or, similarly, each team is split into two colours and can’t pass to the same colour.

3) Increase the intensity
a) Reduce number of players or size of the court as this means they are more involved and their movements will have to be more intense.
b) Reduce the work:rest ratio of the exercise so the players work for short periods followed by complete or near full recovery.

2) Encourage defence to press

Point scored for making a certain number of consecutive passes. This could be when you’re working on a pressing in defence or for attackers overcoming pressing.

1) Teaching team co-ordinated movements

a) Usually when you first introduce a team rotational movement to create space it is unopposed. However, this is unlikely to transfer the knowledge of the movements into players applying it into a game situation due to it being too simplistic. One way to try to bridge this gap is that the defenders are only allowed to shadow the attackers (no tackling/intercepting) while the attackers do the movement at the start of the exercise. After the first rotation or once the coach blows their whistle, the defenders become fully active. By doing this, it helps create a realistic image of the movement in a game situation for the attackers.
b) An alternative is to say defenders can only intercept and not tackle which gives the ball carrier a bit more time to think and can also cause the defenders to over anticipate which leaves space behind that the rotational movement can take advantage of.

 

I hope you find some of these useful to designing exercises that are more effective and if you wish to share any principles you use so myself or other readers can learn, please do so in the comments. Thanks!

**Futsal Insights will be holding a conference in Manchester on Saturday 2nd March 2019**

After the success of the Futsal Insights Seminar in 2017, we will return to Manchester on Saturday 2nd March 2019 with a conference that features an extensive line-up of leading experts in the sports industry to discuss futsal development.

A range of topics will be explored to provide an opportunity for the futsal community to learn best practice and practical insights. The central theme will be around developing a thriving and sustainable club.

The full-line up will be revealed soon but the first speaker has already been announced in Leicester Arena Director and Leicester Riders Basketball Club Chairman Kevin Routledge (read more here). He will discuss how they were able to construct their own 2500 seater venue, create one of Britain’s most successful and enduring basketball franchises and develop a league that is gaining a growing audience

Tickets can be purchased now with an early bird discount at £65 each but will revert to the standard price of £85 each once the first 50% of tickets are sold. There is a further multi-buy discount with any purchase of 3 or more tickets available at £60 each. They can be purchased at FutsalInsights.com or the Futsal Insights Conference 2019 Facebook event page.


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The Story of Signing With Umbro

Futsal players are obsessed with their footwear like anyone else who has a passion and develops an interest in the associated equipment. We are always searching for a shoe that feels just right.

Everyone has their own preferences; Some like a light or more solid shoe, synthetic or leather materials, a thin flexible sole or a thicker base that cushions, and this goes on into even more detailed features.

Being quite demanding in what I want from a shoe, I have experimented with around a dozen brands and their various models during my career in the constant pursuit of that perfect pair. In the end, I’d had to settle with something that was only satisfactory. One of the reasons futsal shoes haven’t met expectations is they have mostly been designed from a football perspective.

Around a year ago, I was given a mysterious all-white prototype by Umbro for a new model they were testing when their product development team came to visit us at a Manchester Futsal Club training session. After repeated disappointment with futsal shoes, my expectations weren’t high but I was willing to give it a try.

I put my foot into the shoe and it immediately felt comfortable. A good start as it usually takes a period of time to wear shoes in, and maybe a few aches and pains, before they become well-fitted. It had all the principal characteristics I look for.

Soft leather at the front for a great feel of the ball but mesh materials at the back to keep the shoe light and breathable, and a sole that was really responsive and provided exceptional grip for the frequent changes of direction that occurs in futsal. Once I got them on the court, they felt great to play in.

A condition of trialing the shoe was to provide feedback and some criticisms, but I was really struggling to find improvements. The only real critique I could find was after wearing them a while they had a bit of discolouring on the leather and the suede on the toe showed some wear and tear, two issues they would resolve before they released the shoe, known as the Chaleira Pro (You can find out more about the features of the shoe here).

I was quite surprised they had developed such a quality shoe as Umbro hasn’t been so prominent in the UK futsal market but, somehow, they suddenly possessed, in my opinion at least, the best futsal shoe on the market by a distance. After discussing the shoe with Umbro’s product designers, the explanation for how they had been able to get ahead of the competition became apparent.

They had already travelled all over the world, principally to Brazil, speaking to players from the amateur level to world class internationals and meticulously evaluated all the feedback to keep modifying the shoe. They made continual minor improvements until the comments they were receiving, like my own, were virtually all positive. Finally, in 2018 they were happy to release it.

The great job they’ve done with the Chaleira Pro includes some very nice colour combinations and every player finds a nice looking shoe gives you that little bit of extra confidence. It is now worn by some of the very best players worldwide including Leandro Lino and Marcel Marques of Brazil and Adolfo of Spain, probably the stars of their generation for the world’s two strongest futsal nations. Further, three of Portugal’s Futsal Euro Champions debuted the shoe as they claimed their first major title.

With my enthusiasm for the Chaleira, I think Umbro recognised I could be a good advocate to help get word out about their new model. As well as the obvious perks of signing with a brand, there was something else that made me really excited to partner with Umbro.

I have provided feedback for other companies in the past and it always seemed like a box ticking exercise for them. You provide opinions and you might not here back from them. With Umbro it was a completely different experience.

Their team have a real love for the sport and want to see it develop. I frequently receive messages from them asking where they can watch matches online. This generates a strong desire and focus on producing the best products for people to enjoy our sport. You speak directly with the product designers and they are very attentive to all the insights they receive. It is a pleasure to represent a brand that shares my passion for the sport and that have products you genuinely want to recommend.

They are not limiting transforming the futsal product market to shoes. They created a ball called the Sala Pro DPS (see photo above) that features new technologies specific for futsal including a special texture that provides better grip for the specific way players manipulate the ball plus it has an outer made from recycled plastic. Umbro balls are used by the Brazilian National League.

They are not resting on what they’ve achieved so far. Players including myself from around the world are currently testing future futsal products and, with their commitment and passion, I’m excited to see what they will produce. It’s great to see Umbro giving futsal the dedicated attention it deserves.

 

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The Misconception of Futsal

Futsal is a fiercely competitive sport, producing drama, emotion and moments of draw dropping brilliance.

But being a sport, above everything else, sometimes receives less emphasis. Its labelled a football development tool, a small-sided variant/discipline/format of football or tagged as a game of flicks and tricks.

Promoting futsal predominantly in these terms can understate how enjoyable it is to play and watch, fuel a perception of an inferior spin-off or lead to it being perceived as an exhibition activity. This diminishes the competitive and entertaining nature that provides the ability to sustain interest from both fans and players.

They may well be roles that it is capable of fulfilling and how it meets the needs of some. For the football coach it accelerates players’ development, the recreational footballer can substitute it for football due to its convenience and similarity, and freestylers or street footballers can use it as a platform to show their particular talents.

But it is like saying a book is a doorstop. It can do the job but it is not the principal function or where it provides the most value. And neither are those the core reasons futsal exists.

UEFA explain futsal’s beginnings, “Far from being a simple derivative of football played indoors, futsal was devised as a whole new sport, taking inspiration from basketball (as regards the number of players), handball (as regards the pitch), water polo (as regards the role of the referee) and, of course, football” (Boom Time For Futsal. UEFA Direct 168)

Neto of Brazil (L) celebrates with teammates after scoring a goal against Spain on the way to Brazil winning the final match of the FIFA Futsal World Cup 2012 in Bangkok on November 18, 2012. AFP PHOTO/PORNCHAI KITTIWONGSAKUL (Photo credit should read PORNCHAI KITTIWONGSAKUL/AFP/Getty Images)

FIFA taking on the mantle of governing the game half a century after its birth seems to have created a misconception among a wider audience, but its fundamental nature is unchanged. It continues to be its own sport.

When promotiong the sport the Neymar or Messi quotes should be limited to optional extras. I understand the temptation to use these as a hook for those who aren’t familiar with the sport, but these must remain at best supplementary to a discussion on the real stars of futsal (& not just magicians Falcao & Ricardinho), the nail-biting finales, the non-stop intensity, the intricate tactical strategies and the pulsating atmospheres. A futsal match takes you on an emotional roller coaster as it ebbs and flows.

A librarian that enthused about a book’s capabilities to act as a doorstop, omitting its ability to seduce with a spellbinding narrative, to loan a couple more books would be ill-advised. If our explanations don’t intrigue the listener, then we must get better at communicating futsal’s real essence.

When someone asks for an explanation of what futsal is, and a reference to football is deemed essential, the response should not be 5-a-side or indoor football but that they share a resemblance though futsal has five players per team, a different ball, court and rules. It is a subtle difference in explanation but a crucial one.

Football is, without doubt, a great game but we are not inferior. We should not be shy to celebrate futsal’s unique qualities.

Of course, we’re all entitled to view and use futsal as we wish but I strongly contend that not emphasising it as a sport  does it a cruel disservice and is to the detriment of its long-term development.

Let’s grow the sport of futsal!

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Interviews with Key Figures in Asian Futsal

I was recently in Bangkok, Thailand for the World Intercontinental Futsal Cup after being invited by Club Atlético Los Angeles from Equatorial Guinea. It was a fantastic event with attendances of over 9,000 and some of the  world’s best clubs and players on show.

It was no surprise to see it held in Asia as it has become a leading region for futsal. The AFC was the first confederation to organise a women’s, and male youth, continental championships and the sport continues to gain popularity across the continent. At the last World Cup we had the first Asian nation to finish in the Top 3 after Iran claimed bronze.

To find out more on what is happening with futsal in the world’s most populous continent, I took the opportunity to speak with three key people from different areas of expertise in the sport´s development in the region.

I first interviewed Adisak Benjasiriwan who has roles in the Thailand FA as well as The AFC and gave some fascinating insights into how the game has developed so rapidly in the South East Asian country. After that I spoke with legendary coach Hossein Shams who spoke about the huge numbers playing futsal in his country of birth Iran and what is currently holding his homeland back from being No.1 in the world. Finally, I had a conversation with Abolfazl Khodabandehloo, a highly experienced futsal event organiser with ambitious plans to develop the sport in the future. The three interviews are below.

*These interviews were previously published on FutsalPlanet.com

Key Figure Behind Futsal in Thailand Discusses Its Past & Future Development

Inside the stunning Bangkok Arena, built for the 2012 FIFA Futsal World Cup, 9,000 cheering fans are enjoying the World Intercontinental Futsal Cup, a tournament described by the Head of Events & Competitions at FIFA as “very important for the future of futsal worldwide”.

Thailand has become a home for international futsal events and in the last 3 years alone it has hosted the AFC Futsal Championships, AFC Women’s Futsal Championships, the first ever AFC U20 Futsal Championships, ASEAN Futsal Championships twice and the ASEAN Club Futsal Championships twice. It is quite a portfolio of major futsal tournaments that gives the impression the sport has a long history in the country.

However, that is not the case. Incredibly, it was less than 20 years ago that Thailand first hosted an international futsal tournament and first qualified for a FIFA Futsal World Cup, but since then the sport has developed rapidly. They have now qualified for five consecutive World Cups and reached the knockout stages at the last two. How does a country go from being unknown on the world stage to one of the hotbeds of futsal worldwide in such a short timescale?

Without doubt, a lot of this success can be attributed to just a single person, Adisak Benjasiriwan. He is the current Chairman of the Futsal & Beach Soccer Committee at the Thailand Football Association as well as a member of The AFC’s equivalent body. He first got involved in developing the sport almost 20 years ago and since then he has held several roles including acting as the team manager of his country’s national team and being behind the successful bid to host the 2012 FIFA Futsal World Cup.

One of his first involvements in developing the sport was founding and building club side Chonburi Bluewave where he was president until a few years ago when the position was passed to his son. They have dominated domestically and the two-time Asian club champions have provided the backbone of the national team, being pivotal in their upward trajectory. The former University of Dallas student hasn’t just focused on developing the elite game and one of his initiatives helped get public futsal courts built in urban areas so more people can enjoy this game he loves.

In just under two decades he has been the driving force behind futsal becoming one of Thailand’s most popular sports where it fits well in the hot and humid climate that has a long rainy season. However, he is not satisfied to stop there and has ambitions further afield. He previously said he wants Thailand, runners-up in Asia on two occasions, to become the number one team in the continent where Iran and Japan have dominated. In this exclusive interview Benjasiriwan tells us about the sport in his homeland, how it developed and where he sees it in the future.

Doug Reed: How popular is futsal in Thailand?

Adisak Benjasiriwan: Futsal in Thailand is one of the top five most popular sports in the country. It is a professional sport amongst 13 sports in Thailand and there are more than 100,000 people involved in the game.

For our domestic competition, we have the AIS Futsal League as the top tier of the pyramid, followed by Division 1, Women’s, University League, Thailand National Games for university students and National Secondary School League.

The league competition has an average attendance of 1,200-1,500 spectators restricted by the capacity of our facilities. Nevertheless, for the ASEAN and Asian Championship we can expect 8,000-12,000 attendances in the Bangkok Arena for National Team games or AFC Futsal Club Championships. Regarding the TV audience, we are only behind the Men’s Football National Team and Women’s Volleyball National Team which means that the TV ratings for Futsal National Team games is relatively high and has been as high as over 5 million viewers.

At the grassroots level, kids are growing up playing futsal more than playing football due to the fact that we have more than 1,000 futsal courts in the country in over 70 provinces and nowadays more than a quarter of schools all over Thailand substitute futsal for football due to limited space for football.

DR: How were you able to grow the game in Thailand so quickly?

AB: We started developing futsal in Thailand almost 20 years ago. In the first year we didn’t have any futsal players so we brought footballers to play futsal and after our first World Cup tournament, we decided to organize a futsal selection for our National Teams’ players to play only Futsal. One of the most important decisions we ever made was to start the league in 2006 and since then we always have had the system to enhance our human resource development.

The league competition has been growing step by step and gaining more and more popularity. During the past 10 years, we have also organized AFF and AFC competitions regularly both for club and national team tournaments as well as the FIFA Futsal World Cup in 2012. Therefore, people including the young generations have become familiar with futsal. In addition, our national team has successfully qualified for the FIFA Futsal World Cup five consecutive times since 2000 and inspires the young generations to have a career path in futsal and possess the dream to play for national team.

DR: You have supported futsal and helped grow the game in Thailand for many years. Why are you so passionate about this sport and its development in the country?

AB: This is a fascinating sport and I believe that the characteristics of the Thai people also fit the rhythm of the game. This is one of the reasons why I supported futsal and helped grow the game.
The first time we qualified to the World Cup in 2000, it was a spark in my life and I told myself that I needed to grow this sport and follow my dream to make this game successful in Thailand. We have been in the top 3 in Asia in the majority of competitions. I wanted to see the success that futsal brings to the Thai people as they can make a career out of the game and I wanted to see the happiness that futsal brings to the fans as this sport has done for me.

DR: In 2012 you brought the FIFA Futsal World Cup to Thailand. What impact did the event have?

AB: We made a very good and compelling bid book in 2011 but unfortunately, after we were selected as the host nation from FIFA, I was not involved during the tournament but it gave us a legacy and put Thailand on the map in the world of futsal.

Thai people had the opportunity to experience and feel the energy of the game from as close as they could imagine. This inspired the children and people who had never heard of futsal before. This brought interest to the country and what we also got from the World Cup is one of the best stadiums in the world. We built the Bangkok Arena which is now a symbol and legacy from the World Cup.

DR: Hosting the penultimate World Cup and the World Intercontinental Futsal Cup has cemented Thailand as one of the leading countries for futsal in the world. Where do you see the sport in the future here?

AB: After working for futsal for so long, I am very proud to be able to organize, and be trusted to organize, the world’s best two championships. I believe that Thailand is currently considered as an international futsal hub for the world. Anyway, we must still develop and make this family grow in terms of human resources, competitions, marketing and our national teams to really achieve the professional and international standards. We believe that if we do our best, the benefits will fall into the arms of the Thai futsal community, therefore we have so many things to be planned and done ahead for the future generations. This plan would be beneficial to the management team of futsal in Thailand, whoever is able to make the decision, and it would be the best for futsal.

 

Shams: Iran can be No.1 in 2020 with the right funding but we need a specialist futsal federation

 

Hossein Shams is one of the most respected voices in the coaching world and as such was the perfect candidate to lead the World Intercontinental Futsal Cup’s first ever Technical Study Group (TSG) in Bangkok. The role of a TSG is to highlight the latest game trends and support its development through analysing matches and training sessions at tournaments. I spoke to the Iranian coach to get his thoughts on the championships and the sport more widely.

”The tournament has been a very high level. I was particularly impressed by Leandro Lino from Magnus who has come as a surprise. A very, very good player in both attack and defence as well as 1v1 situations. I also like Ferrao who is fantastic.” Observed Shams before mentioning how he hopes there will be room for more top teams to participate in the future.

Asked on his thoughts on the role of 1v1 skills in the modern game, he has noticed its reduced presence. “I think previously players were more about technique and skills. In Iran and Brazil we had so many of these players. I think now there is an emphasis on tactics and fitness and less on technique. Those two have improved more than the technical aspects.”

Having coached for nearly three decades, almost from the birth of the sport under FIFA’s auspices, he has witnessed the rising level among all teams during his career. “When I started in futsal it was just Spain and Brazil. No-one knew about the tactics of defence, attack or set plays. Now all the teams have improved and have this knowledge. In the first AFC Championship Iran defeated Singapore 36-0. 36-0! Today that’s impossible. Maybe 4 or 5 nil but nothing more.”

Exploring the reasons behind this evolution he focused on the increased professionalism. “Now there is more training. Previously we trained 3 times a week in Iran. Then it went to 5 or 6. Now every teams trains morning and afternoon. I think this is the difference between when I started and now.”

His distinguished coaching CV includes working for many of Iran’s best clubs as well as the Bahrain and Kuwait National Teams. In 2007 he would take the helm at his own nation and, shortly after, at the 2008 FIFA Futsal World Cup they were the surprise package and announced themselves as one of the world’s strongest nations. It helped earn Shams the title of the father of modern Iranian futsal back home.

Despite dominating in Asia, before then Iran weren’t considered among the elite as they are today. They had a poor record at the World Cup before 2008 with the exception of the 1992 edition, in an era when professionalism hadn’t yet took hold and the elite game was still in its infancy. In that second ever FIFA Futsal World Cup USA finished runners-up with a squad of indoor soccer players, highlighting a different era when players and teams weren’t highly trained futsal specialists.

In the 2008 edition they immediately demonstrated their quality, leading Spain 3-0 at half time in their first game before the defending champions managed to salvage a draw. In the second round they lost narrowly 1-0 to the eventual champions Brazil before conceding a last-minute goal against Italy to make it 5-5 and leave them a single goal short of the semi-finals.

That team was led on the field by the legendary all-time goalscorer in futsal history, Vahid Shamsaee, as well as other world class players such as Keshavrz, Taheri, goalkeeper Nazari and Hassanzadeh who captains the team currently. Now Iran are a well-established world powerhouse, finishing third at the last World Cup, with stars such as Tayyebi, Javid and Tavakoli capable of playing in any team in the world. However, they don’t currently feature in the top leagues as they can earn much more in places like China and Kazakhstan where many have left home for since the crisis in the Iranian economy.

The question arises how Iran has established itself as such a strong nation and the answer is simple. “Do you know that 16 million people play futsal in Iran?” asks Shams. ”I think that’s the highest in the world. So much talent. 8 million play just futsal in schools alone with specialist coaches and schools futsal is crucial in developing futsal. It is very easy to find 14 players from 16 million for the national team.” concluded the current Giti Pasand Head Coach.

At the last World Cup a narrow 4-3 defeat to Russia prevent

ed them from earning a place in the final. Could they lift the trophy in 2020? “If the futsal committee of Iran has the budget for futsal and support from the football federation we can become No.1 in 2020. I think we have a very good chance to become world champions. There is so much talent in Iran. The problem is there is no money.”

He doesn’t believe, in Iran at least, that the necessary funding will come under the current structures. “In Iran if you have 16 million people playing you must have a bigger budget. I think whilst under the control of the football federation it will never change. We must leave the football federation and have a federation specifically for futsal. In Iran this is required but maybe in other countries it isn’t the case. If you have 16 million people, you must have a specialist federation.”

He went on to highlight the importance of funding to develop futsal wherever you are and provided the contrast between how football coaches are paid millions by the federations whilst their futsal equivalents receive relatively little. “In every country a budget for futsal will develop the game. Without a budget it won’t.” was this 5-time champion of Asia’s frank conclusion.

With such a sharp futsal mind and a wealth of knowledge from the last 30 years in the sport we couldn’t leave without finding out his all-time Iranian and World Best V. For Iran he selected four from that historic 2008 World Cup squad with the spots being given to Shamsaei, Masoumi, Keshavarz, Hassanzadeh and Nazari in goal. For the world selection he chose two players who were crowned champions in Thailand in Falcao and goalkeeper Thiago plus their compatriot Manoel Tobias, Spaniard Kike and, of course, there was room for the Iranian icon Shamsaei.

 

A Key Figure Behind The World Intercontinental Futsal Cup With An Ambition To Grow The Game

The recent World Intercontinental Futsal Cup in Thailand has been deemed a huge success after the high level of play from the world’s best clubs generated significant interest from fans, television broadcasters and sponsors. Most importantly, it promoted a positive image for a game which is still fighting for its space in the global sporting landscape.

One of the key figures behind its success was Abolfazl Khodabandehloo who was the deputy executive of the event and has big plans for its future. The goal is to grow futsal and make it the second most important futsal event worldwide behind the FIFA Futsal World Cup. He confidently declared “This tournament is going to grow bigger and bigger….It is going to be one of the major futsal tournaments in the world.”

This comes with some authority as Iranian Khodabandehloo is an executive with extensive experience in the area. He has been organizing events for the AFC for many years as well as being involved in the management of major sports competitions such as The Olympics and Asian Games.

The World Intercontinental Futsal Cup brings together the top clubs from across the planet to compete for the title of World Champions. It has a history going back to the late 1990s but has not always been given the attention or treatment it deserves as the premium global club competition.

However, that is all set to change with Khodabandehloo and the company he is Vice President of. Futsal and Beach Soccer International organised this year’s edition and have a wealth of sports industry experience among their ranks. The old cliché “location, location, location” is just as applicable to sport events and 2012 World Cup host Thailand, which will host the competition for the following two years, is seen as a key factor in their strategy of fulfilling the championships potential.

“I believe Thailand, on the base of its infrastructure and management, are one of the most developed futsal countries in Asia and the world. They have proven that by having hosted lots of big events in the country” commented Khodabandehloo. “For bigger matches, over 12,000 people are attending.”

The interest in the sport is certainly growing in the country both from the government, who supported the event, and the fans who came to the games in their thousands to gain a glimpse of the world’s best futsal players. They weren’t disappointed with legends that have been the stars of their generation such as Falcao and Foglia on show as well as those that will surely achieve the same stature in the future, such as tournament top goalscorer Leandro Lino and his teammate Marcel.

Looking wider afield, Asia has become a leader in the development of the sport. “Compared to other continents, Asia is moving faster and giving more attention to futsal.” Back in 2015, The AFC was the first confederation to hold a continental futsal championship for women’s national teams which is a bi-annual event. Its example has been followed by Europe’s UEFA who will debut their equivalent in 2019.

Khodabandehloo was keen to stress the importance of developing the women’s game. “Women are half the population. They have a say in every aspect in society, in Asia many women are in top management positions and we should treat everyone the same. Women must be given confidence. Women’s futsal is very, very important not only the men’s game. Futsal is a sport for everybody.”

So what are the keys to building a sports event? “In order to make a tournament successful the participating futsal clubs are very important, but the management of the event is also playing a very big role, the people who work behind the scenes. If they are not professional the tournament can fail even if you have all the top teams.”

And this is what his company Futsal and Beach Soccer International aims to provide. They offer services that cover every aspect of organising futsal events from finding sponsors, securing the participation of the world’s biggest teams and advising on legal matters. They have already organised many qualifying tournaments for futsal and beach soccer for The AFC and FIFA in addition to these championships.

Global futsal participation is significant and has been growing but this hasn’t been reflected in the interest in the elite game. Building the World Intercontinental Futsal Cup, as well as mentioning the possibility of another huge futsal event in the near future that he is keeping tight lipped about, is all part of Khodabandehloo aim of introducing the sport he adores to the world.

To finish our interview, considering he was a former professional football player and has been Head Coach and Technical Director of the Thailand Beach Soccer team, I asked why he has such a strong desire to grow futsal. Without any hesitation, he rapidly reels off the reasons behind his love for the game.

“Futsal is totally different from football. Futsal is the base of football. Number one is the speed of the game. Number two is the entertainment value for spectators. Number three is its indoor so you can play in all weather conditions. Number four is the atmosphere the fans create. 6000 in an indoor arena is like 100,000 in an outdoor stadium.” He replies enthusiastically before continuing.

“Number five is the players have to be fitter than in football. You cannot stop in futsal. Number six is the tactics involved. It is a mixture of football, basketball, handball, all team ball sports. For me, in futsal the winner is the team that makes the fewest mistakes. Futsal is like playing chess. For top teams, technique is very important, but tactics are the major factor. In football it is power.”

With his experience, knowledge and passion for organising futsal events and the sport itself it would be a brave person who doubts Abolfazl Khodabandehloo will achieve his ambitions.

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