It’s indoor soccer, minus the bank shots.
And since taking up residency at the Orion Sports and Training Centre three years ago, local athletes have been getting a kick out of the sport of futsal.
A game that has been around as long as traditional soccer, the sport of futsal takes the traditional game of outdoor soccer and brings it indoors, said Frank Huss, one of four owners at the Orion Sports and Training Centre.
“How it differs from indoor soccer is we don’t use the boards. So we use the perimeter like outdoor soccer, but we’re not throwing the ball in, we’re kicking it because of the smaller surface. Traditionally, it’s only played with four players and a goalie. So it’s five-on-five. The rules are a little bit different, but they try to stick to the outdoor rules.”
As well, futsal is played with a smaller ball with less bounce than a regular ball. The rules create an emphasis on improvisation, creativity and technique as well as ball control and passing in small spaces.
“It’s a heavy ball and stays low to the ground,” said Huss. “The biggest difference between this and indoor soccer is it’s more about skill and possession of the ball and a lot of passing. I think what you’ll find most important is people love coming out here because they’re getting a lot of touches on the ball.”
Three years after the sport came to Lethbridge, futsal has been embraced.
“It’s been very successful with the guys and girls,” said Huss. “Right now it’s geared towards adults 18 and older, but our next step is going (towards) youths. (Perhaps) expanding the leagues.”
Currently a Monday night and Thursday night league — each with eight teams — the sport operates out of the Orion Sports and Training Centre.
“It runs year-round,” said Huss. “We’ve set it up so it’s every 10 weeks. What we’ve found it people like short leagues because it helps them plan around holidays. This is the first summer where we ran successfully right through the summer. It was full. We’re to a point where we have teams on the waiting list. So it’s exciting. With the numbers increasing, unfortunately we only have the one space. Eventually we would like to expand. This is great, it’s a great problem to have.”
Opening up the facility to rental groups, the Orion Sports and Training Centre was the first group in southern Alberta to put in the artificial turf called field turf, said Huss.
“It’s made out of rubber pellets with a silica sand base underneath. So it gives us that grass-like feel.”
The University of Lethbridge Stadium and the soccer centre have similar turfs.
“We rent the building out to other user groups, but we introduced futsal here when we first opened the building,” said Huss. “We have football groups, lacrosse groups, baseball groups and golfers in here. The nice addition is Hardy Training. Trevor Hardy has come out here and is now a permanent of user of the facility. He does his hockey training out here. Our big dream is to make this a multi-purpose facility.”
Taking part in league action Dec. 1, Gina Sprinkhuisen and David Fehr — both soccer players — have become futsal veterans as well.
“It’s a very fast-paced game and it’s a lot more competitive than indoor soccer,” said Sprinkhuisen. “It makes you improve your skills a lot faster. It’s a better game than what indoor soccer has to offer with having it confined. You improve your skills and think faster. It’s just a lot more fun.”
Indoor soccer doesn’t transfer well to outdoor soccer due to the use of the walls indoors, said Sprinkhuisen.
That’s not the case with futsal.
“This makes you use your players and because it’s a faster game, it gets you thinking before you have the ball and that really transfers over to outdoor soccer,” said Sprinkhuisen.
Fehr has been partaking in futsal since the sport arrived at the Orion Sports and Training Centre three years ago.
The multiple touches the athlete gets over the course of a game makes futsal appealing, he said.
“In outdoor with the huge field you can sometimes go 30 minutes without touching the ball. Here, you get the ball every couple of seconds and you have to know what to do with it, if you don’t you learn pretty quickly.”
Both Sprinkhuisen and Fehr agree the sport is catching on locally.
“They have drop-in twice a week and that really helps get more teams into league play,” said Sprinkhuisen. “We used to just have one night of league play and now we have two. It’s growing quite a bit.”
Fehr is hopeful growth in futsal continues.
“I think we have a good solid group of people that come out now and with a little more publicity (maybe) there can be more teams and more leagues.”