With UEFA Futsal EURO 2014 looming on the horizon, over 30 of Europe's futsal referees have been training at their latest UEFA course in the Belgian city of Ghent.
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Europe's top futsal referees have been in the Belgian city of Ghent to prepare for upcoming assignments and receive invaluable expert advice on taking charge of games in future competitions.
The 7th UEFA Course for European International Futsal Referees saw UEFA Referees Committee members and fitness instructors providing the match officials with high-level guidance in both discussions and fitness sessions. The course served as a selection process for UEFA Futsal EURO 2014 in Antwerp, Belgium, in January and February. Thirty-one UEFA referees travelled to Ghent along with two referees from the Asian Football Confederation (AFC) as part of an exchange programme.
"UEFA is giving increasing support to futsal," said Referees Committee member Kyros Vassaras. "It is a sport which is getting very popular in Europe, and we need top referees."
The course in Ghent featured training sessions and highlighted the different qualities required by a futsal referee compared with refereeing the 11-a-side game. Vassaras explained that in futsal, it is necessary to be very fast to foresee what players are going to do. "The intention of a futsal player is to play very quickly, in order to get into a better position to score," he said, "and that means the referee has to be very alert and judge from a short distance, because the field of play is small. In futsal we have two referees and they can share responsibilities to take the best possible decision."
UEFA's referee fitness expert Werner Helsen, a sports scientist responsible for physical preparation and evaluation, was on hand to lead the referees' training. "We are here to present up-to-date facts and figures regarding the physical demands of refereeing in futsal," he said, before stressing the increasing demands that futsal referees face. "We saw that in 2011, the number of sprints almost doubled – meaning games have become much more demanding."
Helsen explained specific elements of the course in Ghent. "We do a weighing session, and we also measure body fat percentage. We want to show specific exercises to improve speed and agility, because these are very important. We also show the referees typical exercises for visual concentration.
"There is a big difference between futsal referee training and 11-a-side referee training," Helsen added, "but there is almost no difference with assistant referees. A futsal referee changes his activity every two seconds, standing to walking, walking to jogging, to sprinting, while an [11-a-side] football referee is only changing activity every four seconds. The [11-a-side] referee covers more distance on the pitch – a futsal referee covers the same distance as an assistant referee in 11-a-side football. This means the way that futsal referees have to practise is similar to [11-a-side] assistant referees."
Helsen's work also involves helping to prevent the most common injuries which can strike futsal referees. "Futsal referees suffer two types of injuries – to the hamstrings and Achilles tendon. We are showing the referees exercises to strengthen hamstrings, while a specific exercise known as eccentric muscle training is useful for the Achilles, because futsal referees usually officiate on hard surfaces and there is the problem of impact on the ground."
UEFA Futsal EURO 2014 will take place from 28 January to 8 February with 11 qualifiers joining the hosts. It will be the first futsal final tournament held in Belgium.