LNFS England – Youth futsal leagues

Background

Youth futsal provision in England has shown excellent growth over the past decade, largely thanks to the efforts of futsal clubs and independently run youth futsal leagues across the country, usually with the support of the relevant local County FA. However, there remains a major gap in provision during the transition phase between youth and adult futsal (U17/18s), and a lack of a joined-up programme on a regional or national scale leading up to this transition period. The FA Youth Futsal Cup existed to provide some level of national competition for youth futsal teams, but it remains unclear whether or how this will proceed in the future, and it relies on County FA organisation, which may or may not be available depending on location.

Recently, the FA announced that it would substantially cut its funding and support for futsal because according to their CEO it is not a “key enabler” for them. Instead, they will be concentrating their efforts only on programmes which directly contribute to achieving the “strategic goals” of winning FIFA and UEFA competitions with association football teams. The FA has made it clear that, in their opinion, supporting futsal as a sport in its own right does not qualify as a direct contributor to these strategic goals.

In the past many futsal clubs and County FAs received financial support from the FA to establish youth leagues. However, given these recent FA statements it is likely that this support will not continue unless the programmes directly contribute to association football strategic goals – for example, funding Wildcats centres which directly increase participation in girls’ football and futsal.

In light of the FA’s stance, we feel it is necessary to provide a more joined-up approach to youth futsal provision that will contribute to the growth of futsal as a sport in its own right. We also strongly believe that using the existing leagues, which have been built up over many years by volunteers’ hard work, rather than developing new league structures that compete with or replace existing leagues, is the best and fairest way to achieve this.

This proposal therefore has two main elements:

  1. A plan to support existing youth futsal leagues (up to U16s) across the country, tying particularly the older age groups together with showcase national finals events.
  2. Provision of a new national U18s competition to run in parallel (in terms of structure, clubs, and rules) with the adult LNFS England competition.

Existing youth futsal leagues (U6-U16)

Youth futsal leagues exist in many places across the country thanks to the hard and dedicated work of volunteers. Currently, youth league coverage does not stretch to every corner of England because leagues are concentrated in areas where there is a history of futsal activity, often thanks to the existence of adult futsal clubs which have grown the game in those local areas. For example, there are at least two or three youth futsal leagues in each of London, Birmingham, the Northwest, the East Midlands, and Yorkshire, whilst we are unaware of equivalent leagues in large parts of the Southwest, the South coast, some of the Home Counties, and parts of the Northeast.

Our proposal is to support these existing leagues in their growth by providing funding, administrative, and marketing support, and to aid the establishment of new leagues in current futsal “blackspots”. Our aim is to support well-governed, transparently run, and locally accountable futsal leagues and to assist them in providing an appropriate pathway for youth players to transition into the adult game. As an example, this means that at the lower age groups (e.g. U6-U10) all activity would remain local; that we might assist in creating regional competitions at intermediate age groups (U11-13); and we would then provide a national-level set of finals between the best teams from all the local youth futsal leagues (U14-16) which would operate for no more than a month concurrently with the adult LNFS England playoff competition, with full rules and full size courts which would allow this older youth age group to begin experiencing futsal in all its glory!

Therefore, we propose that any existing local youth leagues continue to operate along exactly the same lines as they currently do, but with additional support, either directly from LNFS England or from a new and independent futsal charity currently being formed. We would also facilitate creation of a steering group under the democratic control of futsal stakeholders to promote collaboration and co-ordination between youth futsal leagues so that best practise can be shared without imposition of conditions in a top-down fashion. Leagues would all retain their locally relevant identities, cultures and, most importantly, independence.

A new national U17/U18 competition

Last summer the National Futsal League, predecessor of LNFS England, announced it was launching a national U17s competition to run concurrently with the adult competition. Due to COVID-19 we later amended this to U18s to allow as many young people as possible to play under the COVID regulations. This LNFS England Youth competition could be formed at any level between U17-19, perhaps eventually also including U21s. However, one important consideration is that currently the FA only allows mixed gender futsal up to U18 and we would not wish to deny playing opportunities to any young woman.

At present, and to the best of our knowledge, no nationally co-ordinated futsal competitions, outside of educational settings such as colleges, currently exist for these age groups. The logic of creating a national league at these ages was and remains that there is currently a gap between youth futsal and adult futsal in England, and that the sport loses a large number of players to other sports and activities during these years. Hopefully both of these problems could be addressed by providing a high quality experience that mirrors existing national league structures.

The new youth competition would be managed by a Technical Committee operating under the LNFS England branding and commercial identity. The rules and regulations (e.g. court size, two referees plus timekeeper, and stop clock with 20-minute halves) would mirror the adult competition to prepare youth players for adult futsal in the best way possible. Additionally, clubs with adult as well as U18 LNFS England teams can have coordinated fixtures if the adult and youth league structures are similar, thereby minimising costs associated with operating additional teams, and hopefully allowing clubs to maximise their home match experience by providing an opportunity for parents and youth players to become spectators for adult matches following on from youth matches. 

Furthermore, youth players are often part of adult match day squads but, particularly at the higher levels, receive fewer court minutes than more experienced players, which reduces their involvement and can lead to disenchantment. Under the proposed system there would be an opportunity for at least some U18 players to be involved in both an U18 and an adult game on a single matchday, with a high likelihood that they would be given substantial playing time across both matches (with relevant safeguarding procedures in place to ensure that too much is not demanded of young players).

As outlined above for U14-16, a national set of play-offs for the LNFS England U18s league would be run simultaneously with the adult competition. Our plan would be to hold an event across one or more whole weekends, such as a bank holiday three-day weekend, at a high-quality spectator venue, with at least semi-finals and finals for all age groups involved.

In summary, LNFS England proposes to form and run a nationwide U18s league during the 2021-22 season. We also propose to work with local partners delivering younger age group youth futsal leagues across the country to help them co-ordinate their activities nationally while retaining their independence.

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