This post reflects on the pedagogy used in our Futsal Club programme for children of secondary school ages. We have found that teenage children - probably exhausted from being taught at school - have responded best to activities which are game based with fewer traditional teaching interventions. We begin by focusing on one particular session, and then provide examples of how we might use challenges to engage learners in their own learning.

We typically cover an assortment of Futsal attacking concepts in several weeks of intense training sessions. The session described below gave the children opportunity to explore some of the attacking ideas in a collaborative and competitive way. We tried this with children age 12-13 in a 90 minute session, and my reflections on the session are given below.

Set-up: 5v5 Futsal Game, normal rules

1. Present each team with a menu of Missions (see below). They must select one of these for their team to try to achieve. They must keep their Mission a secret from the other team.

2. Play the game for 10 minutes, with each team keeping (a secret) track of how many times their team achieve their Mission.

3. At the end of the game, each team is awarded points based on the number of times they achieved their Mission. However, the other team can steal all the points awarded for that game if they can guess what Mission their opponents were working on.

If you have more than 10 children, then some can be subs. And/or it might work well to have a coach for each team, and give that coach the leadership role and allow them a 'time-out' opportunity during the game to help their team reflect, re-organise and improve.

Repeat three or four times so children can explore different Missions, remembering to swap coaches.


  1. Score a goal from a cross
  2. Everyone on your team (including the GK) must touch the ball in the build-up to the goal
  3. Win the ball in your own defending third and score on a counter-attack
  4. At least one 1-2 and one overlapping run in the build-up to the goal
  5. GK comes over half-way to set-up a goal
  6. Two thru-balls or 'split-passes' in the build-up to the goal
  7. Score a goal with a maximum of one pass in the build-up play
  8. Win the ball in your attacking third and score without the ball leaving the attacking third
  9. At least one nutmeg in the build-up to the goal
  10. Score a goal from a long pass from the GK

My own reflections and review of the session

The main outcomes I wanted from this session were:

  1. Child-lead learning, including collaboration and communication about ideas
  2. Lots of game-based learning; and high enjoyment of play
  3. A chance for me to see what the children had learnt (to help me plan for the following term)

The session was in fact more complicated than I had first thought it would be. You will see that the session involves each team picking a mission, then collaborating together to achieve that mission while also trying to disguise what it is they are trying to achieve (while also trying to work out what  the opposing team's mission is).

In reality, for children to begin to grasp and understand the complexity of this requires several attempts (i.e. three or four games at least) and lots of time and opportunity for team discussion. So, there was conflict between Outcomes 1 and 2 from the list above: It was tricky to give children time to collaborate in useful discussion and also time to learn physically by playing the games. In reality, the actual amount of physically active game time per child was less than I had planned. This type of session might work better with more time, or with an older group.

However, there was some really good child-lead learning. When each team was allocated a 'coach', this allowed discussions to be quicker and better constructed. The games did allow me to see what levels of learning and understanding the children had. The teams first chose missions which contained minor tactical elements, such as scoring from a cross, or scoring after a nutmeg, I think because these were easier to comprehend and involved less collaboration on the pitch. However, I was surprised by the level of understanding shown when a team chose one of the more complex tactical missions such as scoring on a counter-attack (however, these tactical missions were harder to disguise and teams had points stolen more easily if they chose these types of missions).

In terms of enjoyment of the session, each team loved trying to guess what mission their opponents had chosen and were motivated by stealing the opponent's points. And, of course, the children loved to play games without interruption from me. They did improve in their ability to disguise their own Mission, and to mix-up their styles of play in order to confuse the other team.

My role: One of the trickier elements of the session was managing myself as a coach. The session itself didn't involve me coaching the game at any point. During the actual games I was able to step back and watch teams and individuals in order to reflect on what they appeared to understand about specific tasks (outcome 3 above). However, between games, and during time-outs, I found myself needing to explain the activity several times and remind teams of how they needed to prepare. Again, I think with more time, teams would have got better at preparing and organising themselves.

If I were to run the session again, here is what I would do differently:

Allocate Missions to teams myself (or teams could pick out of a hat). This would reduce the amount of sedentary discussion time. It would mean that the first discussion per team would be two-fold:

  • How to achieve this Mission on the pitch?
  • How to disguise what we are trying to do?

Re-think the Outcomes I want from the session. Some of the main learning in this session was about how to listen to each other's ideas, work as a team following a game-plan, leadership skills, collaborate effectively and efficiently in short time-outs. These are all useful skills for Futsal, and also for other areas of life.

My Futsal Whiteboards

Since these experimentations with 'missions' and 'challenges', we have made this type of approach more common in Futsal Club sessions. We use the main whiteboard often to communicate the challenges, which are typically linked to the learning intentions of the unit of work. Some examples are provided above.

We usually get some children arrive much earlier than others. Some children arrive late due to transport issues or staying late at school. Sometimes, we use the whiteboard to introduce the arrival task, so everyone has something to be getting on with as they arrive, a game to play, or a challenge to explore. Examples are below. These revise previous learning, or introduce new learning.  On the left are three different game formats that we have set-up. Children can choose which pitch to play on, and switch when they want. On the right are some activities to revise more basic technical practice.

AOur programme welcomes children of all abilities, and we need to consider how we include everyone in a mixed-ability environment, and how we manage the differences between individuals' competitiveness, confidence and ability. The whiteboards below provide two possible solutions. On the left, we have set-up two 3v3 pitches. Each team has to get all three players through each level before moving onto the next level. This diminishes the effect of having one brilliant player on a team, and forces everyone to work together and include and consider all their team mates. On the right, we have a three team tournament, with two teams playing and one marking their achievements on the whiteboard. The first team to record 'three in a row' on the board wins. This means teams need to collaborate and include everyone in order to achieve the challenges set.

Below are some more complicated examples of the type of game we might play in order to explore certain aspects of decision-making, problem-solving and game understanding. On the left, we start by limiting each player on the pitch to certain zones, and they 'unlock' players as they achieve certain challenges. They must decide which challenge is most achieveable, and which player to unlock - in order to progress more quickly than their opponents. On the right, we set up a 'bank' where teams could exchange their goals for specific limitations on their opponents.

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  By Mark Carter, September 2015 (updated Oct 2020)

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Mark Carter

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