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O Jogo Bonito! Coaching England’s Next Star Citizens Through Futsal

From the favelas of Brazil to the towns and cities of Lancashire, Jake Wright finds out why coaching disability futsal is helping disabled children and young people find their ‘ginga’.

Martial artist and Hollywood star Bruce Lee once said, ‘You drop a pebble in a pond, you get ripples. Soon the ripples cross the whole pond’.

In the red-rose county of Lancashire, there is provision for disability sport and physical activity that attests to Lee’s philosophy; the ripples are people, people helping others to reach their full potential.

The Lancashire FA and Preston North End FC Disability Futsal Hub is part of the Football Association’s (FA) Disability Talent Identification Programme, which develops disabled children and young people who have the potential to play for England’s disability teams.

Players begin their journey to St George’s Park after a referral from their club or school to the North West-based hub, which focuses on visually impaired, deaf and cerebral palsy futsal – a variant of five-a-side football, which is played on an indoor court with boundaries (as opposed to walls or boards) and uses a smaller, harder, low-bounce ball.

The idea is that players develop superb passing accuracy and dribbling ability. Even Pele said futsal makes you a better player: ‘you think fast and play fast’.

The lion of Lancashire

Head coach at the hub is Stephen Daley, one of England’s most capped outfield players and longest-serving captain, having earned himself 134 caps across nine European Championships and seven World Cups. Originally from Belfast, Daley, who has a visual impairment, got involved with coaching at the hub four or five years ago after supporting younger, less experienced coaches as part of the FA’s Coach Mentor Programme. Eventually, the hub needed to recruit a permanent FA Level 3 UEFA B football coach and he stepped in.  

I was only going to do it for a year but three years later I’m still doing it. I’ve got a couple of younger coaches this year, so I’ve gone back to that mentoring role where I am trying to support them. In general, the hub develops participants against the FA’s four corner development model, which looks at a player’s technical, psychological, physical and social attributes."

And when there’s work to be done, the 42 year-old says the hub’s structure is totally conducive to player development. This is certainly evident when he explains that there’s support from no less than three coaches; a psychologist, who works with players on belief and self-confidence; and strength and conditioning training with student coaches from the University of Central Lancashire.

“We get the players to understand who they are,” said Daley, “why we’re here; what we’re trying to do; how we can support them; how we can push them to their full potential, and how we can give them feedback so if they’re not progressing at this stage, they can go back to their clubs and implement some of the advice we’ve given them. Then, when they come back [to the hub] they’re a better player.

“A lot of players come with very low confidence because maybe when they’ve tried to compete in mainstream clubs they’ve struggled; they haven’t fitted in or they’ve just not been challenged. It’s about how we as role models try and help them to rebuild that confidence and recognise their full potential.

“We get a lot of feedback from them and their parents around their self-belief. You hear very sad stories about how they’ve been told that they will never be good enough; how they’re never going to do anything in football or in sport. We try and flip that [negativity] on its head because we understand what talent within disability football/futsal looks like. We can actually reassure them that they’ve got a great opportunity to grow as people. 

“Everybody is an individual, so even though you might be coaching a group of players categorised by their disability it doesn’t matter because they’re all different and that’s the way it should be. You don’t just assume that because they’re coming in with a certain disability you’re going to know exactly what support they need. It takes a bit of time to build that trust and that relationship with a player so you get a real understanding of what support they need from you.”

The sensei and his apprentice

Someone who has been shaped and moulded by Daley’s and indeed the hub’s ethos is Assistant Coach James Galt. The 18 year-old, who is deaf, started playing the beautiful game when he moved to Lancashire aged seven, but his experience of mainstream football was problematic. The coaching he received was neither always clear, nor tailored to his needs.

Then in 2008, his mum Vicki set up a support/social group for deaf children and their families in the Lancaster and Morecambe area, putting on sport and physical activity sessions that would help earn her son a place at the hub. 

When I started, it was initially for deaf and visually impaired players and it was difficult as we were all learning futsal for the first time," said Galt.

“The deaf players couldn’t hear the partially sighted players and the partially sighted players couldn’t see the deaf players, but over the years it’s worked out and playing the game has been really good fun.”

At 17, Galt was too old to participate, but he noticed a skills gap in the coaching workforce and subsequently offered up his British Sign Language (BSL) expertise to help his former coaches communicate better with their deaf participants. From there, his coaching know-how grew from strength to strength, completing a BTEC Level 3 Diploma in Football Studies at Myerscough College, the FA’s Level 1 and Level 2 Awards in Coaching Futsal and the FA’s Coaching Disabled Footballers Course.

Recently, he has also netted himself a FA Level 2 Award in Coaching Football, making him a fully-fledged football and futsal coach ready to build on his reputation.

But Galt’s clear and obvious career trajectory wasn’t always so clear and obvious. Like all young people transitioning through life’s many phases, Galt needed some encouragement and direction from those who have gone before and he certainly couldn’t have asked for a better mentor than one of England’s finest.

“As a long-time partially sighted England futsal player and someone who has had a career in coaching he has been very supportive,” said Galt.

“When I left university due to a lack of help from the disability support agency, Stephen was able to give me some advice, which helped me to focus on getting other experiences and work towards each of my individual goals.”

“I remember sitting down with James’s mum,” said Daley “He didn’t know what he wanted to do – he was stressed – but we just sat down and worked out some tangible goals for him to achieve.”

Lancashire FA’s Disability and Inclusion Officer Andrew Whitaker, who oversees the running of the hub and is the main point of contact for the FA, also saw the potential in Galt.

Knowing him as a player, and knowing that he still wanted to be involved at the hub, we embraced the idea of bringing him back on board as a coach. As a BSL communicator he had the skills to communicate with deaf players within a futsal session. It was just a matter of upskilling him within futsal and football and supporting him with budget towards courses and qualifications."

The coaching trinity

Activity Alliance recently released findings from their report ‘Delivering activity to disabled people: The workforce perception gap’. Among its recommendations was the need for organisations, coaches and the sport and physical activity sector to treat inclusive sport as second nature; to make ‘inclusive activity the default and ensure positive representation of disabled people being active’

The hub is a truly interesting and arguably distinctive example of disabled and non-disabled coaches collectively and cohesively working together for the betterment of their participants; to hone not only future England stars but future citizens of this country.

Daley and Galt, with their respective impairments, also work with non-disabled Assistant Coach Samuel Yates, and this trinity of coaches demonstrates quite powerfully how society should be functioning at large, irrespective of the labels ‘disabled’ and ‘non-disabled’.

“James brings something that I don’t bring,” said Daley, “while Sam brings something that James doesn’t bring. And I bring something that they both don’t. You put all that together and you create something that is a little bit special and, actually, the more mainstream kids see that the more it’s accepted; it’s not standalone. Now the kids [at the hub] don’t even notice [our impairments] because it happens week-in week-out and that’s the best thing about it.”

Whitaker, who is a wheelchair user, takes a similar view and is pleased that at the heart of the hub are coaches who cater for a mix of participants. 

“I’m very honoured it’s part of my work professionally but from a personal perspective it’s being able to give those young people some really good role models and having coaches who have a really good understanding of their participants. It’s really helped massively in desensitising the fear factor for a lot of [disabled] players coming into a sport and physical activity environment.”

Building happier, healthier communities

UK Coaching’s own research has demonstrated the positive association between coaching and good mental and physical well-being; mutually benefiting both the coach and the participant. And just this year, Minister for Sport Mims Davies set out her priorities for ‘increasing access to sport and improving health and well-being’ in her speech at the launch of UK Sport’s future funding strategy, where she talked of the positive impact that sport and physical activity has on the nation’s health and well-being, as well as taking the pressure off our health and social care systems.

Coaching Week aims to be the kingpin at showcasing the aforementioned. Fundamentally, the campaign wants as many people as possible across the UK to know that coaches can play a huge role in building happier, healthier communities. And that’s certainly the case here.

To his knowledge, 36 year-old Whitaker believes that they are one of the only regional disability futsal hubs outside Birmingham still running this style of programme, and its value to the local Preston and wider Lancashire community is priceless – especially when it comes to the mixing and integration of disabled and non-disabled players, says Daley.

The sooner disabled and non-disabled children are around each other at an early age, the sooner disabilities begin to not stand out as much and communities become a lot stronger because there’s a level of respect."

“What we’ve done is turn the hub into an inclusive club. We do target children with disabilities who have got talent but we also invite children from mainstream settings, who might have low confidence or a bad experience in grassroots football. They can come here and are valued in what they’re trying to do.”

Colne-native Whitaker agrees. He says it’s about giving players a base level of fitness and getting them to just enjoy sport and physical activity with their peers.

“The biggest thing is coaching people to give them confidence and bring them out of their shells so that they can communicate with others. Only two years ago, we had a deaf goalkeeper and two visually impaired outfield players. Obviously, there was a communication barrier between them but those three boys sorted it out amongst themselves, creating a communication system that worked.

“That’s the really magical thing [about the hub] because it didn’t require a coach’s intervention; it needed them to feel empowered enough – through the coaching they’d received – to be able to solve their own problems. We’re creating people who can survive in society. Even the mums and dads create support networks for each other through social media platforms like WhatsApp. It’s the all-round package.

“What we’re here to do is make good people, not just football players. There may only be a few of them that ever go onto play for England, but actually the experience they have with us will make them more confident people, whatever direction their life takes them.”

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Related Resources

  • Understanding the Activity Inclusion Model

  • How to Coach Disabled People in Sport

  • Disability Awareness


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