In the week where England flopped out of the 2014 World Cup with little more than a whimper, it took a typical piece of sarcastic English humour to ever so slightly cheer me up.  Nice bit of advertising for Mastercard too no doubt.

Anyway, so England flopped, the 2014 World Cup is a flop?  Well no, not really, not even as an Englishman do I believe that.  Through travelling I have come to ‘collect’ other nations as personal favourites, and always keep an eye out for their results – Australia, Croatia and Bosnia will all thank me for my support no doubt, as just like England they have failed to make it out of the group stages.  Clearly I’m a jinx.

However, even with my 4 faves already out, 1 team I like to follow still remains.  This could be seen as jumping on the bandwagon, or ‘glory hunting’ as it is often referred to in football, but Brazil are now the team I would most like to see do well in the tournament.  In all honesty I don’t think they will win it, but because of the way they play and the influence of Futsal within their national game, they’re now my team, and I owe it all to Volunteering.

Futsal? What?

Hold up, what on earth is Futsal?  And what does it have to do with Brazil or the 2014 World Cup?

Well, true story, Futsal is actually the most played sport in Brazil, more so than Football.  Yup, it’s that popular.  It is a hybrid version of football, played on smaller hard-court pitches, indoors, with smaller goals, a weighted ball and with only 5 players a side.  The idea behind Futsal is creativeness, working the ball in tight spaces and improving technique.  It’s a lot of fun!

Despite being Brazil’s most played sport, Futsal actually originated in Uraguay, in 1930. It was a teacher from Montevideo named  Juan Carlos Ceriani Gravier who created the game.  Essentially taking football, downsizing it and then adding a few other rules from other mainstream sports such as Basketball and Water Polo.  That the game was played on an indoor court rather than outside allowed it to be played whatever the weather, and due to the small court and fast paced nature of the games, Futsal was seen as a great way to keep fit.  It was for these reasons that Brazilian João Lotufo decided to introduce the game to his homeland in 1935.  Brazil, nor Futsal has looked back since.

Futsal at the 2014 Brazilian World Cup

It’s the opening game of the 2014 World Cup.  Hosts Brazil are leading Croatia 2-1 thanks to a rather soft 2nd half penalty.  Croatia are looking good, and more than deserving of an equaliser and a share of the points.  As the clock ticks down towards the last few minutes of the game Brazil break, their young attacking midefilder Oscar (who plys his trade with Chelsea in the English Premier League) attacks two of the Croatian defends at pace before ‘unleashing’ a rather unauthodox toe poke – yes you read that correctly, toe poke – towards the Croatian goal.  A second later the ball hits the back of the net and Brazil take an unsailable 2 goal lead.  The Brazilian fans go nuts as you’d expect, and the competition is well and truely underway, with the hosts picking up maximum points in the their first game.

Afterwards, the scorer of the 3rd Brazilian goal, Oscar, had this to say about his strike and his growing up playing futsal …

“I can’t explain it. I just shot and scored. It was like something you might do in futsal. A lot of the squad started out playing futsal. When you get the chance you shoot, but I was just lucky that the ball went in.”

“I played futsal  right up until I turned professional at 16. I think Brazilian football has reached the level it has because of futsal. The pitches are smaller. The goals are smaller. You have to be faster in everything you do; particularly, you have to make quick decisions

How do you know all this about Futsal?

How do I know?  Through volunteering.

Almost 10 years ago now (wow, that went quickly), I set out of my first overseas travelling adventure.  I had done family holidays and the odd weeks surfing with a few mates, but now I was out of my own … sort of.  Truth be told I was off to spend 5 weeks along with 29 other volunteers, coaching sports and teaching English in South Africa.  Port Elizabeth to be exact.

I’ll admit, it was almost a little 18-30’s ish.  We worked hard and played just as hard.  Quite a few nights were treated as if they were Friday night, but never Wednesdays.  Wednesdays were different for quite a few of us.  Serious.  Wednesdays were game night.

Upon arriving in Port Elizabeth,  our volunteer liaison was quick to ask those who had selected Football as their chosen sport to coach throughout the 5 weeks, if they fancied playing in a ‘sort of’ football tournament on Wednesday nights.  Having never heard of Futsal let alone having the chance to play it, we were none the wiser why Nick called it a ‘sort of’ football tournament, but we soon found out.

Two games each Wednesday night had us covered in sweat.  The pace was fast, the indoor arena hot and the crowds (other teams) boisterous.  The first weeks game I think we applied ourselves pretty well, winning 1 game and drawing the other, accumulating  4 points from a possible 6.  In later weeks were we taught a few lessons though, and as I was the goalkeeper those lessons usually ended up with me picking the ball up out of the back of my net.

I would usually say that losing is never fun, but it kind of was in this instance, even when one night I came home with a black eye due to taking a shot to the face – the ball is weighted remember.  Another night I thought my chances of ever had kids had been taken away from me as I took a ball to my balls, luckily 10 years on everything still seems in working order.

But even with black eyes and delicate genitals I found it all an incredibly positive experience.  I was meeting new people, learning a new sport and in turn learning a few new skills, even as a goalkeeper.  It was so much more than I ever expected when I sat at my parents computer one night and decided become a volunteer in a foreign country.

Returning to the volunteer house after that first Wednesday of playing Futsal, those of us in the team waxed lyrical to the rugby and hockey players among the volunteer group.  We told them of this exciting new sport we’d discovered, and in no time at all a few of the rugby lads were also playing.  A few of them were half decent too … but not quite as good as this guy below.  Whilst Neymar is THE MAN in Brazil when it comes to football, Falcao is THE MAN Futsal wise.  Seriously, press play and check out his ridiculous skills!  Some of the things he can do with a ball beggars belief.

Local knowledge and contacts gained through Volunteering

It was an added bonus that the people we met due to Wednesday night Futsal were locals, not volunteers like ourselves.  A few of us obviously impressed in the Futsal arena, because by the following week we were also training with their football team, and our passports were being sent off to the local football association in an effort to get clearance for us to play in a few league games.  Don’t get me wrong, this wasn’t a pro team, it was all amateur, but we were all excited about potentially playing for a team in another country, it would have been one for the sporting CV for sure.  Alas in  the end our applications were rejected on account of only being able to play a limited number of games rather than a whole season.  But still we trained with that team every Thursday night throughout the 5 weeks of our volunteering period.  It was a great experience.

A similar thing happened in Sri Lanka a year later, again I was coaching football and teaching English.  After a few days of coaching alongside my school regular sports master, he invited me to come and play football with him and his friends after school.  It was brilliant, hot but brilliant.  We played in a local park until the sun had set.  I was eaten alive my mosquitos, but met a lot of new people and made new friends in the process.  We may have spoken two entirely different languages, but (cheese alert) when out on the field we all spoke the same language – football.

Love Volunteering

And this is why I think volunteering is awesome. Essentially the whole idea is that you choose to offer your skills and time so that others can benefit from them, but I still think you get back even more than what you give.

I also think its the perfect first step into travelling.  Like myself, I bet there are more than a few people who are uncomrtable about stepping out into the world entirely alone.  Whilst they want to go travelling, they want someone alongside them to help and share in their experience.  By volunteering in South Africa, I got to experience an entirely new place, meet a ton of new people, learn heaps about coaching, teaching, sport and myself, AND I got to do it all whilst having a solid base (volunteer house) and a solid support network (fellow volunteers and Nick our liaison).  It worked a treat, and once the 5 week volunteer program was finished I set off backpacking down South Africa’s Garden Route, changing my flight home in order to be able to do so.  Volunteering set me up just right, and even though I may not have been the loudest or my outgoing in our volunteer group, the confidence the experience gave me set me up for years of backpacking thereafter.  Effectively its what set me on the path to creating this website.  Funny old game eh!?

So volunteering, do it!  Do it to help people, do it to boost you CV, do it to learn new skills, do it to learn about yourself, do it for the adventure. Do it to make new friends in new places and experience what makes them happy.  Maybe it’ll make you happy too.