Stop by the basketball courts at the Alameda Point Gym on any Friday night and you’ll see up to 50 people — boys and girls, 20-somethings and middle-aged adults — playing what seems like fast-moving, mini soccer games with a strange ball.
Stick around and you may find yourself playing too.
A new fad? Not really. Alameda has simply caught futsal fever, a worldwide game originating in Uruguay in the 1930s that began to spread to the United States in the 1980s.
Alameda has a new futsal club, the Alameda Futsal Club, which is sanctioned by the U.S. Soccer organization, with the club’s 18 referees U.S. Soccer trained and certified. This past winter, the club held a league for 220 kids ranging in age from 5 to 16. There may be another league in early summer. This is in addition to the Friday night pick-up games. The club is also considering starting an adult league.
“I don’t think anything else develops soccer intelligence, soccer and skills more than futsal,” says Paulo Altaffer, secretary of the Alameda Futsal Club. “It forces kids to make decisions very quickly.”
The way futsal works: Each team has five players, as opposed to 11-a-side in soccer. The ball, smaller than an average soccer ball, is weighted to reduce its bounce. Turnovers happen quickly. There are no off sides and physical contact between players is limited.
Futsal is not just indoor soccer. It is considered a game in its own right, with rules originally taken from handball, water polo and basketball, according to the U.S. Youth Futsal website. Futsal will be played at the 2012 Olympics in London and may become its own permanent Olympic sport.
Futsal often doubles as a conditioning sport — it is close enough to soccer that it is a way for players to learn skills like ball control and passing techniques, particularly in the off season.
“I’m biased, but it’s a game for everyone,” Altaffer said. “It’s fun and fast. People can get a lot of touches on the ball.”
For more information, check out www.usyouthfutsal.com/alamedafutsal or call (510) 239-3020.