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Ballistic "Bulldogs" Futsal Club

Brazil – 3 take aways

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This past week in São Paulo, I had the privilege of visiting the storied futsal programs of São Paulo FC, Santos FC, and SE Palmeiras. At each club, futsal is trained at the younger ages instead of soccer. It’s widely accepted among the top clubs in Brazil that futsal promotes development better than soccer. Based on their decades of success, who’s to argue?

Amazing technique

Brazilians are really good at dribbling. Duh, right? Here in the US we’ve seen Romario, Ronaldo, Ronaldinho, Neymar and others work their magic over the years; all distilled in YouTube glory for future generations. And one can look to Barça Lassa’s current team to find the dribbling genius of Ferrão, Dyego, and Léo Santana. There’s no shortage of creative, skilled players from the land of samba, sun, and sand. And yet, I was stilled stunned to see it all first hand. In the last ten years, I’ve witnessed just a handful of American players manipulate the ball as if it were a yo-yo. This past week, I saw dozens. I asked Fernanda Grande, u8-u11 director at Palmeiras, how this was accomplished. “We don’t train our players to fit a system of play. Instead we focus on creating a strong technical foundation that will allow them to play in any system when they are older.” She then pinpointed the benefits of a particular dribbling exercise. “Here, (half court 3v3 with keepers), the players are only allowed to pass once. After that they can only dribble and shoot. This allows them the courage to take players on.” Later, she again emphasized how vital it is to provide exercises where players have the courage or confidence to go 1v1. At each of the academies, players were extraordinarily adept at using their soles to stop, start, and change direction. This is a hallmark of players raised with futsal. Neymar’s dribbling style is a classic example.

Ferocious defending

A visitor might briefly mistake one of these trainings for a MMA dojo. The bumping, pushing, pulling, shirt grabbing, and tackling that occurs on almost every challenge is again stunning. Have I used that word before? And yet, with all the contact, there’s very little complaining from players or coaches. It’s simply an accepted part of the game. Going to ground with various versions of stabs, blocks, and tackles was a constant. Players on the verge of being beaten on the dribble would often make a last ditch stab to get a touch on the ball. It was remarkably effective. In addition to the physicalness of the defending, there was a mental toughness that was inherent. There was an almost palpable sense of you will not beat me. Challenges were often more about dispossessing instead of containment.

Coaching fervor

After 20 years as a public school teacher, I have a good sense of where a classroom is at when I walk into it. Instant snapshots on behavior, routines, and student engagement come into focus. You can tell when a classroom is with it. The same goes for sports. Coach is just another word for teacher. The three coaches I observed were fantastic educators. Each engaged their players with a relentless stream of praise and constructive criticism. This constant feedback loop lasted the entire training. To go 90 or 180 minutes with full blast enthusiasm and commitment is not easy. It requires a high level of professionalism and love of the game. Love of the game is a well worn cliche. And yet, it was completely appropriate for Conrado Pereira of São Paulo, Indio Fonseca of Santos, and Fernanda. This was not their job: this was their passion. This zest for the game then infused their players. It was a reminder that students and players are often only as good as the instruction they receive.

 

“Sickness” in Santos

The Urban Dictionary describes the word sick as crazy, cool, insane, awesome, hot, fabulous, great. And by that definition, Santos FC’s futsal program located at Vila Belmiro on Rua Princesa Isabel in the coastal city of Santos, may be the sickest place on the planet. The Black Plague, the Influenza Epidemic of 1918, and Woody Harrelson’s Zombieland all pale in comparison.

Getting a ticket to observe a Santos training is the most difficult one in town. If for no other reason because no tickets exist. Training is off limits to parents and the public. And yet there I was, thanks to Federico Mariel of City Futsal, standing by myself on a court side balcony witnessing otherworldly play. On the opposite wall, a giant poster of Neymar, Rodrygo, Gabigol, and a dozen other homegrown players reminded everyone of futsal’s importance in giant 24-inch lettering: OUR GREATEST FOOTBALL PLAYERS PLAYED FUTSAL.

But the clincher wasn’t the poster. It was a dozen 12-year-olds that connected the dots for me. It’s one thing to see videos of Ronaldinho or Neymar playing futsal as youths, but to actually see a live game where superior ball control was the rule and not the exception was humbling. At least half of the players seemingly could not be dispossessed. Even with in-your-face, aggressive defending, these players found a way to feint, juke, and bypass defenders. But the technique was just the top layer on this Bolo Mousse de Maracuyá. Underneath, in equally impressive amounts, tactical awareness, movement off-the-ball, and decision making were layered in. Apparently at Santos FC you can have your cake and eat it, too. Just sick.

 

 

“Chaos” in Barcelona

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United Futsal’s annual Top 12 tour unites aspiring international players with coaches from FC Barcelona’s youth program each Spring in Catalonia. Led by Xavi Closas, head coach of Barça Lassa B, the camp also allows visiting coaches to directly access the philosophy and ideas of the famous academy. Most of these ideas are taught through exercises involving high levels of decision making.

During each of my three visits, Xavi starts with the most disarming of introductions, “I apologize if many of our exercises look unorganized, but the chaos leads to a deeper level of learning.” And this is Xavi in all his coaching genius: direct, humble, and off-the-charts knowledgable. Like every master teacher, he takes enormous pride in teaching the game. He’s highly competitive and wants to win as much as anyone else, but not at the expense of his players’ sporting education. It’s his job to provide the pro team with well rounded players that can process the game quickly under time and space constraints. Decision making is at a premium.

So what does organized chaos look like? It largely falls into three categories: PE like tag games, rondos, and numbers-up exercises. It’s been said every coach should have at least 10 versions of rondo in their coaching toolbox. I would add 10 tag and 10 numbers-up drills into this kit.

Tag

Freeze tag, Zombie tag, Pac-Man tag and even Sharks & Minnows are all versions of the age old game of tag. From PE classes to youth soccer recreation programs, tag is a staple. These games tend to disappear the older players get. My sons, ages 11 and 13, haven’t played them in years on the soccer side. And yet, every time I’ve visited Spain, they are embedded in the curriculum even at the pro level. But what exactly makes these “children’s” games so important in developing top notch decision makers? For one, the cognitive abilities needed to process multiple players moving in various directions and determine whether they are friend or foe is substantial. Layer in the fun factor, and you’ve got a near ideal exercise for developing thinking skills. Improved technique then factors in almost as a byproduct of this fun and learning.

Rondos

The benefits of rondos are well documented. That said, not all rondos are created equal. The ones favored by top coaches often include lots of off-the-ball movement. The traditional stand-in-a-circle and ping the ball around rondo is rarely seen in actual trainings. It usually occurs when players informally gather before a game or practice. Coach guided rondos usually emphasize the prized pass-and-move aspect. Pass-and-move is really just another way of saying pass-and-think of where you’re going next. Adding to this movement theme, the FCB staff presented a rondo that replicated the rotation found in the 3-1 formation. Technique, tactics, and decision making all married into one drill. Coaching nirvana achieved!

Numbers-up

2v1, 3v2, and 4v2, etc. are nothing new to US coaches. These numerical advantages are found in basketball, hockey, and any invasion based game. That said, I’m continually impressed with the variety and urgency of these exercises found in Spain. Players are urged to attack at breakneck speed in an attempt to replicate the pace of a counter attack in an actual game. Simple enough, right? And yet, over the years I’ve witnessed at numerous camps at home and abroad, players from top academies in the States struggle with the basics of numbers-up situations. Here at home, players are often allowed infinite amounts of time to complete 2v1 situations. Unfortunately, in a real soccer or futsal game, the defense will recover within a second or two. For this reason, emphasizing urgency is critical in helping our players effectively solve these moving puzzles. If players make mistakes due to the fast pace, that’s okay. At the end of the day, it’s all about the learning.

The Evidence Test

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In the US, the question, “Does futsal really improve soccer abilities?” is still asked by many if not most coaches. For those in the futsal community the query is right up there with “Do you need ice cream to make a milkshake?” Replying with evidence of Neymar youth videos, Pelé quotes, and five World Cup trophies, convinces almost no one. This is not a phenomenon unique to soccer circles. You find in this type of group think and conventional wisdom in every field.

Four short years ago, the common assumption was that jump shooting teams didn’t win NBA championships. The pace and space Warriors then pummeled the league into submission with a relentless downpour of three pointers. Since then, the NBA has undergone a profound change. Big, slow, stationary centers that once clogged the middle of the lane are now all but extinct. In their place, more athletic, nimble players who can shoot from range have emerged. Three pointers are being launched in record breaking numbers. In four short years, a decades old league and sport have changed radically. Conventional wisdom clanked with the grace of a Charles Barkley free throw. The Warriors’ three Larry O’Brien trophies in four years now provide all the evidence needed that jump shooting teams are here to stay.

Futsal’s Warriors’ moment will likely be three World Cup cycles away. The generation of American soccer players that are 2006 and younger will be the most complete and well rounded the country has ever produced. Due to better educated coaches, the structure of USSDA programs, and the majority of players having a futsal background, the US will go toe-to-toe with the top teams in the world.

This year for the first time, a handful of US players have been invited to be apart of some of the most prestigious futsal programs in Spain and Brazil. In past years, a few players received invites to train for a few weeks, but we now have players with the requisite skill and knowledge to actually make these top squads. These seeds have largely gone unnoticed, but within a decade they will come full bloom. They are indicative of a wider and deeper player pool that has grown up with futsal.  Mark your calendar and grab a straw: in ten years time, evidence of futsal’s ability to develop players will be as accepted and appreciated as a milkshake blended with Ben and Jerry’s.

 

 

Exclusive interview with Barata, Director of Futsal, Santos FC

(Português) Coordenador de Futsal do Peixe é convocado para a Seleção Brasileira Sub-17

This summer my sons accompanied City Futsal on their highly regarded annual trip to Santos to train with the famed Santos FC program. Recent Santos alumi include Neymar, Gabriel Barbosa, and Rodrygo. Jose Barata generously provided his thoughts on futsal’s influence on Brazilian football. He also spoke to the differences between Brazilian and American futsal.

BULLDOGS: Barata, in what way has futsal influenced players from Santos and the surrounding area?

BARATA: In reality, it’s a combination of a few factors. For example, the increase in violence has limited places to play football. Part of Brazil’s culture was to play in the street, play in open spaces. I was part of a generation that still played in the streets. My mom allowed me, but today unfortunately due to the violence there are not a lot of places to play in Santos. There is still the beach where a player can play freely. So with limited playing spaces and an increase in violence, players began moving indoors to futsal. This was the beginning of futsal’s start as a tool that benefitted player development in the areas of fitness, physiology, and maturity. So futsal is a sport that benefits youth right away. Historically Santos is known as a club that is forward thinking. Players that dribble, players that win over fans with attacking play. And these are qualities that especially apply to futsal, a game that favors a team that attacks, makes quick decisions, and has the ability to solve problems. So I believe for these reasons futsal is apart of Santos’ player development. We can talk about the past, where the club’s biggest transfers have involved players with a futsal background. For example, Robinho, Neymar, Gabigol, and now Rodrygo who was just sold to Real Madrid for I forget how many millions. So futsal is key to the formation of Santos’ players. The biggest clubs in Brazilian football, not all, but most, include futsal in their process for development.

So to revisit a couple ideas we’ve touched on. First, a kid no longer has a place to start playing football. At one point in Brazil there was an informal route for development, perhaps like with basketball in the US where if you travel around you’ll see a basketball hoop in front of many houses. So this is a part of the culture. It’s a sport open to free play, street ball. So creative qualities are allowed to develop. In Brazil this was always a strength as well: creativity and playing smarts. It was always the difference maker for the national team and its World Cup wins. When this way of player development went away, when street-ball was eliminated from a football player’s development, it was quickly replaced with futsal. Of course it’s not every club that has done this, but the biggest names in Brazilian football have come from futsal, from top clubs like Flamengo, Vasco, Corinthians, Santos, Palmeiras. We can name Zico, Ronaldo, Kaka, Ronaldinho, Neymar, Rivellino, Romario. All of them had futsal as part of their development. So the greatest teams arrived at this abundance of riches with futsal as a tool. Futsal’s role is very important in this past success. It’s almost obligatory to have futsal, although as mentioned not all teams use it, but most of the top clubs are thoroughly involved with it.

We have a relationship with the US, with City Futsal. The parents and players note our intensity, our passion. From our point of view that’s not the only difference. The biggest obstacle for American futsal is the competitiveness found in games. The US has smart players, they enjoy playing the game, and there are organized coaches. However in Brazil an 8-year-old, for example from Santos, plays in the Paulista league and plays in games such as Santos vs Corinthians or Santos vs Sao Paulo. He now has to rise to the occasion and develop strategies to defeat the opponent, develop resilience to overcome a loss, and train the next day. All these factors aren’t that obvious to the outsider. They only see the fight, the determination, and the deep emotion attached to winning and losing.

But what’s missing from the US players? Some of the American futsal characteristics that we see are a lack of criticism between players. There’s no complaining when a goal is given up. There’s not much accountability between players. Perhaps this is a reflection on the lack of competitiveness. Whereas here there will be criticism if a ball is stolen and a goal results. One friend will criticize another so the mistake won’t happen again. So this behavior is beneficial for us. The main difference I’ve noted, in my opinion, is this competitive factor. At u8, u9, and u10 this past year, the teams played 55 games. 55 games at a very good level. Every week a player reflects on whether we were better, or worse, or the same as the opponent. Only these types of games and only this level of competitiveness promotes this type of player development.

A bit of Brazil in NorCal…

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Over the years, I’ve heard numerous coaches say some version of “If you want to dribble like Pelé, you need to practice more on your own.” Ronaldinho and Neymar find their way into that sentence as well. Coaches and players in the US have been fascinated by Brazilians’ ability to manipulate the ball for decades now. Brazilian soccer is synonymous with creativity and daring, or ginga. And yet, although Brazil is served up at the ultimate example of soccer, it’s rare for a US coach to travel to South America. My own club colleagues make regular visits to England, Spain and Holland for coaching education, but Brazil never comes up.

Due to this lack of familiarity with the southern hemisphere, one of the great segredos of Brazilian soccer has mostly stayed just that: a secret. At the heart of many of Brazil’s most renowned professional clubs like Santos, Corinthians, Vasco de Gama, Flamengo and Palmeiras, are youth futsal programs meant to develop and nurture future soccer stars. Until u11, players in these clubs don’t set foot on a soccer field. It’s all futsal. Currently in the US there are a few youth clubs sprinkling in weekly futsal training to supplement the soccer curriculum. At some point, clubs will follow the Brazilian model and implement futsal exclusively at the younger ages. Ballistic United may be one of the first.

This year, one of our u8 academy’s two weekly trainings is futsal. The kids love it and the parents have noted how quickly their skills are developing. Next year’s u8 group may train only at futsal in the Spring. A bag of balls, a well lit gym, and a group of 7-year-olds… let the ginga begin.

US soccer, copycats needed

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In the 1980’s Bill Walsh famously devised the West Coast offense. Through short, high percentage passes, the 49ers maintained possession, marched down the field, and ate time off the clock. In true copycat form within a decade most NFL teams employed a similar style. More recently the Golden State Warriors’ motion offense with its reliance on 3-pointers has revolutionized the NBA. Steve Kerr’s crew has won more games in a four year stretch than any other in league history. Not surprisingly teams are now playing faster and shooting the 3-ball like never before. And perhaps the most borrowed model of all is that of the A’s Billy Beane. His Moneyball analytical approach has been copied the world over as teams in various sports now employ data analysts. If you want to be the best, you steal their ideas and make them your own. This takes us back to fútbol.

In world soccer, the most gifted dribblers and technical players are more often than not Brazilian. The list is very long: Pele, Garrincha, Rivellino, Zico, Socrates, Romario, Bebeto, Ronaldo, Ronaldinho, and Neymar. Real Madrid’s recent 54 million euro signing of Santos’ 17-year-old Rodrygo is the latest example. What can we emulate to produce similar players? Beach soccer, Samba lessons, Capoeira classes? All worth while no doubt, but the real answer is futsal.

Most of Brazil’s major clubs don’t bother with soccer at the youngest ages. Yes, you heard that right. Flamengo, Vasco de Gama, Corinthians, Santos, and Palmeiras, are just a few of the clubs that don’t believe soccer develops their players adequately. Until u11 all their youth train only at futsal. The top players are then slowly transitioned into soccer. Most continue training at futsal until they are u14s. Call me crazy, but apparently this system of development has worked out okay.

So is there even one US soccer club that’s imitated this approach? Nope, not one. Most American coaches aren’t even aware the Brazilians train this way. Most of our coaching curriculum is European based. Here in Northern California, the Spanish, Italians, and Dutch return year after year to impart their knowledge. They do a great job. However, if I were to start a club from scratch and wanted to replicate one country’s success, it would be Brazil. The secret is slowly spilling out… some of world’s top coaches don’t coach soccer. They coach futsal and a line can be directly drawn between their genius and that of every Brazilian superstar that’s hoisted a World Cup trophy.

USFF 2018 National – 4 take aways

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Rotations, rotations, rotations

The American game is now evolving rapidly. Since the Regional event in March, the increase in clubs implementing three and four player rotations is head spinning. This is the clearest sign yet of Spain’s influence. In recent years numerous Spanish coaches including Andreu Plaza, Xavi Closas, and Andres Sanz among others have provided clinics and camps at numerous West Coast clubs. Rose City, Futsal 415, and Bulldogs used to be the outliers, but as of this tournament, rotations are now part of the main stream. None of the rotations are overly complex as training time for US based clubs is still heavily impacted by the outdoor schedule. That said, it was impressive to see how many new teams implemented rotations to unbalance opponents.

Might makes right

No matter the improvement in overall tactics, there were still teams hoisting silverware based on strong, fast players playing at a high tempo. Booting the ball long in the hopes a strong Pivo outmuscling an opponent or keepers heaving the ball randomly forward were all too common. In this style of play the game becomes one more of chance than purpose. It’s often a winning strategy, but the reality is these players are being cheated out of a playing education as the decision making and skill that comes from building from the back is ignored.

The death of dribbling

The stereotypes of Spanish and Brazilian futsal go like this: the Spanish pass into oblivion and are tactical geniuses. The Brazilians are masters of the Ginga arts and can dribble past opponents while handcuffed and blind folded, and they don’t overly care for tactics. Exaggerations for sure, and yet, there’s a small amount of truth found in each. Spain’s pro league, LNFS, is loaded with exceptionally talented and imaginative players from Brazil. FC Barcelona has no fewer than 7 on their current roster. And yet with the exception of the most recent World Cup, Spain has consistently met Brazil in the finals with teams comprised of lesser players, at least on paper. Yet Spain’s tactics often leveled this difference and at times gave them an advantage over the Brazilians. But one was always left with the curiosity, why were the Spanish players not as creative and dynamic as the Brazilians especially in 1v1 duels? At a pre-tournament clinic, FC Barcelona’s head coach, Andreu Plaza, alluded to this. The consensus among Spain’s top coaches is that the over emphasis on ball possession by way of multiple passes and movement has strangled the dribbling ambition of its players. Plaza’s candid assessment was in complete character with the humbleness I’ve witnessed from many of Spain’s top coaches. These intelligent, knowledgable men and women have a culture of self reflection and assessment that allows for growth and change.

Refereeing

This was the most experienced and knowledgable group of referees in this tournament’s history. For the first time I can remember, the spacing on kick-ins and corners was enforced consistently. Yellow cards for improper subbing were common and games in general were called very tightly. My only mild complaint is not all referees were consistently raising their hand to count down four seconds digit by digit on kick-ins, corners, and goal clearances. But overall a solid showing.

Winning Futsal II – Basics of the 3-1

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With the knowledge a coach picks up over the years, it’s easy to become possessive and not want to share. Competitive sports by their nature involve winning, so why not keep one’s “secrets” to oneself? But for most of us, there’s a profound desire to see quality futsal played throughout the US. And if you dig a little deeper, most futsal coaches hold the sincere belief that Uncle Sam’s path to hoisting a World Cup trophy runs through futsal. To that end, as a futsal community, we need to continually increase the knowledge base of the sport. This book is pebble in that pond.

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