Can Futsal Save Soccer in Canada

Everyone knows the Canadian soccer system is broke. It’s no longer a question of how or why rather a question of what can we do to fix it? Truth is, there are hundreds of things that need to change and decades of commitment to that change before Canada can ever hope of being considered a soccer playing/loving nation as the Canadian Soccer Association (CSA) would like. We need look no further than to our good neighbours to the south – the USA. Once in the same boat as Canada, they are now at least two decades ahead of us and although not yet considered a world soccer force they are certainly now the team to beat in CONCACAF and enjoy regular FIFA World Cup qualification. Their award of the 1994 FIFA World Cup sparked a revolution in US soccer, spurring the establishment of a domestic professional league with a number of D2 and D3 league options, forced a plan to deal with the not for profit vs for profit quandary, and inspired regular lucrative promotional events featuring Europe’s and South America’s biggest brands. All this has helped build an appetite and has sold the game to Americans allowing it to grow in the USA. So is their growth model the example for Canada to follow? No, it seems to be working for them and that’s great but it couldn’t possibly work here. The American soccer boom has its roots in massive commercial and financial investment. With 1/10th the population and significant geographic barriers, Canada simply doesn’t have the financial where with all to adopt an American style growth model. If Canada is to succeed at soccer, as it has in other sports, our growth and development models must be culturally driven and technically sound. When a sporting culture is not present, there must be a catalyst for change, a ground zero building block to move things forward. What if futsal was that catalyst? What if futsal was the building block to create both the cultural and technical changes needed to save soccer in Canada?

Hockey Culture
If you don’t like hockey you’re not Canadian! Just kidding, or am I? That answer literally depends on who you ask. The cultural connection to hockey in Canada is as strong as any nationalities connection with soccer. Canada’s dominance in hockey is no more a coincidence than Germany, Brazil and Spain’s dominance in soccer. Our collective cultural passion for hockey is aided by our international success but is rooted in the accessibility of the game at the most basic grassroots level. The vast majority of Canadians love of hockey does not stem from time playing in structured youth leagues at exorbitant costs of $5,000 – $20,000 per season. The average Canadian relates to hockey from the time they spent playing on Canada’s infinite supply of frozen water with their buddies at a cost even the most financially challenged can afford. And when the lakes, ponds and rivers are melted, we are constantly reminded of our hockey loving culture every time we pass by the endless supply of outdoor rinks and arenas in EVERY urban and rural community across Canada. I’ve been told youth hockey is not without its issues but at least the most basic grassroots need – accessibility – is not one of them.

Why Futsal?
Simple. It’s proven to develop some of the worlds most technically proficient players, the skills learned are completely transferable to the full field game and implementing a nationwide infrastructure program is very much feasible.

Essentially a small sided version of soccer, futsal in its many forms has helped develop many of the worlds greatest players and is an essential part of developmental programs in most of the world’s top footballing (soccer) nations. Played on a small surface, 5v5 (4 plus a goalkeeper), futsal is a very fast paced game. It forces players to think and play the game much quicker than full field soccer; this conditions the mind to play under the most demanding pressures the full field game has to offer. In addition to mental sharpness and technical superiority, futsal is proven to develop creativity, player confidence on the ball and perhaps most importantly a sound transitional game; an area the CSA’s Technical Director, Tony Fonseca, identifies as a key component to playing successful soccer. Unlike the full field and modern versions of indoor soccer, players have nowhere to hide in futsal. They must be involved in the play and are often forced to make decisions and attempt skills repetitiously that they might not be forced to perform in variants of indoor/outdoor soccer. Many recognize some of our greatest deficiencies competing internationally include poor speed of play and effective decision-making skills, futsal forces the development of these key aspects. It’s ironic the single best tool to help reverse our shortcomings is not well promoted in Canada.

Building A National Futsal Infrastructure Framework
Like the endless stream of outdoor hockey rinks and arenas across Canada, we could have futsal courts in every neighbourhood and at a fraction of the cost to build and maintain. This can be achieved through a combination of building some new and converting the countless dilapidated basketball and/or tennis courts in every neighbourhood into refreshed multi-use community facilities. We’ve all passed the empty, local sport specific tennis and basketball courts. Why must they be sport specific? Why can these facilities not be multi-use to accommodate basketball, futsal, tennis, volleyball and many more? They can and many such facilities already exist, just not in Winnipeg and I would venture too few elsewhere in Canada.

Modular futsal/multi-use court installation. Source:
Modular futsal/multi-use court installation.

Some of the newer and/or better maintained, existing facilities could be converted for a mere few thousand dollars with simple surface marking upgrades and the installation of anchored futsal goals and basketball net upgrades. If one wanted to upgrade from the typical asphalt surface to a futsal certified, multi-use outdoor surface these can be purchased from a variety of vendors ranging from $10-$20/m^2. If you work out the cost vs area permutations for an official FIFA size futsal court, you can purchase an outdoor grade court for as little as $6,000 – $17,000. That price can be lowered significantly, perhaps even halved if the court is purchased for indoor installation.

Governments and municipalities all over North America seek “healthy living” initiatives. They also tend to own several parcels of land not viable for significant economic development but could prove perfect for the creation of new outdoor multi-use community facilities. With a quick internet search you can find some basic pricing of what a new tennis court installation costs. For all intents and purposes, this would be comparable to the size and expense of a multi-use court installation. The basic rate of a new court ranges from $50,000 – $100,000. Broken down as follows:

  • Clearing/grading the land: $15,000 – $25,000
  • Hard/Clay/Multi-sport surface installation: $25,000 – $75,000
  • Fencing & Lighting: $10,000 – $15,000
Multi-use outdoor court. Source:
Multi-use outdoor court. Source:

Sounds expensive right? Wrong! This is a drop in the bucket compared to what most municipalities budget for recreation. To put things into perspective, let’s compare the expenses of refurbishing and building new futsal/multi-use courts to the price of building a community centre hockey arena. The new Seven Oaks Arena is a $20 Million dollar, double rink arena set to begin operation in Winnipeg’s North End this month. You read that correctly, $20 million dollars for one community centre arena in one neighbourhood of one Canadian city! Let’s see how far that would go towards building a national futsal infrastructure shall we?

New/well maintained existing community courts:

  • Assumptions: upgraded marking and new futsal goals/basketball nets required. No repair/upgrades to current surface.
  • Assumed upgrade cost: $5,000
  • Number of refurbished courts for $20M: 4,000

Dilapidated existing community courts:

    • Assumptions: upgraded markings and new futsal goals/basketball nets required. Current surface requires significant repair or replacement.
    • Assumed upgrade cost: $10,000 – $25,000
    • Number of refurbished courts for $20M: 800 – 2,000

Brand new court construction:

      • Assumptions: built on municipal owned land, no acquisition costs.
      • Assumed build cost: $50,000 – $100,000
      • Number of new multi-use courts for $20M: 200 – 400

Manitoba has a population (2014) of 1.2 million people, 65-70% of whom live in Winnipeg. To serve that population we have approximately 244 outdoor rinks and arenas across the province. Of those, 94 are arenas with 28 of those arenas in Winnipeg. Astonishingly, the budget to build just one arena, the new Seven Oaks Arena, could more than cover the total costs of building a futsal infrastructure capable of supporting the entire population of Manitoba! Granted not all arenas are as lavish as the new Seven Oaks Arena but todays replacement cost of a modern single rink, hockey arena ranges between $3 – 10 Million dollars! The International Ice Hockey Federation provides a guide for building basic hockey rink arenas and value their cost  at 2.5 million euros or 3.4 million dollars Canadian. Ignoring the fact there are a number of multi-rink arenas in Manitoba already thus greatly increasing their value, our 94 arenas in this province have a combined value of $282,000,000 – $1 Billion! This could build 2,800 – 10,000 brand new multi-use courts or refurbish as many as 56,400 – 200,000 existing courts depending on current condition. Astonishingly, the value of Manitoba’s arenas alone could potentially finance an entire nationwide futsal infrastructure program!

Nickel and dime the futsal refurbishment and new construction cost estimates if you wish, inflate them by a ridiculous 100% even. The fact indisputably remains that the cost to implement a national futsal infrastructure program pales in comparison to what we already spend on hockey, but my oh my look how that investment has paid off.

Leading the Charge for Change
Some argue that we don’t produce enough talented players and the corrective action is to introduce clear player pathways and universal training methods. Few disagree these are necessary but it’s kind of like putting the horse before the cart. These measures don’t exactly grow and promote the game rather they improve the processes in place for current and future participants. No matter how clear the developmental path or how good the developmental methods, the size and quality of a player pool is culturally dependent.

As the official governing bodies of soccer across Canada, the CSA and its Provincial Member Associations are responsible for the promotion and growth of soccer in Canada. In order to achieve this, they need to establish a cultural connection to the game and make it freely accessible. They should be leading a charge to partner with federal, provincial and municipal governments as well as reaching out to other sporting agencies with similar objectives like Basketball Canada and/or Tennis Canada to pool resources and fund a national futsal/multi-use court infrastructure.

Cultural identification lends itself to sporting success, there is much proof of this in the world of sport. Reducing access constraints at the grassroots level is crucial to building a cultural identification with a sport. A national futsal infrastructure is economically feasible and capable of building the cultural and technical foundations of the developmental model necessary to grow the game of soccer in Canada. Tasked with the promotion and growth of soccer, our national and provincial governing bodies need to be the primary advocate for developing such an infrastructure framework while partnering with government and sporting bodies with similar vested interests to secure the funding necessary. Financial investment, player pathways and development models are all great and necessary initiatives in building a national sporting program but passion and cultural identification are required for building a successful program.


Banner image source: Nick’s World Cup Brazil 2014



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Welcome to my blog where I intend to share this, that and all things in between of personal interest. Expect to see a lot about my profession - Geographic Information Systems (GIS) and even more about my passion - Soccer. The This and That of my blog ought to be straightforward enough but what of the random in between? Guess you'll have to check back often to find out! I thank anyone who takes the interest and time to read my posts. I hope you enjoy or at least appreciate a different perspective and I welcome hearing yours.

22 thoughts on “Can Futsal Save Soccer in Canada”

    1. Thanks for taking the time to read and reply. It seems such a small price to pay to benefit so many. If enough people push the right buttons, change is possible.


      1. I’ll try to get the ball rolling here, James, though I hasten to add it will demand patience… Want to brainstorm with you on Skype or FaceTime to see if we can leverage our efforts. Contact me to set up a date/time.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. James.

        Really want to chat with you And see how this is all going. I am down in San Diego, California with the same idea. I reached out on LinkedIn and hope this was you. Jason Cruz at Illumina.

        Hope to talk soon


    1. Thanks for taking the time to read and reply. Glad you enjoyed it. It’s too bad so many either under estimate or simply don’t know of the benefits of futsal. Would love hear your thoughts on how best to promote and get a futsal league started in Manitoba.


      1. If you would like to pick some one’s brain about futsal and how to grow the sport in Canada I would suggest you speak to Roy Blanche at Futsal Club Toronto who is doing a great job at developing players and not Mr. Fernandes as he has not once ever replied to any of my inquiries. I’m not sure exactly what Futsal Canada is doing but it certainly is not doing anything to help any one interested in growing futsal in Canada. Soccer Canada could use futsal as part of their soccer development but I don’t think they get it. The US is doing a much better job with futsal than Canada is. Good luck with futsal in Manitoba.


      2. Thanks for the reply Ana. I would love it if player development was our greatest issue here in Manitoba. Currently we are one of only three provinces in Canada that does not currently have or is in the process of establishing a futsal league! I am one of many people here that wants to see that change but need the information and implementation know how to set the minds of the naysayers, disbelievers and protectionists at ease. Is this an area Mr. Blanche has experience, knowledge and expertise in?

        100% agree that Canada Soccer and Futsal Canada should be working in partnership to provide our youth with the technical skills base, creativity and confidence on the ball required if we are to ever legitimately compete in soccer internationally. The increased involvement in futsal would provide equal benefits to Futsal Canada. Seems a no brainier but than again, most things do until you incorporate the obligatory politics.


  1. Hi James. It’s been almost 1 year since I last checked your blog and just came across your reply to my post. Sorry but I am not very good with social media. In fact I do not have any social media at all. I somehow stumbled upon your blog again during one of my google searches for “futsal”. Just wondering how the “growth” of futsal is going for you? I’m sure it is hard. Again, you should speak to Roy Blanche – just google him and you’ll see what I mean. I really don’t know what Canada Soccer intends to do about growing futsal but so far they haven’t done very much and what they have done has not been very good for futsal or for the outdoor game for that matter. They really need to do away with the indoor soccer games. All those indoor soccer leagues that pop up during the winter need to become futsal leagues and only allow futsal to be played indoor. Once they do that then they will see how much futsal can improve the outdoor game and then maybe Canada will have a chance on the world stage. The futsal world cup is on right now but unfortunately we hear nothing about it from Soccer Canada or the Canadian media. I think you either love futsal or hate it – there is nothing in between. Until Soccer Canada loves futsal and directs all its members to play futsal instead of indoor soccer Canada will never have the great players that other countries seem to produce. It’s time for Canada to stop playing the long ball and actually play with the ball and give all those small boys and girls with skills a chance.


    1. Spot on, Ana. But things can change. But FYI things can change. I’ve just started Year 2 of an after-school futsal/street footy program called Sawmill FC (see FB for updates) & the kids who come out are motivated & just loving it. It can happen if we tweak things a bit. For more information on how, see my blog called ‘The Spice of Futsal’ at Year Zero Soccer ( Cheers, R.


      1. It looks like you are doing a great job. Keep it up. We need more programs like yours in every Province and city across Canada. I know there are a lot of programs out there but we need to all come together to help the sport grow. We should be having more competitions – the better the competition the better the players will develop. There are a lot of people who are only out to grow themselves instead of the sport and until the CSA and all the provincial associations crack down on those culprits nothing will ever change. “If you build it they will come”. Here’s hoping futsal becomes huge in Canada.


  2. I loved this post! I just read your blogs fairly often and you’re always releasing
    great stuff. I shared this on my facebook and my follwers loved it!
    Keep up very good work.


  3. Awesome read, thanks James.
    I’m reading this from Whitehorse, Yukon. I fell in love with soccer at the local recreational level at age 5 (2000) and have played/coached in the Yukon ever since. I’ve played competitively at many tournaments, representing Team Yukon at the 2012 Arctic Winter Games (Indoor Arena Soccer) as well as the 2013 Canada Summer Games in Quebec (Outdoor Soccer). In recent years my passion has turned to coaching and youth development, and this article is painfully relevant for the situation up North.
    Yukon participation in soccer has been highly volatile. We currently have lots of exciting advancements in the competitive stream, but the player pool from recreational levels has shrunk visibly in the past decade.
    The good news is that in the past 2-3 years we have actually reached a general consensus among coaches and administrators that Futsal is the way forward – particularly in the Northern Territories where summers only last 4-5 months, and the climate and thin topsoil makes maintenance of grass fields very difficult. A sport that can be played indoors through the winter, with a 9 player roster, just makes sense.
    Another interesting tidbit: Arctic Winter Games is now officially adopting futsal, in place of arena soccer, for all future competitions, with the most recent games hosted in Nuuk, Greenland in 2016. Hay River/Fort Smith, NWT will be hosting 2018, and Whitehorse is set to host again in 2020. An awesome collection of athletes from around the (northern) world, including competitors from 5 Canadian territories, Alaska, Greenland, Scandinavia, and Russian make for a lot of excitement every 2 years, with Futsal being one of the largest spectator events.
    In closing: I agree with your statement that accessibility and growth of soccer/futsal culture are key. We can bow down to Futsal (I do), but at the end of the day it’s not what we promote, it’s how we promote it.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Great news on the development front, Marten. I teach futsal/street footy in BC’s Okanagan Valley & look forward to seeing your region lead the way for our futsal national teams!
      I have a question for you: have your organizing groups up there looked into how Iceland has transformed its own developmental pyramid? There might be some things to consider for application in your environment. If you haven’t & are interested, reply in kind & I’ll point you to some articles online for review and/or put you in touch with a guy who’s got some significant contacts in that country. HTH.


      1. GuerillaCoach, Yes! The Yukon has a lot in common with (early 90s) Iceland. Priorities right now in the Yukon are training coaches and building/maintaining quality fields, though both are moving slowly.
        There’s only a handful of NCCP certified coaches up here, and none that I know of with UEFA licences, although some highly qualified coaches do pass through each year mostly from CSA and Vancouver Whitecaps. Certifications aside we’ve got a good core of dedicated coaches, but not enough to satisfy every age group.
        Playing fields are a desperate issue. All outdoor fields are attached to public schools, but they see minimal maintenance because the public schools do not run a soccer season. Even the local youth development academy trains on dried out fields with dirt patches and gopher holes. Indoor facilities are not much better. We have one great “arena style” indoor turf that was built in 2007 and used for the 2012 Arctic Winter Games, but now that AWG has officially adopted futsal this turf is only suitable for local leagues, leisure, and training (The turf is only large enough for 6v6 gameplay). The majority of programming through the 7-8 winter months still happens in school gymnasiums, and none of these gyms are properly marked for futsal. There has been some discussion about the feasibility of a privately operated facility (either 11v11, futsal, or both) but there are no active projects.
        My question for you: Do you know of any reliable suppliers for interlocking tile futsal courts? I would love to have a court that could fit in a trailer and transported to various locations around the Yukon for Futsal camps and events. I’m not necessarily looking for a FIFA standard surface, just something that can be set up and taken down easily, and with all of the proper markings. Please let me know if you’ve got any contacts with experience using tiles
        Cheers, MS


    2. Marten, Thanks for taking the time to read and comment, glad you liked it. Sounds like the Yukon and the territories are way ahead of the rest of Canada in understanding the practical, technical and economic value of futsal; we can learn and grow from your lead.
      Not sure if you caught the follow up to this article, if not, you can see it here:
      While we are doing many great things in soccer in recent years, it’s the things that we are not doing that may be hurting the game the most in this country. Sounds like you guys are on the right track. Props!


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