THREE floors below ground where the air would have been twice as thick if not for three man-sized exhaust fans working round the clock, 10 pairs of small feet scurry about on a rubberized court.

On the sidelines looms the coach, a middle-aged man, arms crossed, skin baked for years under the soccer sun, barking instructions to either side.

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Pass the ball. Stop dribbling. Find an opening. Nice shot. Play on.

The indoor game swings back and forth. There’s no time to catch one’s breath. The boys sprint back to defense, as the girls try to catch them off guard.

He is pleased at how his girls—aged eight to 10—are faring against the boys in the basketball court.

Only this wasn’t basketball but futsal. No hands, just feet, except for the goalkeepers. In place of rims and boards are small goals.

The five minutes are up, and the coach gestures for another set of teams—the older girls—to take center court.

The first strike is made and the ball hits the skeletal bar, which lets out a dull peal. Moments later, a goal is scored, then another, and another, all just minutes apart.

The parents on the bleachers are behaved spectators. Four other teams of five await their turn.

In all, some 30 young footballers of the Subangdaku Football Club (SFC) practice in Basement 3 of the Cebu City Sports Club every Wednesday after school.

The club regularly practices Saturday mornings in Lahug at a regular sized football field, but the coaching staff saw the need to add at least one more day of practice weekly.

SFC coach Elying Toledo found the perfect training in futsal, explaining that the sport—a smaller variant of the football played outdoors—is effective at significantly improving the speed, coordination and skills of football players.

“The club’s futsal training primarily focuses on individual player techniques,” Toledo tells parents.

The half-an-hour drills and an hour of five-minute games fly fast, but the SFC kids look forward to next week’s futsal practice.

Futsal, though, isn’t just child’s play.

Footnote’s resident orthopedic doctor Xavier Dael observes that most non-football fans complain that 11-a-side football takes “too long,” so futsal, a fast-paced, high-scoring, offense-oriented sport, might appeal to them.

“Futsal is football for the non-footballer,” quips Xavi of the sport that incorporates many tricks and keeps fans close to the action.

Defensive specialist Tito Vildosola, who feels a different kind of “rush” when playing futsal, cites a few other differences between regular football and futsal.

“Futsal is a lot safer to play because of the “no tackle” rule. It’s also less messy, without the mud, since it’s played indoors,” says Tito.

Due to the shorter games, several teams can play in a single hour, so more people have fun, he adds.

Xavi, a midfielder, points out that futsal has been the breeding ground for many stars, such as Ronaldinho and Robinho, so it’s a great way to start playing football.

Tito and Xavi are among those who head to the sports club every Tuesday evenings alongside striker Edward Arda, who a few months back took pains to gather fellow footballers and introduce them to futsal.

Seeing the heightened interest in the sport, Edward organized the Cebu Atletico Club de Futsal tournament, which kicks off next Tuesday. The “casual” tourney is initially only by invitation, a smart, practical step with an eye toward bigger tournaments.

Footballers who don’t get the invite need not fret. There’s surely a basketball court nearby ripe for a futsal invasion.

(nsvillaflor@gmail.com)