Futsal, the fast-paced and skillful variant of indoor soccer, has been gaining popularity in university campuses across the UK.

With over 200 university futsal teams competing in leagues and tournaments every year, there are opportunities for players of all levels to get involved in the growing sport alongside their university studies. Some UK universities have established partnerships with local futsal clubs too, allowing players to experience high-level futsal and compete in national and international tournaments.

One particularly successful partnership is that of Bloomsbury Football and the University of Hertfordshire (UH). John Tapia Owens, a prominent figure in UK university futsal is involved with coaching teams from both Bloomsbury and UH.

We spoke with John to find out about his own futsal journey, the development of the sport at the university level, and the professional opportunities that a successful university playing career can open up in the world of futsal.

Who is John Tapia Owens?

University of Hertfordshire Women’s Football and Futsal Head Coach

Bloomsbury Football Head Coach since 2018

Worked with the Northern Ireland Men’s National Team

Currently working towards UEFA Goalkeeping A License, UEFA A License in Football, and a Master’s Degree in Advanced Football Coaching.

John’s futsal journey so far

John’s unique background, being half English and Spanish, allowed him to experience futsal from an early age while living in Spain. When he returned to the UK to attend Cardiff University in 2011, John joined the university’s futsal program and also played for Cardiff City in the National Futsal League.

His passion for the game extended to coaching, and he took on coaching roles for the Men’s Futsal 2nd Team and Women’s Football Team during his time at Cardiff. After graduating, John moved to London at the end of 2017 where he started his futsal journey with ProFutsal London, now known as Bloomsbury Football.

The partnership between ProFutsal London (Bloomsbury) and the University of Hertfordshire initially started in 2020. After a restructure of the leagues in the National Futsal Series a year later, ProFutsal London were granted top-flight status and subsequently merged with Bloomsbury Football.

I’ve been fortunate to work with the University of Hertfordshire since the beginning and proud of to have seen our partnership evolve. The different roles have been fulfilling and enabling me to gain experience on multiple fronts, whilst also giving me opportunities elsewhere and a great network to learn from.

The UK university futsal experience

At the University of Hertfordshire, John and his team have been working tirelessly to create a program that accommodates both the academic and sporting ambitions of their students.

We offer all of our players all the infrastructure and tools to be the best versions of themselves that they can be. The University has invested hugely into the sport and any student-athlete on the programme can benefit from a number of resources such as access to analysis tools, free gym membership, and physio support.

A typical week for a Futsal player at Hertfordshire could involve two training sessions for the university team, a Strength and Conditioning session, two further training sessions with a local club side, and finally games that are scheduled around BUCS and National Futsal Series fixtures.

To ensure the holistic development of its athletes, UH collaborates closely with students to manage their training load and encourages them to play for local clubs alongside university futsal. This approach allows the students to gain diverse experiences and benefit from different environments.

We have tried to create a programme that can work both alongside student’s studies and playing Club Futsal, aligning training times and slots to different days so players can best manage their load. This can give them the best possible opportunity to grow on and off the court.

Additional playing opportunities for UK University Futsal players

John emphasizes the importance of encouraging players to participate in both university and club futsal. Many current UH futsal players play for prominent clubs in the National Futsal Series, such as Bloomsbury, London Helvecia, and Estudiantes.

Every year, players will also use the opportunity to play football alongside futsal to help improve their all-around game.

I’m fortunate to lead the Women’s Football and Futsal programme at Hertfordshire, so we’re able to manage both load and development of the players in both teams. We encourage all players to be part of the ‘dual’ pathway to develop as much as possible during their time with us.

Working closely with the Men’s Football coach, I will always attend the Football trials during recruitment to see if there are players that could be suited to both.

Currently, there are 4 players in Hertfordshire’s Men’s Futsal first team that also play for the Men’s Football team, a testament to John and his staff helping each player achieve their individual goals on their futsal journeys.

With Football being predominantly played on Wednesdays and Futsal games on the weekend, players are able to enjoy both sports and the programmes can benefit hugely from each other.

John’s incredible 2022-23 season!

John celebrated five titles with teams from both the University of Hertfordshire and Bloomsbury during the 2022-23 season.

As well as delivering UH its first-ever National Futsal title by winning the men’s BUCS National Championship final, the team also went undefeated in the league (10-0) to be crowned BUCS Premier Division South champions.

Bloomsbury meanwhile completed a historic treble, capturing the Regular Season title, the National Futsal Series Cup, and the Play-Off title which earned the side qualification for the UEFA Futsal Champions League. The Bloomsbury Women’s team were also able to complete their domestic double with alumni Ryan Walsh and Liam Francis at the helm.

A pathway to the professional game

For those with ambitions of pursuing a professional futsal career, John points out the potential for players to play abroad, especially within Europe, with postgraduate student visas offering seamless opportunities. The success story of Jack Walsh, who played professionally in Spain after an impressive playing career at the University of Hertfordshire, demonstrates the possibilities that await dedicated and skilled players.

There are professional leagues and opportunities all over Europe now with more leagues turning professional and offering athletes a good living wage alongside accomodation and a professional environment.

Jack, a graduate and former futsal player at UH, was recently able to play professionally in Spain for a season with 2nd Division side, Peniscola FS.

Jack is proof that with the right dedication and effort within the university infrastructure, players are able to move abroad at the age of 21 after finishing University to really push for a professional career in Futsal.

If you want to play futsal alongside your UK degree, we can help!

Working directly with the University of Hertfordshire and many of the other leading university futsal teams across the UK, we can provide you with a wide range of opportunities to suit your individual academic and sporting ambitions.

Whether you aspire to improve your skills, compete at the highest level, or simply be a part of a passionate futsal community, we can assist you in finding the ideal university environment that aligns with your goals and set you on a path to success in futsal and beyond.

As the sport becomes more popular and universities continue to invest in their futsal programs, the future looks bright for UK university futsal. Dedicated coaches like John are dedicated as ever to helping students embrace the sport and offer exciting opportunities to talented players seeking to compete alongside their university studies.

Learn more about Futsal at the UK university level or register your details for our free service via the links below to see how we can help you take your sport and education overseas.

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