If you're about to get into futsal, and want a general idea of what you're supposed to do and how the game works, here's some things I wish I was told when I first started.
Finish the move
Think of it like this; if you don't score, the opposition will. Here's two chances where we should have scored, didn't, and conceded immediately. When attacking, you commit so many players forward, that you are left exposed and wide open for counters. When we say "finish the move" what we mean is that the ball must go over the end line when you attack. Essentially, either a shot that goes in the net, or goes over or wide. If it goes into the keeper's hands, there will be a chance for a counter. If it goes to the defender's feet, there will be a chance for a counter. At least with the ball being out of play, your team has a few seconds to retreat and reorganise.
Keepers don't make saves, they make blocks
We tend to think of goalkeepers from football, with diving saves, and feel that not catching the ball is a defeat. In futsal, the shots come from so close that it's very rare a keeper will catch the ball. In football we're scared of rebounds, because a parried shot will drop right in front of the goal and be tapped in. Remember that in futsal, the goal is considerably smaller, making it much harder to score from rebounds. A futsal goal is 3m wide, and a football goal is 7.32m wide. A futsal goalkeeper parrying 2m to their right has put the ball at such an angle that it would be very difficult to score, because the ball is now wider than the post. A football goalkeeper parrying 2m to their right still has the ball right in front of goal.
If you're looking at making a futsal team, the keeper is the most important position. They have to be brave and agile. Futsal keepers also make way more saves with the feet, which is frowned at in football, because it doesn't secure the ball. But remember, the stakes are very different in futsal, due to the distances and goal saves. Think of a futsal goalkeeper technique being more like making yourself big so you get hit by the ball, rather than moving to the ball.
Crabbing not dribbling
It may sound silly, but with there being no grass on the court, the ball does not slow down. Some players can feel like runaway freight trains if they try do dribble like they do in football. When dribbling in football, one foot is used to keep moving the ball, leaving the other foot for balance and steps. This severely reduces the ability to deceive and to change direction. In futsal, the ball needs a little tap, and it will keep moving because nothing slows it down.
Toe punt goals
Lots of futsal goals are finished with the toe. We discourage players from using the toes in football due to the inaccuracy over large distances, and because kids tend to use it all the time and neglect developing other techniques. But remember, futsal is played in short distances. The advantages with toe pokes are the power it can generate with little movement, and the disguise it provides due to such little movement required to execute it.
Width and depth
Because of the small court, players have around 1/6th less space than what they would on a football pitch. This tricks our brain into thinking that in order to help our teammates, we need to be close to them. This conflation of support with proximity means that we regularly crowd out our own teammates. Think of every two metres being worth a second of time. If the opposition are trying to press, the shorter the distance they have to cover, the quicker they can get to the player on the ball. By dropping deeper to support behind the ball, or moving wider and closer to the touchline to receive out wide, a player buys themself vital metres of space. Time and space is your currency in invasion games, and in futsal, that currency is in short supply.
In the sequence above, we kept the ball from our opponents for 90 seconds. Remember that futsal is a 40 minute game with a stop clock. If you're winning, keeping the ball as we did will run down that time. It also frustrates the opponents, tires the opponents, and will likely bait some of them into breaking formation. But this sequence could only happen because we had players deep behind the ball to play back to. The wingers are so wide that the distance to cover is large. Our fix (last defender) is so deep and unopposed that we can always play back to her. We do this to pull the opposition apart, create space, and then try to play forward when it's on. If we can't progress the attack, we play backwards and try again.
The role of the goalkeeper in modern football has changed significantly. If a keeper cannot distribute effectively, they are rendered useless. A goalkeeper will have the ball around 44 times in a football match. In your opinion, what's an acceptable percentage of turnovers? How many times would you tolerate your keeper giving the ball away per match? In futsal, the stakes are even higher. Just like in football, the keeper is the first attacker. They have to be able to receive under pressure, and must be accurate over long and short distances with both the hands and feet.
Just check out this assist below from the Brazil keeper. Similar to what you'd expect from Ederson or Allison.
On Instagram and YouTube, you see a lot of intricate, clever routines. However, these are quite rare. Ideally, you should be aiming to get a shot off within one or two passes. The more components that are added to a move, the more chance there is for error. The above corner routines are simple. It requires a firm pass, a screen or decoy run, and then a shooter. Most other set-pieces should be similar pass and shot, pass and cross, touch and bang etc. Have a look at the simplicity of the moves below.
Secure the ball
Futsal is a very transitional game. In football, players can tend to keep trying to barge their way forward, through traffic. But due to the distance to goal in futsal, giving the ball away can be fatal. So we encourage players to secure the ball, which can mean passing to an open player, using their body to shield the ball, or dribbling away from the opposition, often towards your own goal.
Can we keep the ball, reorganise, take a moment to get into our shape, and then build an attack?
Play away from pressure
In the above clip, after the Japanese defender blocks the ball, how many football players and coaches would be demanding the Brazilian hammers the ball forward back into danger? They certainly wouldn't want Brazil to play backwards, ceding all that territory to Japan. But seconds later, the ball is in the Japanese net. Play away from pressure to keep the ball. Play away from pressure to draw the opposition out of their shape. Play away from pressure to allow your team time to get into better positions to attack.
Receive with the sole
It's not just a fancy thing players try to do in attempt to show off. Receiving with the sole allows players to move in any direction, while hiding their intention. It also places the ball better for their next intention, with the added bonus of potentially baiting the defender. In football we often say to players to face the way they want to play. This isn't always true in futsal, however, watch how players orientate their hips to face the direction they want to go next. Having the ball under your sole allows you to trap the ball, and to know where it is while scanning, without having to look down.
Don't shoot from distance
Very rarely are goals scored from beyond the 10m mark. And when they are, it's usually because the goalkeeper got caught out playing fly. The temptation for a lot of players new to futsal is that they have not yet calibrated to the distance to the goal. They feel they are close to the goal, because in football terms, they are. Yet, remember, the futsal goal is significantly smaller. As we've already established, you have to finish the move. A distance shot gives the goalkeeper an opportunity to catch the ball and launch an attack. It also wastes an opportunity to work a better shooting opportunity that is more likely to yield a goal.
Futsal is very fluid, and while there are positions, try to think of them as roles rather than fixed, rigid positions. Due to the need for roles, it's important to have a good balance of players on the court. Just like you wouldn't play seven wingers in an 11v11 game, you want to do your best to make sure the right players are on the futsal court. However, every player should be able to do a bit of everything. They must all be able to shoot, pass, dribble, play under pressure, move into space, receive in tight spaces, read the game, change direction quickly, and have good 1v1 defending.
Mostly, you'll want to keep four players of the following profiles on the court, in addition to your keeper;
1. Fix - good at 1v1 defending, great range of passing, press resistant.
2+3. Winger - (typically right footer on the left, left footer on the right) good 1v1 attacking, good shooting and finishing, cover ground quickly. 4. Pivot - good movement into space, great hold-up play, brings others into play.
The above is not an exhaustive list, but it's a good place to start.
2v1 Goals/Back post finishes
What feels like a good opportunity to shoot in football may not always be a good opportunity to shoot in futsal. The goals are smaller, meaning the keepers occupy more of the net. There's no offside, so the player moving in to receive doesn't have to watch out for the defensive line. Commit the defender or the keeper, roll the ball across the goal, and score the easiest goal of your life.
A lot of footballers would take this shot, right? Around 6m out, only the keeper to beat. But look a little closer.
It's quite likely that the keeper has this covered. She can cover both corners with her feet, it would be hard to get any significant lift to shoot the ball over her shoulders and into the top corner. The only real vulnerability for a shot at goal would be between the legs.
If the ball is rolled across the face of goal, it's a tap-in. It becomes harder to miss than to score. Goals win games, so make sure to create higher percentage scoring opportunities. It's not about "you miss 100% of the shots you don't take" and more about "create better scoring opportunities."
Separation (with the ball)
In some contexts, separation is what a player does without the ball, in the form of dismarking, meaning to get away from their direct opponent. In this context, we mean the player on the ball, taking the ball backwards, creating space for themselves. The player may not see a way forward or a viable passing option, so buys themself more space and time, while still looking forward and still protecting the ball. Rather than charging head first into the opponent, play with more intelligence.
Our friends over at Bazooka Goal have provided this video. Notice how the players typically have two feet between themselves and the opponent. They hide and show. They hide the ball when they want to protect it, then they show the ball to bait the defender into committing to a tackle, before dribbling round them. Protective dribbling allows players to use their body as a shield while they travel with the ball.
A lot of football coaches converting to futsal will refer to the pivot as the striker, or some other term with the same inference. Yet from the clip above, you'll see how little the pivot's job is about scoring goals. It's link-up play, and much of that is holding the ball until support arrives. Players play with their back to goal, use their strength and body to keep the ball away from the opposition, and then feed it to their teammates for shots or assists. Every player must be able to do this all over the court, as it's an effective way of maintaining possession while gaining territory. Support runs can be hard to time perfectly, but with hold-up play, the player on the ball can hold onto the ball for as long as necessary.
To finish this article, I want you to have a look at this clip below and try to identify for yourself instances of the above. Can you see the sole reception? The protective dribbling? The patience? Playing away from pressure? The way these players play, passing across their own goal, receiving in tight areas, passing backwards etc. feels risky. But it is in fact quite risk averse. Because they are performing all of the aforementioned, they become better at keeping the ball. Possession is ultimately a defensive endeavour, because if you have the ball, the opposition can't score. Keeping the ball means you won't concede, with the dual purpose of shifting and baiting the opposition, pulling them out of position and disorganising them, until you can work a high percentage goal scoring opportunity. 65% of goals at the top level are scored with only one pass or less. Giving the ball away can be fatal, so individuals have to be exceptional at keeping the ball.
Enjoy the final clip, and thanks for reading.