Options for Soccer in the Winter

The approach of winter in the midwest means that teams are making plans for what they will do once the colder weather arrives. Traditionally the options have been limited; teams played indoor (arena style) soccer and held their practices at the indoor facilities or in school gymnasiums.

In the last 5-10 years more options have become available. Now teams can play Futsal, Indoor Soccer, Small-Sided Touchline Soccer or continue to practice and play outdoor on artificial turf fields. There are positive and negative aspects to each option.

Futsal is the only form of indoor soccer that is recognized by FIFA. For those that are unfamiliar with it, the game is usually played on basketball sized court with goals that are the same dimensions as those used in team hanball (6 x 9). When the ball goes out of bounds, play is restarted with a kick-in from the side line or a goal throw by the goalkeeper (or corner kick) for balls that travel over the end line. Adults use a size four ball while younger players use a size three. The ball is also different from an outdoor ball in that it is designed to bounce less.

The game is known for quick passing and tight ball control so it’s a great tool for teaching technique. But it’s also an excellent format for coaching tactics because it is played with four field players and a goalkeeper. The 4v4 game is recognized as the best format for small-sided games because it provides all of the tactical elements of full sided game while providing the players with more touches and opportunities to make decisions.

The game of Indoor Soccer or Arena Soccer first appeared in the US in the in the late 70’s and combines aspects of soccer and hockey. The field is surrounded by boards up to eight feet high and the goals are set into the walls at each end of the field. The game is played with a regular soccer ball and includes five or six field players and a goalkeeper. Field sizes vary greatly and can be anywhere from 210×80 feet down to 155×60 feet. They generally use artificial turf for their playing surface.

This is a very fast form of soccer where the ball is almost always in play because of the high walls. Even when it leaves the field, it is quickly put back into play because there is usually a net that surrounds the area above the boards and extends to the ceiling. It is the speed of the game that most appeals to both the players and the spectators.

Small-Sided Touch Line Soccer combines aspects of Futsal and Arena Soccer. It’s played on a turf field that is usually smaller than an Arena field but uses lines rather than walls for the boundaries. The size of the teams varies generally it is played as five or six-a-side.

This is the indoor game that most resembles a mini version of the outdoor game and that is why it is the preference of many coaches and players.

Continuing to play outdoor throughout the winter is an option that is favored by more teams as they begin to play 11v11 because it allows them to continue their normal training routine.

Advocates of one style or another list the benefits of their choice while bemoaning the shortcomings of the others. Personally, I feel there is something to be gained from each of these games. In my opinion even older players benefit from playing a game other than the regular outdoor game for part of the year because it demands different things from them both technically and tactically. There is also something to be said for a change being as good as a rest.

This winter my teams will practice one week indoor on a Futsal court and outdoor on artificial turf the next week. We will play an eight games season of Futsal as well as an eight game season of Arena Soccer along with the occasional outdoor scrimmage with other teams from out club.

We will also take a couple of weeks off around the holidays to take a break from the game completely.

I feel that this will give us the best of all possible worlds.

As always, I’m interested in your opinion and what you will be doing with your teams this winter.


  1. benjamin says:

    Being in the mid-west (Ohio, actually), we are pretty much forced indoors during the winter months.

    I do enjoy this time of year. For a while our club was limited to the arena style game, but last year another facility opened which has given us the option of the small-side touch-line games.
    I prefer the small-sided games, to the arena, because it does give that “outdoor” appeal to the game.

    I definitely feel that it’s important for our players to play at least one session — if not two — of indoor soccer.
    You can really tell come spring time when we go back outdoor, who has, and who has not kept up with their training. And those are the players that move up to the top level teams.

    Our indoor session is pretty much used as a training platform to work on technique and increasing speed of our outdoor game. Not so much tactical. It’s is definitely good for endurance, because the speed of play is so much quicker. And helps to work on reaction time.

  2. Michael Humphrey says:

    About half our team plays futsal. The other half plays hockey, does gymnastics, or dance or skiing during the winter – so there is some cross-training for some of them.

    Glad to see it’s being played elsewhere in North America (I’m in Ottawa, Canada)
    It seems to be growing in it’s popularity – our local league has been growing in numbers of players from U6 to adult levels. We now have enough “senior youth” teams – U12 to U18, to form some “competitive” divisions. (our league goes by 2 year age bracket divisions so far – don’t have enough yet to do it solely by 1 year brackets). We really need the “competitive” divisions: the rec divisions have players new to the sport, or who only play rec soccer and have less skill, and often the teams are composed of players that have signed up as individuals. The “competitive” divisions have entered teams, often composed of players that play representative outdoor soccer as teammates. The difference in skill and intensity of play is very noticeable between the two groups. The teams play once weekly – about a 20 game season (winter is long up here), with a break at Christmas and for March break. Even though our team is in a “competitive” division, my aim is still development of each player, allowing them to play different positions (though in futsal, aside from the keeper, the players should move fluidly around the gym to wherever they are needed/see opportunity to take advantage of their opponents) including keeper, encourage good ball control, moving to space/support, and proper defending. Winning is not a priority – but you want to have your team play against teams of similar caliber.

    I love futsal for all the reasons mentioned: the speed of the game – promoting quick decision making, the small-sided aspect – promoting many touches on the ball and involving the whole team, the gym floor – requiring good ball control/first touch to keep the ball in play so it doesn’t roll out. After seeing it being played, playing it myself, and seeing what it has done for my players, I’m a full believer in futsal. I remember playing a small 7v7 scrimmage on an indoor turf field after playing most of my first season of futsal – and one of the first things I thought to myself was: Oh my gosh, I have time to THINK! I was so used to having a player jump down my throat in 1/2 a second, or dog me to death, the difference was that noticeable. Imagine what playing on a full field would be like for your players come the spring!

    Oh yeah – it’s generally cheaper than indoor soccer on turf in a dome – school gyms normally cost a lot less to rent.

    And futsal is safer and more realistic than any indoor “bounce off the boards” soccer. While it would be neat to literally do “a wall pass” to yourself, the weighting and ball control don’t have to be there much like they do in futsal. And if 2 players are heading into/fighting for the ball in a corner, there’s a greater possibility someone may hit those boards with their head/other body part.

    7v7 smaller-sided soccer would probably be my next choice for winter soccer, but the cost will be greater. The games are often shorter, and the players may not get the touches that futsal offers. And they play and practice enough on larger fields in the summer – go with futsal for the winter!

    Our futsal league offers some training sessions (3 or 4) each season. They also have gym time to rent to coaches/teams if they want additional time. We’ve set up 4 sessions for our team this season.