SINGAPORE - More youngsters will be getting a taste of competitive futsal this year, with the launch of the second edition of the Inter-School Futsal Challenge (ISFC).
For the first time, girls will get to play in the biggest local school futsal tournament organised for the Under-10 and U-14 age groups.
The U-10 event will be from July 15 to Aug 5, with 41 boys' and six girls' teams. The U-14s competition, which has 50 boys' teams, is scheduled for Aug 14 to Sept 2.
Last year, the U-10 tournament featured only 44 teams while 40 teams played in the U-14 event.
Varatha Rajan Subramaniam, general manager for youth development at the Football Association of Singapore, which organises the tournament, explained that the FAS decided to include a girls' competition to ride on growing interest in women's football.
He said: "The interest in girls' football is steadily growing in Singapore just as it is the fastest-growing sport globally."
Uefa released a report which showed that the number of registered female footballers in Europe more than doubled in four years, from 1,680 in 2013 to 3,572 in 2017.
A Fifa Women's Football Member Associations survey this year found that 73 per cent of member associations have an active senior women's national team, up from 55 per cent in 2015.
Another boost for the kids is that they will also play more games this year following the introduction of a Plate and Bowl system. Previously, eliminated teams went home. Now, they will get to play others who also suffered early-round knockouts.
"Each team is guaranteed to play at least seven games compared to three last year," added Rajan.
The tournament will be held in schools across the country.
To raise the players' skill levels further, the FAS conducted a workshop for participating schools in the U-10s, a first for the scheme.
Teachers from 25 schools familiarised themselves with training drills in a session led by Farhan Farook, a forward who played in Singapore's professional league.
The Asian Football Confederation (AFC) Level 2 coach said: "The key idea... is to develop better players in drills as we emphasise the technical aspects of the game, as well as to help teachers understand the game and rules better.
"Hopefully, it grows to be a good foundation for young players as they get more creative and more active in this small-sided game."
The FAS hopes that the success of the tournament will pave the way for futsal, an indoor game played on a 25m by 16m court, to be recognised as an official co-curricular activity (CCA) in schools.
Rajan said: "We see futsal as the solution to the scarcity of football fields and challenges of the weather in our tropical country.
"We are exploring continued development at a young age, where boys and girls play small-sided football .
"With futsal skills being transferable to field football, it will also help to build up a pool of talent that could transit to the bigger pitch like South American countries, which have produced many known talents through similar forms of development."