What is the Game Asking?

Recently I went to a youth futsal tournament; I was excited about it, as I really love the sport.  None of the kids had much experience with it, however, except as a tool for skill development.  Nonetheless, I was looking forward to seeing how the players and coaches would respond to the differences in playing styles (from outdoor to indoor).  Anyone familiar with futsal knows the basics.  The game is 5-a-side with touchlines.  The ball is smaller and heavier, enhancing close control.  The game is also less physical than its outdoor counterpart.   Emphasis is placed on individual skill and smart movement off the ball.


Now, as parents, we are always asking our kids to be more aware of what’s around them.  It’s a simple but critical tool in life, and a player who has good field awareness certainly gives himself an advantage when playing sports.  Case in point, Xavi:


This is a big part of coaching – making sure players recognize situations and find appropriate solutions to problems presented by the game.  In short, What is the game asking of us?

During practice, coaches typically employ a variety of small-sided games designed to teach players different things.  Field size, number of players, playing restrictions, and specific objectives are all arranged to help players understand a particular concept.  The game of futsal provides a variety of such challenges, offering an environment full of learning opportunities.

Unfortunately, during this futsal tournament everyone failed to recognize and appreciate their environment.  Rather than try to play simple passes along the ground, or try inventive 1v1 moves, every game I witnessed devolved into the antithesis of the beautiful game.  Keepers played almost every ball long and in the air.  Headers (!) were the norm.  Fouls were plentiful.  Coaches encouraged balls “over the top.”

All I could do was shake my head.  What’s the point of playing the game?  Everyone failed to appreciate their surroundings.  A small court – heavy ball – of course!  Put it in the air (?)!  None of the teams recognized the situation.  Due to the tactics, I think the ball was out of play more often than not.

Apparently a simple correlation was made to the outdoor game – we can win if we go direct.  Failure to look at basic differences between futsal and soccer made it practically unwatchable.  Rather than see the long-term development opportunities inherent in the game of futsal, these teams determined that the easiest way to win was to turn the games into a scrap.

This is all too indicative of the culture of youth sports (Let’s win now, rather than learn something).  In this particular case, long-term athletic development lost out to a needless desire to win a meaningless tournament.  Watching each team try the same thing over and over again reminded me of Einstein’s definition of insanity:

Insanity:  Doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results

- Albert Einstein

Coaches are always (or should be) looking for players who see the game with their own eyes and solve problems on their own.  The environment, in many respects, becomes the teacher.  Coaches need to use a variety of situations to encourage players to come up with their own solutions.  As scenarios change, so do the challenges.  What is the game asking?  It’s an important lesson in youth sports, and it’s important in life as well.  Try to answer the question, and true learning begins.



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