Futsal vs. Indoor Soccer

Unless you live in an area that stays warm all winter, your team will likely be faced with choosing between Futsal and Indoor Soccer for continued soccer development over the cold winter months.  I have coached my teams in both formats throughout the years and there are positives and negatives for each.  The major differences between Futsal and Indoor Soccer are that Futsal is played on a hard court, without walls and with a special low bounce ball, while Indoor Soccer is played on turf, with walls and with a normal soccer ball. But, there is a lot more t it.

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General Differences Between Indoor Soccer and Futsal

Indoor SoccerFutsal
Field Size200′ x 85′ (approx.)Minimum: 82′ x 49′
Maximum: 138′ x 82′
Field SurfaceTurfHard Surface
Number of Players5 field players
1 goalie
4 field players
1 goalie
Game Duration60 minutes
— quarter or halves
40 minutes
— halves
Substitutions— On the fly
— On stoppages (restart after sub)
— On the fly
— On stoppages (restart without delay)
BallNormal Soccer BallSpecial futsal ball
(smaller / low bounce)
ShoesCertain CleatsIndoor Soccer Shoes
Practice FacilitiesSpecific indoor field neededBasketball court or other hard surface

Differences Between Indoor Soccer and Outdoor Soccer

Indoor soccer is played on a  much smaller field than outdoor soccer (indoor soccer field dimensions are commonly 200’ by 85’ – roughly the size of a hockey rink, but it varies) on an artificial surface (turf) surrounded by walls (usually 8’ high or so with netting above the walls).  Goals are also smaller than outdoor goals, and the other aspects of the playing surface are shrunk to fit. Indoor Soccer teams consist of 5 field players and a goalie. At younger ages, sometimes 6 field players are used. The duration of an indoor soccer game is usually 60 minutes and is broken up into either halves or quarters.  Substitutions are on the fly or on stoppages. Stoppages only occur if the ball goes out of play (into the nets above the walls), the ball hits the ceiling, a goal is scored, a foul occurs or a period ends. There is no offside in indoor soccer.

The most popular professional indoor soccer league in the United States is the Major Arena Soccer League which has teams all over the country (and in Mexico and Canada).  You can see the full MASL rules here.

I grew up in the 80’s playing indoor soccer over the winter.  I loved it — maybe more than outdoor soccer. It was fast moving, high scoring, constant excitement.  Perhaps my favorite aspect was the astro turf! I was a finesse soccer player, and the poorly managed natural grass fields that I played outdoor soccer on made ball control difficult.  Give me the true bounce and control of astro turf and I could make some magic! 

Advantages of Indoor Soccer

While most facilities have moved to field turf over astro turf (which is much safer and softer while retaining predictability and control), the advantages of indoor soccer remain. The smaller field and fewer number of players result in more individual engagement and time on the ball.  The walls keep the ball in play for longer periods of time and allow certain approximations of outdoor tactics, including long balls. The indoor soccer ball is the same ball that is used in outdoor soccer.  Further, because of the field turf, players can typically use their outdoor cleats as indoor soccer shoes (but there are exceptions, as explained in Are All Soccer Cleats Good for Indoor Soccer). The rules of indoor soccer, other than a few necessary peculiarities, are essentially the same as the rules for outdoor soccer.  The transition from outdoor soccer to indoor soccer is straightforward and easy.

Coaching Indoor Soccer

From a coaching perspective, tactics need only be slightly altered for success in indoor soccer training.  The game will come very naturally to the players, so emphasis on indoor soccer specifics will not be needed. In fact, other than moving to an indoor location, not much needs to change on the training grounds.  This results in an easier transition back to outdoor soccer in the Spring and less lost time training skills and tactics that do not translate to outdoor soccer.  

From an offensive perspective, coaches can focus on making space, quick decision making and finishing touch.  While the size of an indoor soccer field is much smaller than an outdoor soccer field, it doesn’t feel cramped.  There is plenty of room for possession passing as well as attacking with varied run patterns. Further, there will likely be opportunities to score for everyone on the field, so finishing touch can be polished.

From a defensive perspective, coaches can focus on good fundamental positioning and ball winning.   Defenders don’t get the normal breaks in the action when the ball goes out of bounds as in outdoor soccer. And, they can’t use the touchlines as additional “defenders”.  Extreme focus and effort are required.

Most of all, indoor soccer is fun!  The pace is incessant, and the games are high scoring.  Kids and adults alike can enjoy indoor soccer.  

Disadvantages of Indoor Soccer

On the other hand, there are some arguments against indoor soccer.  Most of them center around the use of walls. One is that the walls may encourage sloppy play.  A bad pass or errant dribble may not be punished because it merely rebounds off a wall and stays in play.  Precision is not required. While that is true, I believe the advantage of longer stretches of true soccer action outweighs this potential issue.  Also, even though a lack of precision may not be punished by the ball going out of bounds, I can assure you that it will be punished by the other team!

Another argument against indoor soccer is that the walls are dangerous.  But, in all the years that I’ve played and coached indoor soccer, I haven’t ever seen an injury because of a wall.  Injuries do result from the turf / hard surface of the playing field, but many outdoor facilities have the same turf these days, so that’s not really an additional danger to the indoor soccer game.

Finally, some just generally argue that, since outdoor soccer doesn’t have walls, indoor soccer shouldn’t either.  This does make some sense and certainly alters the way the game is played in some respects. As previously mentioned, defending is a bit different in indoor soccer because defenders can’t use the touchlines or endlines for help.  On the other hand, the walls encourage longer pass attempts and through balls by keeping the ball in play, so it’s a bit of a balance.

Player looking at indoor soccer goal.
Indoor Soccer Goal

Indoor Soccer Practice Facilities

One last argument against indoor soccer is the lack of practice space.  This is a major problem with indoor soccer. Often, indoor soccer facilities only have one or two fields, so the number of practice slots is very limited.  The lack of supply can also make practice sessions very expensive.

Differences Between Futsal and Outdoor Soccer

Futsal is also played on a much smaller field than outdoor soccer (futsal court dimensions are a minimum of 82’ by 49’ and maximum of 138’ by 82’ – just a bit larger than a basketball court).  But, unlike indoor soccer, futsal is played on a hard surface with no walls. Goals are much smaller than even indoor goals; and other aspects of the court are similarly scaled. Futsal teams consist of 4 field players and a goalie.  Games usually consist of two 20-minute periods. Substitutions can occur on the fly or on “stoppages”. “Stoppages” occur when the ball goes out of bounds (over a touchline or endline), a goal is scored, a foul occurs or the period ends.  There is no offside in futsal.

Challenges of Futsal Rules

So far, it may not seem like futsal is all that different than outdoor soccer (other than subbing on the fly and the no offside rule).  However, there are some additional rules that make transitioning between outdoor soccer and futsal a little more difficult. First, futsal goalkeepers only have four seconds in which to play the ball, and, once they play the ball to a teammate, they may not touch it again without an opponent touching it.  Note that this is both hands and feet! This means that, once a goalkeeper plays a ball to a defender, the defender cannot pass it back to the goalkeeper. If that happens, the goalkeeper can’t touch it with his/her hands or feet. Essentially, the goalkeeper is out of play until the other team touches the ball.  Many outdoor soccer teams like to build from the back through their goalkeeper, so this rule change becomes very problematic and results in many turnovers and free kicks for the opposition.

Second, if the ball goes out over a touchline, then the team playing the ball in has three seconds to set the ball and kick it in, or it’s a turnover to the other team.  This can be very frustrating for a player trying to play the ball in — especially when the ball won’t stay still on the hard surface. Panicky, bad passes are often the result – not because the player can’t think fast, but because they’re trying to figure out if they need to re-set the ball or kick it as it’s moving, etc.

Third, a futsal ball is very different than a normal soccer ball.  It is much smaller and “low bounce”. The “low bounce” aspect is a little hard to describe, but if you throw a futsal ball in the air, and it lands on a hard surface, a very small bounce (and likely only one) results.  Normal soccer balls are much bouncier. The futsal ball tends to be simpler to control but more difficult to hit with power. The idea is that a futsal ball is easier to keep in play on hard surface futsal courts.

There are some other different rules (which you can check out here), but those are the main differences.

Coaching Futsal

From a coaching perspective, however, futsal requires quite a bit more adjustment than indoor soccer.  The rule changes noted above are not particularly intuitive and can have a dramatic effect on the outcome of a game.  As a coach, I found myself focusing on how to take advantage of the rule differences as opposed to training skills that would be valuable in the outdoor context.  

From an offensive perspective, tactical attacking is somewhat similar to outdoor soccer in that the spaces to be exploited are roughly equivalent — just scaled down.  That said, long balls are taken out of the equation and the variation on runs is also limited due to the condensed nature of the court. Through balls are incredibly difficult because the size of the court results in the ball rolling out of bounds frequently.  A more controlled, build-up style of attack is rewarded versus a direct attack. Technically, futsal develops offensive individual skill under pressure and quick thinking finishes.

Here’s a good example of a buildup attack and finish.

From a defensive perspective, tactical team defending is somewhat different than outdoor soccer.  A zone defending approach that clogs up the middle of the court is the most successful tactic.  The cramped nature of the court and lack of walls make the touchlines and endlines effective additional defenders, if used appropriately.  With respect to individual defending, futsal closely resembles outdoor soccer and encourages proper positioning and technique.

Futsal Practice Facilities

Futsal practice facilities are much easier to come by than indoor soccer practice facilities.  An indoor basketball court is all that’s needed. At least in the U.S., those are fairly easy to find and tend to be less costly than indoor soccer facilities.  

Is Futsal Better than Indoor Soccer?

It should be noted that futsal is the official form of indoor soccer for FIFA.  It is hailed as a great skill developer that requires quick reflexes, fast thinking and precision passing.  FIFA considers futsal the best example of a scaled down version of outdoor soccer played indoors.   

Futsal is much more centralized and organized than indoor soccer.  The governing body for youth futsal, United States Youth Futsal, is a member of U.S. Soccer.  Indoor soccer does not have an official governing body, so leagues and rule differences are more localized.

United States Youth Futsal hosts regional and national futsal championship tournaments which can be exciting and challenging.  However, I found that even my most talented girls teams couldn’t compete at the highest levels — not because we didn’t have the ability, but because we were going up against futsal specific academy teams.  With the rise of futsal as a sport in the U.S., futsal academies have followed. These futsal academy teams play futsal year round and are incredibly deft at taking advantage of the peculiar futsal rules – making it virtually impossible for true soccer teams to keep up.  To try to win a national championship, I would have had to sacrifice training translatable soccer skills for quirky futsal-specific tactics, which I was not willing to do.

Futsal is recognized more internationally than indoor soccer.  According to United States Youth Futsal, futsal is played all over the world in over 100 countries and is credited with helping develop the skills of  Pele, Ronaldo and Messi.

That said, futsal isn’t necessarily better than indoor soccer. Those players mentioned above did not have the option of indoor soccer, so it’s unclear whether indoor soccer would have produced the same skill development.  Indoor soccer may have been even more effective for those players.

Is Futsal Good For Soccer?

While whether futsal or indoor soccer is better can be argued, futsal is definitely good for soccer. If your team is playing futsal, embrace it. It’s a lot of fun, and the skills developed and the confidence in small spaces will translate well to soccer. Click over to Is Futsal Good For Soccer Development: an In-Depth Guide for more on the benefits of Futsal.

A Hybrid Approach to Futsal and Indoor Soccer

At this point, it’s probably clear that, on the whole, I prefer indoor soccer to futsal.  Even so, there are certain advantages to futsal. In my opinion, the biggest advantage is practice facilities.  In what I would consider my most successful winter season for my boys team, I combined the two formatsI had my team practice “futsal” at a readily available (and inexpensive) local gymnasium, but we played actual games in an indoor soccer league.  I did not train any futsal specific skills, but did work with futsal balls (at first) since we were on a hard floor. What I found was that we were able to easily compete with similar level teams in indoor soccer, but when the level of competition went up, we struggled.  

I identified our first touch as the primary issue.  That deficiency could be attributed to the fact that we had been training with low bounce futsal balls which are extremely easy to control.  Moving to a normal, bouncy soccer ball for indoor soccer games was disastrous. Our “futsal” training was working against us! I immediately had my team switch to normal soccer balls at practice, even though we were still on a hard floor. There was an adjustment period in which balls were flying everywhere, but it didn’t take long for my players to adjust and really develop their first touch.  When we moved to outdoor, the transition was smooth, and we had our best outdoor season ever. I can’t attribute 100% of that outdoor success to the unorthodox (innovative?) winter season, but it didn’t hurt! 

Just Do Something!

Futsal vs. Indoor soccer is a difficult choice.  Both formats have their positives and negatives. Ultimately, as long as your team is doing something over the winter months, your child will be developing


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