Alex Para: Futsal Grows the Game of Soccer in the United States
The speed of the game is rapidly accelerating as top youth players are utilizing all of their resources to maintain a step ahead of their competition. Futsal is on its way to being a common component of American soccer development with players across the country now provided with the game in their local region.
United States Futsal Federation President Alex Para provides his take on the growing game and its importance during youth development.
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Futsal News: Diego Maradona played Futsal while growing up in Argentina.
Lionel Messi did too.
And Alex Para.
Everyone has heard of the first two soccer stars. You may not have heard the third name. But he’s the man behind the codification of Futsal — the five-a-side version of soccer that’s hailed as an important foundation for developing touch and technique in young players.
But it’s also played by older athletes. It’s quick. It’s simple. Plus, it’s fun.
Para may be the world’s most passionate advocate of Futsal. Ask him to talk about the game; he’s off and running.
“Think about basketball, baseball, football. What does everyone want to do? Touch the ball,” he says with an Argentine accent despite years living in the U.S.
“In Futsal, every player, every couple of seconds, is involved with the ball. You can’t stand still. If you do, your team plays short.”
Para scoffs at there being so many different versions of small-sided soccer — 4-v-4, 6-v-6, 8-v-8, using a regulation-size ball — it is “not logical.”
“In the 4-v-4 version, you play without a goalkeeper — it is just like basketball without the hoop. You’re just kicking the ball without a goalkeeper. In soccer, you must learn to shoot.” In Futsal, there’s plenty of that.
Para bats back another charge: that Futsal players cannot adapt to the full-sided game.
“Eleven-a-side is a marathon,” Para says. “You have to run for a long time. Of course, a 120-yard field is larger than a 40-yard field. But learning to run is a lot easier to teach than technique.”
Americans have “great physical stamina,” Para adds. What they lack is technique. “They think that dribbling just means racing past other players. No! You need to keep the ball, use some moves. How do you get that technique? You get it playing Futsal!
Technique, technique, technique — that’s Para’s mantra.
“Look at the data,” he urges. “Of the FIFA World Cup champions, nearly all were won by countries that play Futsal. All the top players play it.”
He worries that too few coaches in the U.S. embrace Futsal. Part of the problem, he says, is that if they did not grow up with it, they don’t know how to teach it.
But at its heart, Futsal is not about “teaching.” It’s about simply “playing.”
When Para was young, he says, “I didn’t have coaches. I played Futsal. I learned from other players.”
In the United States, he says, “I see over-coaching. ‘One-touch!’ the coaches say. If Michael Jordan only touched the ball once, it would be very easy to defend against him. One-touch is a blessing from God for defenders. Sometimes, yes, one touch is good in soccer. But players need weapons.”
That arsenal, he believes, is best developed by Futsal.
Acceptance is coming. More and more clubs are introducing Futsal into their training routines.
More and more young players are discovering the joys of Futsal.
But Para wants more.
Though he calls the relationship between the United States Futsal Federation — the sport’s governing body — and US Soccer “very excellent,” although he wishes that the U.S. Soccer Development Academy program has embraced the game of Futsal more.
“They mandate the Academy players play Futsal,” Para says. “But they would learn more about the sport if they took part in our regional competitions.”
He suspects they don’t want Academy clubs to lose to outside teams.
Undeterred, Para presses on. He talks about Futsal wherever, and with whomever, he can.
“It’s the fastest growing game in the country,” Para claims.
And, he repeats, “It’s so much fun.”
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