At the 2016 Fifa Futsal World Cup in Colombia, Spain have dramatically been kicked out by Russia, shortly after Brazil’s shock quarterfinal loss to Iran. These are the only two teams to have ever won the futsal world cup, so it’s fantastic for the growth of the global growth of the sport that more teams are entering the top tier and are capable of beating the best.
Spain and Brazil Futsal Champions
To illustrate this dominance, the graphic from FIFA.com shows that since 1989 when FIFA hosted their first futsal world cup, (other organisations have hosted world cups too) Brazil have dominated the competition. Spain are the only team to disrupt that dominance with wins in 2000 and 2004.
And it’s that Spanish team, led by now FIFA lead instructor Javier Lozano, that I’ll focus on. He was a guest speaker at the Catalyst For Change Futsal Conference hosted by The FA at St George’s Park late in 2014. We were in a small room in the Hilton Hotel of the national football centre. About 30 people were huddled in with a quiet buzz as we soaked in some stories from, quite literally, the leading coach in world futsal.
And because futsal is family and sharing is caring, I went back through my notes to reflect. These are Javier’s words, sifted through a translator, and sorted through my notes in interpretation of that translator…
Javier Lozano Futsal World Cup Lessons
He spoke about the 2004 World Cup defence, after they won it for the first time in 2000. The challenge was this. He had five world cup winners, leaders and veterans in the squad from the last campaign. But he also had ten new players who were of a lower level. So how would you approach that as a coach? Even at grassroots level, will we face similar circumstances
Messages to your players
In the second round game versus Italy, he played most of the ‘second string’ players, for most of the minutes. It must have looked crazy, disrespectful even. But it was important to send a message to all the players, and give them a self esteem boost. This is the quote I remember so well – “We lost the game, but gained a team – 10 more players”.
For me, you have to give your players a chance …with your actions. And it’s easier in futsal because we have rolling subs. When I watch football, I often go early to watch the warm up. I see the ten starting outfield players in selected bibs, doing their own warm up of possession and shooting, while the ‘second string’ are often off to the side or used to warm up keepers in different colour bibs. What message does this send? How included, trusted or empowered will they feel when, and if, they’re needed?
Then at half time, the substitutes often go out for a kickaround. They’re not formally warming up, but messing around. Missing the team talk and being included in important information and strategy. They’re warming up just to sit down for another 15-30 minutes wait until they’re actually on the field most of the time. The message is they aren’t important enough to hear the half time talk, it’s like they’re treated as second rate citizens on match day. It’s madness. We need to think of the message we send our players with our actions.
So back to the tournament, and Brazil in the semi-final which, was more like the final, given the history of both sides. Javier recalled the importance of visualization, a common sport psychology technique, that actually exercises the same parts of the brain and can help the pathways as if you are actually performing the task or skill. He described a stark contrast and feeling in the tunnel before the game. The Brazilians seemed nervous, on edge and very active. His Spanish team were calm, relaxed and ready. Which would you rather your players be?
Analyse the opposition
As the game unfolded, Spain were down to Brazil with only six minutes left. He changed to a 4-0 formation in possession, and Brazil started to get frustrated and impatient. The fouls added up: 4, 5, 6, 7 …and Spain scored the two resulting long penalties. He had analysed Brazil and had seen this weakness; a frustration or lack of discipline when starved of the ball. Brazil had perhaps been too used to winning and dominating teams, and didn’t know how to handle it otherwise.
Be prepared for all situations
So, just as he had a plan when they were down, now Spain were up by a goal with minutes remaining. For this situation, he knew his best defending players and system in this, so he calmly responded. This included a fly goalkeeper to keep possession (this was before a later rule change regarding the goalkeeper being used again after the ball had crosses halfway). He responded how he wanted his players to respond – they have practised match situations so much, that reactions become automatic.
Javier described different moments when players are over-activated, or under-activated, and how this negatively impacts on performance. His job as a coach is to recognise and positively influence this to get them to a better state to have a chance for peak performance.
Again, this is firmly based in sports psychology, and could be called getting ‘psyched up’ for the game. It’s also sometimes called arousal in the literature. The risk is getting psyched out. In more physical sports like rugby, a high level of activation is required (think the haka as an effective prematch ritual), it’s a very physical and combative sport. On the other end of the spectrum would be golf, when technique and a light, steady grip is required. Futsal would be somewhere in the middle, which changes with player preferences and also situations in the match.
Control the stage
Given this dynamic of players’ activation levels, it’s the coaches role to help positively influence it – whether that be up or down. He described coaching as almost being like a performance. Sometimes players need energy, belief and picking up, soome volume, energy and emotion from the coach is needed, maybe even a reason to play. Other times silence and lower volumes can help calm the players and reduce activation levels from going too high.
Given the situation and knowledge of when players best perform, we must try to affect the players in the right way to move them up or down the level of activation. Up the top of the scale, if they are too hyped up they can suffer what’s called a catastrophic drop in performance. It follows the inverted-U theory of arousal, where, just like anything, too much of anything is a bad thing. The drop is a vicious cycle of frustration which affects decision making (eg trying to dribble past every player or shoot from too far out), leading to more failure, leading to more frustration. Again, with rolling subs in futsal, we have a chance to manage our players and recover.
Afraid coach = panicked players
If we can’t keep calm and look in control on the sidelines, how can we expect our players too? I’ve discussed a mastery focus before, and this is why focusing on the process, which we can control, is far better for the players than worrying about the score or the referee. It was a key part of Claudio Raneiri’s strategy last season too. If we want our players to be calm and in control, we must show it too. If the message is that we trust them, we must show it with our demeanor and body language. The actions must match the words.
And that was a fascinating insight the sports psychology behind futsal at the highest level. Now go, win the futsal world cup! No, obviously just a small snippet, and I’d love to learn from Javier again.
Sports Psychology was always a strong interest of mine, doing my Bachelors in psychology even before I learned of futsal. The combination of the two fascinates me and I want to make it a life’s work to study them.
I’d love to hear your take, input and experience of sports psychology in futsal. How have match situations affected your players, how have you affected and influenced your players and how has the game affected you?