When Jerry Sam started a three-year contract at Fiji Football two years ago to head up the Federation’s Futsal and Beach Soccer programmes, there wasn’t one. Futsal was popular but was largely a social sport played between friends.

The Solomon Islands Futsal guru had a vision, ‘create opportunity pathway for our natural talents in Fiji, so that they showcase their skill through futsal and football.’

Sam was one of nine-member Association development officers who presented at an inspirational four-day Futsal development workshop held in conjunction with the OFC Futsal Men’s Champions league in New Caledonia.

The brainchild of OFC Football Development Manager Paul Toohey and Futsal consultant Juliano Schmeling, the workshop covered areas such as social responsibility, safeguarding, strengthening domestic competitions, grass roots futsal and supporting the Member Associations (Mas) to establish women’s national teams ahead of the OFC Women’s Nations Cup in the Solomon Islands in August.

Participants included Sam (Fiji), Dickson Kadau (Solomon Islands), Tonga Esira (Papua New Guinea), David Chang (Tahiti) Libby Trevelyan (New Zealand) Manu Tualau (Tonga) Ben Hungai, (Vanuatu) Francois Josse (New Caledonia) Ina Tugaga (Samoa)

Since Sam started working for the Fiji FA in 2022, dedicated Futsal pitches have been built in Labasa, Ba and Suva and there has been an explosion of interest in the game in Fiji.

Before Sam started there was no women’s League. last year a national competition was established.

Where there was no youth Futsal Talent Development Program before, Sam now oversees groups of 15 players at U10, U12, U14, U16 level.

“Futsal is a program that I created in Suva, and I wanted to extend it to the other two centres, Labasa and Ba. We have a four-year plan that we want to see the progression of Futsal development in Fiji. Today I can see the seed that we plant. We have seen it’s coming up now. It’s growing.” Sam said.

“The number (of players) have increased, and I have created some of the tournaments where we can give opportunity within the vision that I have for Futsal.”

OFC Futsal Development Workshop, L’Arène du Sud, Noumea, New Caledonia, Thursday 25 April 2024. Photo: Shane Wenzlick / www.phototek.nz

While football and futsal are very different games, there’s consensus that skills learnt on a futsal pitch can benefit footballers.

“When you make a shift from futsal to football it will help technically, tactically, within the decision making and within the skill they develop through futsal. When you go to football, you have more time, and you have the confidence that you can excel in football.” Sam said.

“We can see within our elite programs we have merged futsal and football together. The kids train football and futsal so that it can help them through the pathway in their technical ability.” Sam added.

The Solomon Islander who now calls Fiji home is proud of his achievement in developing women’s futsal, particularly as this August, the inaugural OFC Women’s Futsal Nations Cup is being staged in the Solomon Islands.

“Last month we created a women’s secondary school futsal league so we can identify the elite players and now we have U-16 and U-18 Boys category and also a women’s open category.”

Fiji’s coach Jerry Sam. OFC Futsal Nations Cup 2023, Fiji v Tonga, Pulman Arena Auckland, Sunday 1 October 2023. Photo: Shane Wenzlick / www.phototek.nz

Fiji’s success at last October’s OFC Futsal Nations Cup where they made the top four, has helped with giving the program impetus.

“I really thank the (Fijian) FA for the competition that we have with a National Futsal League going on in three zones. It really helps me to identify the futsal players and then put them into a training camp.”

While Sam has entered the last year of a three-year contract, he is hoping to continue what he started.

“You can’t rip the fruit within a certain time. It’s a process that takes time. You can see from the age groups; we have a futsal elite program now.

We started from under 10 to under 16, and for me, I want to see from the next three years or four years that these kids can perform or play in a national team, and they can compete.” Sam said.