From Flamengo to Futsal: Insights from Brazil's Beautiful Game

By Mike Singleton

Spending soccer time in other countries is always an education in itself. Whether it has been England, Spain, Portugal, Russia, Mexico, or Brazil there are things I learn that always contributes to my continued education about this beautiful game.

Taking such nuggets from these countries and acculturating them to our country can be challenging but is a task that is always needed as we are a melting pot country and our beautiful game is very much a melting pot as well.

I write this as I sit at the airport in Brazil after nine days of practicing, playing, talking, and watching much soccer. Between having Brazilian pro coaches coach our Regional ODP team, playing multiple soccer games against local Brazilian teams, playing local futsal games, enjoying beach soccer, watching foot-volley, watching many games on television, and watching Flamengo train up close and personal I leave the country with many thoughts streaming through my head.

1) Despite having less access to money, quality fields, and equipment teenage players from Brazil seem to have superior technical skills to our players.

2) Futsal demands great technical skills and forces high speed of play (both thought and execution) upon players. In addition, players have to learn the basic principles of the game to play futsal and play both offense and defense … our players seem to sometimes take breaks in transition from one to the other in either direction.

3) The goals set up on multiple beaches and stands to watch beach soccer games show how pervasive a love this country has for soccer.

4) The goals set up in every small park in every neighborhood shows the pervasive love of soccer … these parks rage from sand to grass to turf to concrete.

5) Every night there is a quality game with competitive domestic teams to watch.

6) Flamengo, one of the five most popular clubs in the world, allowed our team to sit one yard from their field to watch their training, to take pictures, gave us a close up tour of their grounds and facilities, welcomed us with complimentary juice and snacks, came up to players after practice to sign autographs and take pictures … and Ronaldinho even came out a second round and gave his training jersey to a player and took a team picture with all.

7) The Flamengo players were smiling and laughing constantly throughout their training. The next day they won their Copa Libertadores game.

8) Foot-volley was on primetime television and on the one big screen TV in the restaurant as we ate dinner … wow!

These facts teach me many things and the constant questions I have heard from people regarding how we can make our players more like those in such countries. Here are some of my reactionary thoughts:

1) This is the result of many factors including points 3, 4, and 5. It is also the result of their culture being less focused on team results and tournaments and more focused on creating beautiful play. Players see creative play constantly and they hear and see the appreciation everyone expresses for such play … whether they win or not.

2) Where as indoor soccer is very good and some fantastic indoor fields are being constructed all over our country, futsal has a needed place in our soccer development. The way it forces technical development and speed of play in a small-sided environment can be hugely helpful to player development and is not replicated through indoor play. This game addresses particular weaknesses we see at all levels in our country and this game is much more popular in Brazil, Spain, and Portugal than in the USA. Hmmmm …

3) We can wish our game would become as pervasive as it is in Brazil, but it simply is not and will never be. However, introducing our players to the multivariate forms of soccer could be a way to keep them playing in fun ways without seeing it as “training.” If they are playing soccer like games in their free-time we coaches should be smiling.

4) I see basketball courts throughout Boston that are prime for such goals. Maybe finding a way to supply goals for these courts and working with Parks and Rec to secure them is a worthy endeavor. I will be looking to do this in Boston for sure.

5) MLS is getting better and better and television coverage of all international leagues is as well. The games are not on the major channels but they surely are accessible for our players now and that is a great thing!

6) What world-class club of any sport in our country allows such personal access and kindness to a foreign team of youth players? I wish our players could have such access to our professional soccer teams (without having to buy 100 tickets). Maybe fans are more important than customers? Maybe we need to think about which comes first … does one become a fan after being a customer or vice versa? Flamengo did this to help promote our players’ passion and now have a full team of passionate followers who did not know many of the players before this visit. They will now follow that team excitedly.

7) I loved seeing this! Here is to hoping we coaches all enable and enjoy such laughing and smiling during our practices.

8) This will never happen here but video is powerful and we all now have the ability to video our teams and put them on big screens. Maybe doing so more often could help fuel a little more passion … it’s worth a try.

Admittedly, nothing brilliant or world changing in the above words. However, we are a good soccer nation and need not change our world. Hopefully these nuggets and the nuggets we each take from our experiences help us all grow into a great soccer nation!

(Mike Singleton is the Massachusetts Youth Soccer Association's Executive Director and the MIT men’s soccer coach. He is a Region I ODP Senior Staff Coach and a U.S. Soccer and US Youth Soccer National Staff Coach.)

14 comments about "From Flamengo to Futsal: Insights from Brazil's Beautiful Game".
  1. K Hakim, April 3, 2012 at 2:42 p.m.

    This information has been known about Brazilian culture, especially Rio, for decades. The issue is that Americans don't understand Portuguese or third world culture so they don't take the time to see why Brazil produces consistent world class skill. So many players in Brazil come from poor backgrounds. That idea does not fit a club that needs money from paying parents. Coaches want to win for their egos and recruiting, so they don't appreciate the way you play in games nurtures skills, not just your drills. This is all due to predominant Anglo-American-British culture in the US, which feels more comfortable dealing with European methods than South American or Afro-centric (which is the key to Brazil's success). The truth hurts.

  2. Richard Weishaupt, April 3, 2012 at 2:45 p.m.

    Gee, you didn't mention the Brazilians being obsessed about limiting players ability to play in their schools or on park fields with "inferior" players -- they just play. Perhaps we could learn from that instead of worrying about whether kids should play with their high school friends.

  3. Jim Cross, April 3, 2012 at 3:59 p.m.

    Thank you for the insight. You've renewed my commitment to Futsal. We went into the gym to do Coerver training and Futsal this winter, and the results were noticeable. As to your comments regarding the MLS, I'm so disappointed in our local MLS franchise. They have nothing to offer youth soccer unless you're spending a ton of money. No thank you MLS, we'll spend our money where it counts.

  4. Wesley Hunt, April 3, 2012 at 5:36 p.m.

    Jim and Mike you are right about the futsal. I went so far as to start a futsal league in our fairly rural area. The kids that have been playing with me for that time have some of the best footskills in the area. I am presently working with the city to convert some of the unused tennis courts into a futsal courts so the kids can just ride their bikes down to the courts to play without me having to set up nets and be there. As for training I make it fun...its all about the style you play, the moves, I even use music at times and futsal lends itself to this kind of training. I am white man by the way but grew up playing baskeball with the brothers. I get it for the most part but not many do and until more coaches train that way or enough poor blacks and latinos train that way on their own and are accepted at the highest level for the skills they offer I am afraid our national soccer teams will be quite boring and predictable. We are good at produce hardworking soldiers not creative warriours. It is a different mind set.

  5. Wesley Hunt, April 3, 2012 at 6:19 p.m.

    The problem with soccer is that is played 11v11 but is best learned playing 5v5 or less. If the USSF was really serious about improving technical skill for the long term in this country Instead of spending so much time and money developing an academy system they should help communities build more small sided fields and futsal courts especially in poor neighborhoods. They could also do a little more to promote Futsal like have a futsal state cup rather or in addition to an indoor state cup such as we have here.

  6. ferdie Adoboe, April 3, 2012 at 9:51 p.m.

    Listen to my speech at the end of this video to my players and parents. We are all sharing and trying to contribute to the positive.

  7. cony konstin, April 3, 2012 at 10:42 p.m.

    Until US Soccer creates a soccer playground/sandlot experience for free and 7 days a week starting at age 5 we will never have magical players. We need a playing environment and not a coaching in environment. Coaching is totally overrated and must come later. I have been preaching this for 37 years and what the status quo tells me is that I am living in a fantasy world. Well then people should not complain when a countries that have more cows than people beat us at home. It is time for a soccer revolution in the US. Nice soccer shoes, turf fields, special uniforms, coaching dvds, coaching curriculm, and more tournaments have reach its max. limit. For us to get to the next level we need radical but simple change.

  8. K Hakim, April 3, 2012 at 11:14 p.m.

    Gentlemen, the answer is not in futsal courts, sand courts, poor vs rich, white vs black, Europe vs Latin America, etc...
    The answer is in opportunity. I have seen so many skilled players in America fail to get the opportunity to be seen by the next level or given a chance to establish themselves. This is because out of 20 million youth players, the future of our best players are directed by amateurs and people without a vision of skilled soccer. Their frame of reference is limited. If a National Youth Team coach was a college coach all his life and former college player, he will not have the vision/insight to choose and develop players who have skills beyond his own. He won't go in the Hispanic neighborhood and see a young man playing with incredible touch and flair and think, this guy has world class skills that need support at a higher level. He will think, I can't communicate with him and his family so let me go back to my Anglo kid who will bust his butt for the team and I can coach him to win. OK, it is not that simplistic, but you get my point about frame of reference. Those of us who grew up around a culture of skilled players and enjoyed showing off the tricks of the game, appreciate what young players can give to a game when they play with flair and arrogance. But a college coach or MLS coach cannot appreciate such freedom of expression as he was drilled in discipline and structure and was taught by US Soccer manuals and courses to have every session progressive and well drilled with themes. Thus his robotic style of play and total lack of creativity in tough games. The lack of opportunity that young skilled players are given to express themselves in an game, be it State Cup, MLS, NCAA Tournament, High School Conference or youth tournament, is the reason we don;t see top level skill by American players. But they are there, all over America and one day we will see a coach who picks 11 players for a national youth or senior team and we will all enjoy the quality of play. Just, it won't be today under the current regime.

  9. Emile Jordan, April 3, 2012 at 11:40 p.m.

    Hey, small sided soccer games are clearly fun, entertaining, and absolutely needed for player development. However, it is not the end all and coaches are extremely valuable when they create a positive learning environment. Throwing in progressive technical skills, physical attribute exercises and some small sided tactics accelerates players enjoyment and overall development. We have excellent knowledge on fitness, diet, and helping kids to focus on school, family and soccer as a privilege. These things are happening more and more all over this land. Our MLS Club is very interactive with the youth and community. They have been quietly assuming a leadership role in teaching youth to play attractive soccer and are demonstrating that now more than ever on their pro team with a Columbian Coach committed to winning the possession game and players making lots of mistakes, getting better every time out and getting results. Their lone loss was a lopsided result, but they stuck to their possession game and gave me the feeling with their strong finish that with continued improvement they will be the better team latter on. Back to the youth as I ramble on, there is a lot to be positive about and even say with our resources will soon be a dominating force on the soccer field just like everyone thinks we should be. Coaching kids in soccer gives me great joy and my rewards are founded on the players enjoying entertaining themselves, their familes, and selfishly me and we do not worry about winning or losing, but do celebrate success on both sides of the ball. Failures are reduced to things to contemplate what should I try next time. Our kids are amazing problem solvers if you give them a chance and support their ideas.

  10. Wesley Hunt, April 4, 2012 at 9:28 a.m.

    Hakim what you describe is just what was happening with white coaches who had to take on black players during integration of our schools in the 70s. I remember coaches telling these kids to not do behind the back dribbles and passes, don’t show boat on the easy lay up and that they were dribbling too much in general. It is sort of like telling a young Mozart that he is playing too many notes. Rather than working with the fantastic talent these kids were bringing to the court they tried to fit them in with how they understood basketball should be played. They had a plan and plays and these kids were still playing street ball. Not that every coach was this way. The better ones learned to change their frame of reference as you like to put it. The white kids such as myself started to mimic this style of play and it became less and less white v black and more of a community team. However, this takes time and there will be resistance to change. This is the way of the world my friend and there is not much you or I can about it...but an outdoor futsal court... that is something my kids could get excited about.

  11. Roy Pfeil, April 4, 2012 at 9:55 a.m.

    Bravo Mike, you are right on...futsol should be our indoor with Keith Tozier, the US National Team Futsol Coach. Spain, Portugal, Brazil, Argentina national team players all grew up playing futsol in some form. Last year I had one of my youth teams in the Capital District of NY, sign out a field for once a week for 8 straight weeks. We played two games of 5v5 plus keeper on half a field and going across the field. The kids loved it. It was about dribbling, passing and playing defense. Parts of Maryland and south Jersey and, I believe, parts of Massachusettes play futsol during the indoor months. IT IS THE WAY TO GO WHEN PLAYING INDOOR! Thanks for informing people on your observations.

  12. cony konstin, April 4, 2012 at 1:07 p.m.

    Hi Roy both Keith Tozier and I are FIFA Futsal Instructors. Just a year and half ago we where in Spain listening to the President of the Spanish FA speak to 35 FIFA Futsal Instructors from all over the world, and told us that one of the main reasons why Spain won the outdoor world cup was because of the implimentation of futsal in the mid 80s throughout the schools in Spain. I am not saying that futsal is the only solution but what I am repeating is that we need to create a play ground/sandlot environment for kids that is free and 7 days a week. Soccer in the US is to organized. We need unorthodox and radical methods to change the system that has become complaicent. Futsal can become our street game. Once the players know the game because they have played it day in and day out then professional coaches who have the experience and ability to transmit attacking schemes to young players can be introduced. It is easy to teach someone how to destroy but it is very hard to teach someone how to be creative. US Soccer has come a long way but we have a long way to go. But we must not be afraid to make positive but radical changes. I am enjoying your comments. Please continue to share your thoughts with others. This is how change comes about through People Power!!!

  13. Luis Arreola, April 4, 2012 at 2:03 p.m.

    Hakim, well said. Its almost like coaches look really hard for reasons to not pick skilled and talented players is that are usually Hispanic for their state, regional or Nationa teams. Talented kids want the ball to express themselves but are seen as selfish. They are nisunderstood and is aperfect example of blck people and basketball back then.

  14. Andres Yturralde, April 5, 2012 at 10:57 a.m.

    Good piece, Mike--thank you. And very good comments, gentlemen--thank you, as well.

Next story loading loading..

Discover Our Publications