Why futsal gets a boost from U.S. Soccer (Keith Tozer Q&A)

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.

24 comments about "Why futsal gets a boost from U.S. Soccer (Keith Tozer Q&A) ".
  1. Kent James, April 19, 2013 at 4:34 p.m.

    Futsal is a wonderful game to develop technical soccer skills. One problem in Western PA is that when you want to play Futsal (the winter), it's hard to get courts because of basketball and other indoor winter school sports. I think where the USSF needs to put some effort is to help communities construct smooth (but not concrete or asphalt; a rubberized coating over some durable surface) courts that are outdoors and lit, so they can be used 24-7 (indoor would be better, but more expensive and more limited access make that harder). With essentially zero maintenance such courts should be affordable in the long term, and especially in cities (where grass/turf fields are hard to come by) they might attract kids to the game that otherwise would not have the opportunity. I'm glad to see that the USSF is moving in this direction.

  2. cony konstin, April 19, 2013 at 5:16 p.m.

    Good job Mike and Keith. Keith you forgot to say that Spanish President said that in the mid 1980's he implemented futsal in every elementry school in Spain. We need radical change in the US. Soccer in the US has come a long way but has a long way to go. To: US Soccer. We need radical change. We need a soccer revolution. We need 30,000 futsal courts in the inner cities of America. We need mentors who are specialist in their specific niches. (Perkerman for our youth national teams. Bianchi for our pro teams. Ciro Medrano for our kids u14 and down. And finally Javier Lozano for futsal who was my mentor.) We need new leadership, a new visison and a 21st century master plan. We need to create a NEW SPARTA!! Otherwise soccer in the US will continue to be treated as a hobby and used as a marketing tool to sell $250 soccer shoes and other assesorries. We need to create hungry and magical players. The system that is being used is a obsolete. It is time for radical change. Coaching is totally overrated. Players win championships not coaches. We need to create a sandlot, playground environment that is free and open 7 days a week. This can only happen in the HOOD!!!!! Suburbian soccer is nice for the kids and families but you are not going to develop hungry and magical players in a nice 5 star environment. I have been preaching this for 38 years and I will continue to. In the end the it will be up to the next generation to clean house and create radical change for US Soccer. Our system of soccer is the best in the world if your focus in helping kids to be healthy, learn about team work and over come some adversity. But to create the next super stars in soccer. No WAY. It is time for a Soccer Revolution in the USA and it must begin in our inner cities.

  3. Martha Diop, April 19, 2013 at 10:28 p.m.

    First apologize if I appear naïve to some of you, but here are candid questions I am throwing at you, for the sake of critical thinking
    Hopefully no one will be shocked
    1. Do all countries who have produced some of the best talents all rely on futsal?
    2. Are there countries who introduced futsal in their development program, but have not produced meaningfully more talented players than countries who did not?
    3. Many talented players come from Africa for instance. Does anyone know if there is any African country where futsal is an integral part of player development program
    4. Can anyone explain RATIONALY or SCIENTIFICALLY why the player who starts playing early with the same type of ball that he will be using for the next 15 to 20 years, will not be as good as the one starting with a different type of ball that will never be used in the official game?
    5. Don’t you think that many players use the sole of the foot, even if they use a non-futsal ball? And many others do not use it, even if they are playing with a futsal ball?
    6. It looks all the benefits of futsal can perfectly be achieved by playing small sided games, with a regular ball. If you have a small number of players, on a restricted space, don’t you achieve the same results as futsal, such as speed of play, quickness, maximum number of touches, etc.
    7. If you have two groups of players, put one on a futsal field (with a futsal ball) and the other on non-futsal with the same exact dimensions (indoor or outdoor), why would the futsal group have more touches? Would not it be about the same, given the size of the field and the number of players are the same?

  4. feliks fuksman, April 20, 2013 at 8:37 a.m.

    I think futsal or small sided games are very important in developing good talented players; they have to think quicker, pass better, dribble better, become better shooters, better goalkeeper; it's the game where a player is more involved, touches the ball more, has to make more decisions, etc.

  5. Luis Arreola, April 20, 2013 at 9:44 a.m.

    Martha, Futsal is just a smaller more accessable way of playing soccer. Everyone has their version of small sided soccer. The reason that these small sided games are played is simply because there either werent 22 players available to play or because there wasnt space or just to mix it up. Thats why many Americans play 3v3 in the summer. Because 1/2 the pay to play parents go on vacation. Now as far as development tool, Futsal is better than 3v3 simply because the ball is harder to control on a hard surface, it is faster and there is less space so it forces you to react faster and you "must" develop one v one as you will surely run into many situations where this is required. You "must" develop creativity and a great touch on the ball. Also, Futsal is played with a fairly big goal that requires a goalie who will see much more action than in a full sided game. Will undoubtably improve his reaction. AFrican players have theri version of Futsal even though its not called that over there. Short sided games are played everywhere and have been for a long time. That is how Futsal was born. All it is is a structured version with specific rules. Now will it make us improve our players?? It most certainly should just because of how the game is designed. There is very little a coach can do to ruin it. But let me tell you this. I watched a Futsal game in Chicago the other day and the coach was going nuts when a player tried to take an opponent one v one. He kept yelling " One Touch, One Touch!! ". Our AMerican mentality will find a way to not make this Futsal as effective as it should. Thats for sure.

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  7. Martha Diop, April 20, 2013 at 8:32 p.m.

    Luis and Feliks
    I guess I got misunderstood, as your comments are as if I was questioning the need or benefit of futsal. Quite to the contrary.
    I had the feeling the people thought that futsal was the only answer. But I think any game done on small space (be it indoor or outdoor) with 5 players could give the same benefit as Futsal (quickness, speed of execution, etc.). Or do you disagree?
    I was also wondering if the kids were not better off playing with a ball that is NOT “modified”, but deal with the normal ball (bouncing, difficult to control) from the early age, especially if that is the type of ball they will end up using anyway in the soccer career. Or do you disagree too?

  8. Luis Arreola, April 21, 2013 at 1:59 p.m.

    Some think Futsal ball is better. Some don't. Either way play with what you got. Could be a small ball. Benefit throughout the world is simply just playing as much as possible under any conditions. Bare foot, small field, whatever. Just play!!

  9. Kent James, April 21, 2013 at 11:07 p.m.

    Martha, futsal is not the be all and end all for soccer development, but it is the the best tool for ball skills for a few reasons. First, a smaller ball takes more skill to control, not less. It's a smaller target. If you can strike a small ball cleanly, a big ball is easy. Second, because it's played on a smooth surface, there is no rolling resistance, so if your touch is off, you lose the ball (it gets away from you quickly). So you have to learn to control the ball and keep it close. Third, because it's small-sided, it has the benefits of all small-sided games (more touches on the ball). Fourth, because the ball has a limited bounce, it is more controllable than a conventional ball (when a regular ball is used to play on a hard court, it spends too much time up in the air). I will always prefer regular soccer on a nice grass field, but futsal improves the ball skills immeasurably. Futsal players are comfortable with the ball at their feet, something many conventional players (especially Americans) are not.

  10. Wesley Hunt, April 22, 2013 at 1:23 p.m.

    Martha, go to this link. It is a plan that the Irish FA begun several years back. In the Appendix at the very end there is a scientific study done on number of touches and other things comparing futsal to small sided out door. Sorry that this is not a live link.

  11. sascha filippi replied, February 18, 2016 at 2:37 p.m.

    hi mister Hunt i'm Sascha Filippi i want to enter in contact with you i'm an italian europeanex pro player of futsal and national coach too who work now in the usa in virigina, i want to know if it's possible to find a way to organize some friendly futsal games between our teams???? that's my email

  12. Martha Diop, April 23, 2013 at 5:03 a.m.

    Thanks to all for the explanations and URL. I was thinking (incorrectly) that there was more benefit for kids to start playing at a very young age with a ball that is difficult and not as “cooperative”, and grow with that. The logic was: if they can deal with a bouncing and difficult ball already at age 6, there will has mastered the type of ball they will be using for the rest of their lives. But I will surrender to the futsal and soccer experts.
    I do recognize that most of the world soccer legends played futsal. But did they become legends because of futsal, or because they were all playing everyday?
    Also are there soccer legends that actually never played futsal, but tons and tons of small sided games (5 v 5, small space) all their young lives?
    USSF jumped on the bandwagon to make futsal an indispensable tool. But will Futsal help USA produce talent, if there is no attempt to create some environment to allow kids to play everyday?

    Hopefully in the USA the push is not for favoring some industries to boost the business of making money from futsal facilities construction and futsal tournaments (which will not be FREE! and create another instance of pay-to-play)
    We may wonder if building those 10,000 small outdoor courts that someone suggested, would not give more bang for the bucks, except those courts may not bring any bucks to anyone at all.

  13. Wesley Hunt, April 24, 2013 at 11:33 a.m.

    Martha not sure if you are still reading but here is my empiracal observations. When I first read of futsal I was intrigued. If it was as good as they said it was then I surely wanted my youth team to have a chance at it. No league around here so I read the rules and the history of the game, made homemade goals, bought some balls, rented some gym space and another youth coach and had our kids play throughout the winter. The kids ranged in age 6-9 years. I through out a range of ball sizes from the original futsal ball, size 2 a little bigger than a large grapefruit and almost no bounce, to a a beach ball. Quite franckly the kids prefered the beach ball but the game looked nothing like soccer when they used it. My empiracle observations followed what the study whose url I sent you showed. The size and bouncyness of the ball is inversly propotional to the number and quality of the touches that the kid gets. My daughter started violin at age 6. In her system of violin instruction they start with a small violin, they use finger tapes to get there tone correct, the kids are immersed in the music and learn their songs at first by ear. If she had started with a full size violin and reading music all at the same time I am not sure we would have gone to far. I think the same thing applys somewhat to the use of futsal for training. Small easy to handle ball in small spaces with small numbers makes for a simpler and more enjoyable and successfull game. That is how they learn at that age. Playing and haveing fun. If you have a paticular goal then you can control the parameters around that game to get the skill you want developed. While the kids enjoyed the beach ball it was not really helping with thier soccer. i still threw it out there from time to time just for fun but before long they knew the real fun was in playing futsal.

  14. Wesley Hunt, April 24, 2013 at 11:42 a.m.

    I would take those 10,000 small outdoor courts over tournaments and indoor facilities any day. I tell my coaches who come into my league that playing futsal in the league one day a week is not enough for thier kids to get any better. They need to get into a gym or outside and scrimmage the more the merryer. If they are in my league we will help them with insurance so school gyms and other spaces can be used for practice. The coaches who take advantage of this and have their kids playing several times a week start to see improvement in skill but it is not near enough. If schools could embrace the sport and if there was outdoor courts where pick up games being played then you would start to see real overall skill improvement in the kids.

  15. Wesley Hunt, April 24, 2013 at 11:52 a.m.

    That said if the USSF wanted to send me some money or support for running a futsal league I would take it. I am not holding my breath. Right now in my state there is an indoor cup run by the EPYSA and some other sponcer. It is indoor 8v8 on turf with a regular soccer ball. I call it outdoor soccer indoors. There are a dozen or more indoor facilities where these games are played. It is where all of the clubs send their best teams to gain bragging rights for thier web pages if they win or place in the cup. It is not cheap either in travel or tournament fees to participate. Big money all around. I don't see futsal making much headway as that they are pretty well established.

  16. Wesley Hunt, April 24, 2013 at noon

    When I first started promoting my league 6 years ago I went to all of the bigger established clubs hat in hand asking for teams to play. I came up with another empirical observation....the more qualified a coach seemed to be in terms of liscences, state cups, collegiate playing etc. the less likely they would be interested in having thier teams play futsal. I met everything from polite refusal to outright derision. Now some of those same clubs would love nab some of my better players. Sounds familar Luis? At least futsal is getting some good press at the top. Not sure how it will change things.

  17. Martha Diop, April 25, 2013 at 6:51 a.m.

    Fantastic insights. It made so much sense. In other words, we first isolate things that are distraction (bouncing, etc.) to focus on giving a chance of success on the task (controlling, dribbling, shooting, etc.). And later on, when the kid can comfortably "pedal" one can remove the "training wheels"., or the “tape on the fingers”.

  18. Martha Diop, April 25, 2013 at 6:57 a.m.

    I believe that we all come to the same conclusion: it comes down to implementing multiple things, each of which is important, and plays an important part
    (futsal, small sided games whenever possible, outdoor games, playing every day, etc.).
    The only problem is that it is all fragmented, everyone offering a small piece (sometimes for money), and the “customers” picking and choosing, rather than understanding tht you need the entire package.
    To illustrate, USSF is all out to promote futsal (which is great), but I have never heard their voice promoting the importance of kids playing every day possibly with no adult around 

  19. Kent James, April 26, 2013 at 8:47 a.m.

    Martha, Sam Snow, who has taught the national youth license course for many years, is a great advocate of getting kids to play without adults. He argues (convincingly) that getting kids to make decisions on their own is how they grow. And Wesley, my experience with Futsal in Western PA is quite different; the good coaches know all about it and encourage it, while those who don't know soccer dismiss it.

  20. Martha Diop, April 27, 2013 at 5:16 a.m.

    Thanks Kent
    Maybe in fact, you and Wesley have the SAME experience.
    He said the more qualified a coach seemed to be in terms of liscences, state cups, collegiate playing etc.
    All depends of course what you consider a GOOD coach, like you wrote. Do you strongly believe that the more licenses and state cups one has the better coach he is?.
    If not, maybe you and Wesley have the same meaning of good coach (track record of number of players developed? Or track record of how many wins?

  21. Kent James, April 28, 2013 at 2:54 p.m.

    Being a good coach and having a lot of licenses are not the same. But neither does having a lot of licenses mean you can't coach (as some seem to imply). Most good coaches have some licensing experience (since good coaches want to get better, and getting the training that accompanies most licensing processes is a way to improve, even if you don't blindly adopt everything the license providers teach). And most licensing clinics will improve bad coaches (though they may not become good). Time and cost may also discourage some good coaches from getting licenses. Licensing programs are afflicted by contradictory goals; to spread their influence, they need to get a lot of people into their courses. But to make a license have a high value, they have to restrict who they give them to. And getting a lot of people into your courses who won't pass isn't a recipe for success. I'm not sure what the answer is, but I do think the educational component is the more important one.

  22. Martha Diop, April 30, 2013 at 4:31 a.m.

    And of course, we have not touched at all on the fact that the SAME coach can be viewed as a bad coach by some, and an excellent one.
    Probably, you have figured out already that in this country, for 90% of people, a good coach is the one who piles victory after victory. Every victory moves you up in the ladder. And generally nobody will ever leave your team. (especially if you add the state cups in the recipe).
    Licenses tend more and more to just serve one purpose: at least get a job offer. After that, if you cannot find good 10 or 11 year old athletes to firm up your career, very often you miss the boat as a well intended, development oriented coach

  23. Martha Diop, April 30, 2013 at 4:32 a.m.

    Correction: --viewed as a bad coach by some, and an excellent one by others

  24. Damon James, May 15, 2013 at 4:05 p.m.

    Futsal is a great tool for developing skilled, creative players, but so are off-the-wall, beach, soccer tennis, etc. A good player learns to adapt to changing environments. The best reason to spread futsal (including street soccer) in the US is that it can be played by a small group on any flat surface with only a ball. This eliminates the lack of fields and equipment problem, particularly for low-income, urban players, and provides a casual environment to be creative, get many touches, and explore how to open up tight spaces. Look at how many more basketball players come from inner cities than baseball simply because it's a more economical game in terms of players, equipment and physical space required.

    Nevertheless, like street basketball, the skills learned in futsal need to be perfected to fit the game they are really learning to play - 11x11 soccer - by educated coaches and within the club structure. So futsal and soccer are complimentary. Maybe we should convert some of those unused tennis courts.

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