I have always had a dream to go to Brazil to experience the Brazilian way. What do they do differently to continuously create the likes of Pele, Garrincha, Zico, Cafu, Ronaldinho, Ronaldo, Kaka, Neymar and Vinicius Jr?
I am extremely fortunate to have just returned from 10 days in Brazil, accessing the pro academies of Flamengo, Botafogo and Fluminense and local grassroots club Bradesco in Rio de Janeiro. The trip enabled me to access the facilities, training sessions and matches and it was an opportunity to speak with coaches and staff about the structure of the clubs and their youth development. Being honest, 10 days wasn't enough and there's still a number of aspects that I'd like to learn more about but it's a good starting point.
Based on my time at the clubs, I have reported on the differences between Brazil and Scotland, and areas where I believe that we can learn and develop. You might be surprised to know that there's areas that I think we do better!!
I will give my opinion at the end of each section throughout the blog and hopefully it sparks some healthy debates about how we can develop our players and futsal in Scotland.
Each of the clubs that I visited, including local grassroots club Bradesco had a real community feel to them. Futsal, football, basketball, swimming, volleyball and other sports were available at each of the facilities and they felt like little secure villages that provided different opportunities for kids to play the sport of their choice. Interestingly, all sports are under the club name and colours.
From a futsal perspective the clubs had indoor and outdoor futsal courts with a concrete surface on the outdoor courts, a rubber type surface on the covered courts, and a rubber or wooden surface indoors. The facilities were older but served a purpose.
I believe we have a shortage of indoor facilities in Scotland and if we want to continue to grow futsal, this is an area that will need to be looked at by councils, clubs and the governing body. Can we make better use of disused tennis courts and make smooth concrete surface futsal courts, or are we too good or posh to play on concrete nowadays?
Football wise, I think our grass and astroturf pitches are far superior to what is available in Brazil.
I would love to see different sports working closer together for the greater good of the sport and the community. We have previously tried to link in with basketball and handball without success but I think this is the direction to go in the future.
I always find it fascinating to travel and to speak with and observe coaches from around the world. I personally feel that there's no better way to develop yourself as a coach than by experiencing different environments, levels of abilities and cultures. Every session you observe you will take something away from the coach, their session plan and their delivery.
The coaching methods used at all the clubs are very similar to what we already deliver at Futsal Escocia and similar to what I have already experienced at FC Barcelona and Inter Movistar in Spain. Every session I observed was game related and designed for the players to problem solve for themselves based on what was happening in the game. There's also a great emphasis on intensity with 100% being a minimum requirement. There were no mannequins or markers all over the pitch and the coaches let the game be the teacher.
The biggest learning point that I have taken from this experience is how the coaches interacted with the players. They were like father figures to all the children they coached and they clearly had a desire to improve them all as players and just as importantly, as people. I was very impressed with the relationships the coaches and all the staff had with the players but if you are seeing them up to 6 days a week then these relationships are much easier to form. I will go into a bit more detail about how often the children train and play below.
I genuinely believe that our kids are overcoached in Scotland and that coaches overcomplicate drills and include mannequins and markers to make them look good. An area that the majority of the players that I coach struggle is creativity and decision making. I feel that this is down to coaches directing the players at sessions and games and not allowing them to play with enough freedom. If we want to develop creative players we have to allow and encourage the players to be creative, to make mistakes and to learn from them.
The relationship the coaches have with the players is created at training. I don't think our teams train enough or spend enough time with the coach to build these relationships.
At the pre foundation and foundation age groups (younger age groups), futsal is recognised as being vital for player development. Flamengo has futsal within their academy structure for one reason only, to develop better footballers. Footballers that they hope to progress into their first team or to sell on to Europe for incredible sums of money.
At the younger age groups, players solely play futsal with up to 3 or 4 sessions a week and matches from under 6. The week I was at Flamengo the under 8 team schedule included 3 x 90 minute futsal training sessions and 2 futsal matches.
Futsal matches are competitive and played in stop clock conditions. Matches times start at 10 minutes per half and increase at different age groups. Matches are played on hard court surfaces with a size 2 futsal ball, that has slightly less bounce than ours.
Each Academy has their own structures, but most continue delivering futsal as part of their curriculum until u13. Some academies and clubs provide the option for players to continue playing futsal into adulthood if they wish to do so.
As above, players start solely with futsal but as the players get older, football is gradually introduced, starting with one training session and one game per week. Football activities continue to increase until futsal is phased out of pro football academies at around u13.
Each region of Brazil appears to have different structures as to when they start with 7, 9 or 11 a side but surprisingly Rio de Janeiro goes to 11 aside earlier than other regions in Brazil and much earlier than in Scotland!! I have to admit that I was shocked to hear this and on speaking with the coaches, they actually prefer our structure. They were also pleasantly surprised to hear that the likes of Germany had moved to 3v3 and small sided games with their younger age groups (in particular after the 7-1 humiliation in the Brazil World Cup in 2014).
Similar to the UK, the match duration, and size of ball, increases as you go up the age groups. Matches are played on grass or astroturf.
There's aspects here where I feel that we do better but it is hard to disagree with what they do in Brazil when you see the quality of players that continuously come out of the country.
I personally feel that players are better developed on a smaller pitch and having more contact time with the ball. Brazilian players are getting this through futsal up until they are 13 and all the way through the golden years of player development. Futsal provides something different to small sided football games. The hard court surface, the ball and the conditions makes the game quicker and played at a far greater intensity. This automatically improves players technically, tactically and mentally.
I would love to see us playing competitive but not an environment where the score line is more important than player development. We already struggle with this in a non competitive environment and it would require a lot more referees.
Brazil faces the same challenges as here and across the world in that most of the players in pro academy structure are born in the first quarter and very few are born in the last. There is no scope to move players up or down levels or age groups based on biological age, so this is undoubtedly an are that we are better at.
For me, summer football and winter futsal leagues across the country would be a step in the right direction and a combination of both throughout the year.
I was really impressed by the standard of the players across the pro clubs but also at Bradesco. If I compare the players to what we have at Futsal Escocia and those that have progressed to pro clubs, there's a big difference in terms of technical quality.
I always believe the that most important aspects of becoming a footballer are love of the game, work ethic and a desire to improve. I could see that in the majority of the kids training in Brazil. They engaged with their coaches, they worked hard and they had fun!!
The players were all fit, despite not seeing a single running session. If sessions are played with an intensity and you train regularly, kids do not need to do extra fitness.
Due to the training programmes, those in pro academies don't get the same opportunity to play on the street but I watched kids play in cages, on futsal courts and on the beach in their spare time.
Our coaching methods are very similar to what they are doing in Brazil but there's a big difference in terms of technical ability and intensity. I believe this is down to more contact time with a ball and playing a lot more futsal. If you include games, these kids are playing up to 10 hours of futsal a week!!
Scottish football previously created players like Johnston, Baxter, Henderson and Cooper. Players that developed through street football. If we cannot get kids back on the street then we have to try and replicate it in a structured environment.
I would love to see more players and clubs be involved in futsal and for it to be prioritised ahead of football at the younger age groups. This would require a complete change of mindset and additional facilities made available.
Without speaking Portuguese, I can only report on what I witnessed at the training and matches and I have to say it was extremely positive. Flamengo have a policy, similar to FC Barcelona, whereby the parents are not permitted any access to training sessions but they can attend games. At Fluminense they had different rules, and parents were permitted to watch the training sessions. At the sessions I attended the parents all sat together and weren't really paying attention to what the coach or the child was doing on the court. Just as importantly, the players weren't looking to their parents for approval either.
On Matchdays, parents are allowed full access and for me this was the highlight of the trip. It is clear that everyone connected to the clubs looks forward to matchdays and they are 100% behind the team. At the Bradesco v Flamengo u9/u11/u13 matches, the parents were at the facility more than an hour prior to the match. Parents from both teams chatted and exchanged hugs with friends before taking their positions for Bradesco and Flamengo at opposite sides of the court.
The Flamengo parents were putting out flags with one saying 'CRAQUE NO FLAMENGO, COMECA NO FUTSAL' which translates to 'ACES IN FLAMENGO, START IN FUTSAL'. Bradesco parents were blowing up balloons and attaching flags to the nets surrounding the court and they were wearing tops with their child's image, name and number on them. They also had mother of athlete, father of athlete, or brother of athlete on the rear of the tops to show their support for their family. At first I though this was over the top, but I quickly realised that it was a show of support for their child and the team. They were clearly proud to be part of the team and club.
Prior to the warm up, I could hear the Bradesco u9's singing and dancing in the changing room before coming out onto the court. As they ran out the hall exploded with noise with parents singing songs, cheering and banging home made drums in support of the team. I felt great just being there to experience it, so imagine how the kids must feel.
Throughout the warm up both sets of parents and now players from the older teams that had arrived early to watch and support the younger group were vocal. No hostility, just constant support for the team.
When the teams came out onto the court for the match, the noise was even louder. Flamengo players were singing and dancing doing a pre match ritual where the Bradesco players, coaches, parents all got into a huddle and started singing. I absolutely loved it.
Throughout the game, both sets of parents were vocal and supportive. They celebrated goals like a last minute winner in a World Cup Final!! Compare that to Scotland, where you can't even celebrate a goal at the younger age groups.
At no point did a parent shout at their kids and at no point did I see a kid look up to their parents for approval. Some kids got very little game time, whilst others played frequently.
This isn't an easy one, primarily because I know that it will mostly be our parents reading this!! I have to say that I was blown away by how the parents were and how supportive they were of their child and the TEAM. If I could give any advice to parents it would be to support and encourage your child but do not make them feel like they need to please you. They will flourish without the added pressure and they have to want to do it for themselves. Leave the coaching to the coach. If you don't trust the coach, move club or put on a tracksuit yourself if you feel you can do better.
You only have to walk along the Copacabana beach to realise that Brazilians love their football and all forms of the game. Every second person seems to wearing their club colours and on the beach you have beach soccer, foot volley, and groups of friends playing keepie uppies with a ball. Go just a mile or so out of the tourist areas and you will find futsal courts, astro pitches and grass pitches. Different surfaces, different balls, and different conditions.
Going back to the street football days it was not uncommon for Scottish kids to play on grass, concrete or ash pitches. When you think about it, it isn't too different from football, futsal and beach soccer. Games such as roofy and wally also replicated games like foot volley.
I think that Scotland is passionate about football but in Brazil it is much more than a game, it is a way of life. I was waking up at 6:30am and looking out of my balcony to see people playing a form of football on the beach. At midnight it was exactly the same with beach soccer and beach volley leagues played under the floodlights.
At every session I attended the kids and coaches had a smile and they clearly had a collective goal to improve. The desire and love of the game was obvious to see and with that it automatically brings competition and intensity. I didn't see one kid shirk a challenge and despite playing on concrete, none rolled about like Neymar.
None of the children appeared to be poor or from deprived backgrounds but I do not know this for sure. I visited the favelas and areas outside of the tourist spots and accommodation and living conditions are certainly not what most of us have the privilege to live in here. Players didn't have £300 trainers on, they weren't turning up with headphones on, playing on their mobile, and carrying a bottle of Prime before going home in their BMW X5.
I have been guilty of this myself, but if we keep providing our kids with everything they want are we teaching them the values of earning a living or reaching their ambitions?
If I ask every player in Futsal Escocia if they want to be a footballer, 99% will say yes. Of that 99%, I honestly think that less than 5% have the drive and ambition to put in the hard work and sacrifices to succeed.
The Brazilian kids don't just look as if they want to succeed, it is more like a need to succeed.
WHAT CHANGES WILL FUTSAL ESCOCIA BE MAKING?
If you have any suggestions about how we can improve, funding or any aspect to help futsal grow, please get in touch.
Thanks to my friend, Felipe Conde, for providing contact details at the clubs. Without your help this would never have been possible.
A special mention to Danilo (Flamengo), and Dilso (Fluminense) for arranging access to the academies and to all the staff at Flamengo, Fluminense and Botafogo for making me welcome. Hopefully I can return in the future to gain further experience and to further explore the incredible city that is Rio de Janeiro.
You are all welcome to Scotland at any time.