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"Beyond our expectations" . . . Football South development officer for Waitaki and South Canterbury Luis Paiva is thrilled with the interest in futsal. PHOTO: KAYLA HODGE

Futsal is hitting the back of the net for Waitaki’s youth.

The sport is gaining massive support in North Otago, with 62 junior teams, from Palmerston to Papakaio, entered in the inaugural Monday night competition.

In fact, there are so many teams the games have had to be split across three gyms – the Waitaki Community Recreation Centre, St Kevin’s College, and Waitaki Boys’ High School.

Football South’s Waitaki and South Canterbury development officer Luis Paiva said he never expected the sport to gain such popularity so quickly, but he was excited by the response.

“It was way beyond our expectations,” Paiva said.

“I still think it’s a good problem, I just think it’s important for us to provide a very good experience so the kids don’t just play this year, they keep playing further in the next years.”

Futsal is similar to football. It is a five-a-side fast-paced game, played on a smaller indoor court, using a smaller ball and the same skill and technique as football.

The competition, supported by New Zealand Football funding, had four mixed grades for players from year 1 to 8.

Paiva and other Football South staff visited Waitaki schools in Term 3 to host futsal sessions, and they were well received.

“The competition doesn’t really require coaches, we provide the referees as well, so it makes it even easier for the schools to engage.”

The futsal competition gave children the opportunity to play more sports, and was valuable for keeping football skills alive during summer.

“Obviously I can’t deny with football being quite a technical sport, if the kids play futsal that obviously brings incredible benefits from the technical point of view.”

Some secondary school pupils were in the process of completing referee courses, Paiva said.

Paiva was a passionate supporter of the Waitaki Event Centre project, to support the growth of the sport into the future.

“That would just be amazing for … indoor sports, and just make a huge impact not just the number of things we can offer but it also gives comfort for the community.”

The futsal competition gets under way on November 1.