Interview by Mike Woitalla
Play in the U.S. Soccer Development Academy's new U-13/14 age group -- with about a 100 teams -- begins this fall and futsal will be part the schedule. U.S. Soccer has also started hosting U-14 futsal events, including a 32-team tournament at the Home Depot Center in late April. We speak with Keith Tozer, U.S. national futsal team coach since 1996, on futsal's value to the development of young players.
SOCCER AMERICA: Why is U.S. Soccer advocating futsal for young players?
KEITH TOZER: One thing I’ll never forget is when I was in Madrid for my FIFA [futsal] instructor conference. The president of the Spanish futbol federation opened it up. He said one reason why the World Cup trophy is in the building next door is because many years ago, Spain decided that futsal needed to be part of the youth development in Spain.
I’m extremely excited that now our Federation has stamped it and said it must be part of our youth development. There’s nothing but an upswing to what is going to transpire.
SA: How does futsal benefit young players?
KEITH TOZER: Ten or 12 years ago, there was the emphasis of going to small-sided games for youth development. I thought, well, that’s just futsal.
What futsal does is it gives you many more touches on the ball. Your technical ability is in overdrive, where you’re becoming technically sounder at a quicker pace because of the smallness of the field. With the lack of space, you have to react quicker and think quicker.
I compare it to a golfer. A golfer hits thousands of balls during the week with his driver and only pulls out his driver in a round of 18 maybe five, six, seven, eight times, but hits those thousand balls in order to perfect it.
That’s what futsal does in all the aspects: movement off the ball, movement with the ball, dribbling, shooting, proper runs, goalkeeper. It’s soccer on high speed.
SA: How does the smaller ball, with less bounce, help players develop skills?
KEITH TOZER: It’s funny. In America everything’s super-sized. At McDonald’s for an extra buck you get bigger fries. At the shopping mall for an extra $5 you get more. In our country, it’s bigger is better.
You go outside our country every player wants to play with a smaller ball. Why a smaller ball? Well if you can answer the equation of soccer with a smaller ball, what can you do with a normal size 5?
The [futsal] size 4 ball with little bounce to it stays at a player’s feet more and is very inducive to increasing the technical ability of the player.
SA: Futsal also encourages players control the ball by putting the sole of their foot on top of it …
KEITH TOZER: One reason for that is the hard surface. If you receive the ball with the inside of the foot it has the tendency to pop up. Using the sole enables you to relieve pressure away from a defender, to smooth the ball out.
Ten years ago, for an outdoor player to use the sole of the foot in this country, people would frown on it. “Don’t use the sole, use the inside or outside or instep.” But if you look at some of the top outdoor players in the world, a lot of times, especially when their back is to the goal, they use the sole of their foot. ... These are just technical things that are becoming more prevalent now because of futsal.
SA: When you have the sole on top of the ball, you can move it in any direction …
KEITH TOZER: Especially when you have a player on your back, using the sole on top of the ball allows you to hold the ball for a player to run off you or pull it around to shoot.
SA: Compare futsal to indoor soccer with sideboards, which has long been popular in the USA.
KEITH TOZER: I’ve been involved indoor soccer with the boards since 1978. I love the game, it’s a great game. But I think there’s an evolution that’s coming to the indoor game. It all comes down to the coaching.
[Editor’s note: Tozer, who played a decade of indoor ball in the MISL and AISA, has coached indoor soccer since 1984 and has been head coach of the MISL’s Milwaukee Wave since 1992.]
About 12 years ago, I started to introduce futsal tactics to the indoor game. In my training sessions, if I play you the ball and I miss you, the whistle will be blow.
Normally in years past, because of your physicality and it hits the boards and you win it back, I actually forget that I gave you a bad pass. Outdoor soccer that’s a throw-in. Futsal that’s a kick in.
I think the indoor game can definitely help develop a lot of our youth players. It has one more player than futsal and it’s got the boards, but there’s got to be some modification to it and I think you’ll start to see that.
A lot of people like to play the boards. You can have an hour and get as much action as you can. In futsal, obviously you have to have better control. Your passes have to be more precise. The field is much smaller than an indoor field, if you cannot move before or after you get the ball, it’s going to be difficult game for you.
SA: Is playing with boards better with the youngest kids because the ball stays in play and you have more non-stop action?
KEITH TOZER: We recently had an ID camp in Kansas City for United States Youth Futsal. What we noticed is when futsal is introduced to the 6-, 7- and 8-year-olds -- they are so much more fluid and start working on their technical ability. They were more technical than the older players.
I equate it to if you ever seen a kid 7, 8 or 9 swing a golf club for the first time. It’s very fluid. It’s beautiful. There’s no bad habits. It’s not rigid. But if a kid doesn’t swing a golf club until 15 or 16, it’s ugly.
That’s why futsal is so great to introduce early. Yeah, the ball may go out of bounds a little bit, but I guarantee you that month after the month the technical ability will get much better.
That’s why I’m so excited that U.S. Soccer said futsal’s got to be part of our youth program. We have tremendous goalkeepers, we have great hard-working defenders, we have tremendous hard-working midfielders.
This is another teaching tool in order to get the player who you need to play outside the box … who when he has no other options, can beat three or four guys to score a goal.