Rochdale AFC are capitalising on futsal being one of the fastest growing sports in the world by using it to encourage more young adults into further education.
The frenetic, small-sided version of the beautiful game has the potential to become a future Olympic sport, with creativity, control, endurance and decision-making all being required to succeed.
Rochdale are one of a number of football clubs nationwide offering futsal scholarships for 16 to 18-year-olds, with the intention of encouraging graduates to study at university or pursue a career in sport at a high level.
Keith Hicks, head of Football in the Community at the League One club, spoke to MM about Rochdale’s futsal programme and the opportunities available to its participants.
“All kids want to play 11-a-side football, so when they see futsal some of them think ‘It’s not really football’ but give it another ten years and futsal will be massive,” said Hicks.
“You’ve got clubs all over the Football League, all over the country, delivering this BTEC scholarship. There’s about 60 or 70 clubs on the futsal scheme.
“The best players in the world like Ronaldo, Messi and Suarez – they’ve all played futsal when they were little kids in their own countries, but we don’t do it here, and why not?”
Hicks described how the Football League Trust (FLT) Education and Futsal Programme gives students a chance to gain a BTEC Level 3 Extended Diploma in Sports Performance and Excellence (the equivalent of three A-levels) which opens a path to university education and overseas scholarships.
The scholarship was initiated last September, with Hicks and assistant manager Siobhan McElhinney looking to build upon a successful first year with their new batch of aspiring students.
The OFSTED-regulated course spans two years and is open to young adults holding at least four A-C GCSEs including Maths and English or a BTEC Level 2, with classes taking place at Rochdale’s own Spotland Stadium.
The programme combines sports coaching and the academic study of disciplines such as biomechanics, sports psychology and physiology, along with regular practical training as part of a squad that competes in the Futsal North East Division.
Lessons occur in classrooms overlooking the Spotland pitch, and each student is provided with their own playing and training kit which immediately creates a feeling of inclusion into the club.
Referring to the participation in the Futsal League, Hicks said: “We play a game once every two weeks at the @Futsal Arena in Leeds.
“We’ve got an A, B and C team, and we go and play teams like Leeds United, Middlesbrough, Sheffield United and Bradford City.
“I’ve heard it first-hand that most of the kids want to go to college for the social life, which is great, but if you come to us you’ll be playing against sides like Leeds United, which is a huge club.”
End of season league positions determine who qualifies for the national grand final, where the FLT Futsal champions are crowned and receive the prize of an end-of-season tour to Barcelona.
Rochdale reached the quarter-finals last year, and Hicks is looking forward to his team going a couple of steps further and ensuring he gets a short break in sunny Spain.
With more than 400 Football League appearances, and having been at Rochdale for over 25 years, Hicks is well-placed to judge the ability and development of potential Dale stars.
He maintains a sense of perspective when discussing the future of his students, and points out that a career in football is just one of many options available.
“Sometimes you have to be a bit realistic,” he said.
“You get kids coming in saying ‘I want to play for Rochdale Football Club’, and we’ve got a couple on to the Futsal course this year thinking that they will be in the first team by the time they’re 18.
“If that happens for them I’ll be absolutely delighted.
“If they come here and work hard for us, the youth coaches might see something, but there are other options.”
The Futsal scholarship is designed to offer a platform upon which individuals can choose the path of their future careers, with numerous other possibilities being available to them after gaining the BTEC qualification.
Hicks and his team are on the lookout for potential applicants for September 2015, hoping to cement the position of Rochdale AFC as a viable educational alternative for young people in the community.
For more information about the course, visit www.rochdaleafc.co.uk
Alternatively, contact Keith Hicks (Head of Football in the Community) on 07958593121 or email: [email protected]
Main image courtesy of STRskillSchool via YouTube, with thanks.