The Community Futsal Project – Arcata: mysteries revealed!

Coming soon, a place to play soccer outdoors, year ’round, rain or shine.

Coming soon, a place for community members to gather and play alongside one another and have fun whenever they want.

Coming soon, a safe place for children to gather after school and play the most popular game on the planet.

Coming soon, a place to play soccer for free – no cost, no need to sign up, or make reservations. 

If you have seen the recent construction on the west side of the Arcata Sports Complex, you may be wondering what is taking place there. It is all of the above. The Community Futsal Project – Arcata will be an outdoor, all weather, public futsal court dedicated to drop in play.

Don’t be fooled by the word “futsal” in the title. Futsal is soccer. It is a scaled down form of the game played on a hard court surface developed by a teacher in Uruguay in the early 20th century. He wanted to devise a way for smaller numbers of people to play the game of soccer, and on readily available infrastructures like a basketball court. It is now one of the most popular games in the world and for good reason. Entry level skill requirements are low. If you can run and kick a ball, you’re in. And, like basketball, large numbers of players are not required. It is said that most children in Brazil play the game at some point in their lives and the number of kids and adults playing the game in the U.S. is safely in the millions and growing. Popular indoor futsal leagues in Humboldt County through organizations like Inside Sports and McKinleyville Parks and Recreation are local evidence of this growing trend. And public outdoor futsal courts are popping up all over the country.

The game of futsal is a creative crucible. The smaller space and fast paced nature of the game forces creativity and improvisation. If one continues to play the game, over time, there is no ceiling to the skill one can develop. And finally, and most importantly, it is a super fun small sided game that fits the neighborhood pick up model like a glove. It is game that brings communities together.

Back in 1989, as a new transplant to Humboldt County from wet climes up north in Washington State, I was a bit shocked and saddened to be told that when it rained here there would be no soccer. Not only would fields close, but they would stay closed for days after. If you are a player in an adult league, or the parent of a child involved in youth soccer, you know what I am talking about. For those who play the game, from the eager toddling 4-year-olds in youth programs to the aging weekend warriors who can’t let go of the game despite those shaky knees, the desire to play soccer is to be in love with a thing that is celebratory in its joy of movement, creativity, beauty of skill – to get lost in the flow, the sweat flying off your body, your heart and lungs pumping and you’re getting fit without even knowing it. 

Like many others around here I had a soccer problem – I had to play all the time. It drove me crazy that mere drops of harmless water were all it took to keep me from playing, and I wasn’t the only one who felt that way by a long shot. That’s where it all started. But this is much bigger than having an all weather soccer space. 

The dream that has been talked about, the torch that has passed down over the years, has been let’s make a place to go play soccer when it rains, when the other fields are closed; to be able to play when we want to play, not when we are told we are scheduled to play; but all those plans, and there have been a few, have fallen short. Not only that, the completion of most of those plans and the demands placed on such a facility would have involved the necessity to charge folks to use or rent those fields. Organized sports have a valued place in our society, but so does the free drop in model. And because this project was completely funded with generous private donations, no onus was placed on the City of Arcata to charge for usage and they enthusiastically agreed to support the court’s sole dedication to drop-in play. 

Futsal’s small sided and flowing structure make it a game ideal for drop in. Remember pick up sports? Playing sandlot baseball, or driveway basketball, or backyard soccer or football? Playing with just your friends, no adults around, or referees, so you were all solving your own problems?  What is the value of  being able to experience joy through play and exercise with people from all walks of life? What is the value of being able to play, whenever folks want to, not on some set timetable? How do we as kids, and adults for that matter, get to practice organizing, cooperating and problem solving with one another in a positive environment? Drop in, or pick up sports, may be one of the best ways and providing supportive public spaces where folks can play is essential. To get better at something, including getting along with one another, we have to have a way to practice. The Community Futsal Project – Arcata will be one of those places. 

To follow the project, please like our Facebook page: 

Paul Swenson is a former president of the Humboldt Soccer League; former coach, board member and director of coaching for the Mad River Youth Soccer League, and once upon a time avid player.



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