Despite being a two-time world champion and footballing superpower, Argentina's hunger for the game in all its forms is still as keen as ever. This was amply demonstrated in FIFA's decision to host its beach soccer pilot course for coaches and referees in Buenos Aires in conjunction with the Argentine Football Association (AFA). The inaugural course, which ran from 14 to 20 November with the invaluable assistance of the AFA, was hailed as a resounding educational success by the organizers.

The two-strand course provided separate instruction for coaches and referees, who divided their time between practical and theoretical exercises. The mornings saw the 38 participants assemble in separate teaching areas to be taught the basic concepts of beach soccer by some of the best qualified instructors in the sport, namely Brazil national team coach Alexandre Soares, his compatriot and former referee Edmundo Lima and ex-FIFA referee Carlos Robles from Chile.

Jaime Yarza, head of Beach Soccer and Futsal development at FIFA, explained the programme's goals in more detail: "The course objectives were clear from the start. On the one hand, it sought to impart a basic and general knowledge of the discipline for use in the sport. By that we mean showing people how coaching and refereeing are done. Our second goal, which will happen as a consequence, is the growth of the sport. Having a FIFA course that has the active support of the Federation, as well as instructors of international standing, means that more will be said, written and known about it. Finally, there is the learning benefit for us. This is the first time we've done it and we want to evaluate the steps to follow in the future." Also present at the course inauguration were CONMEBOL General Secretary Eduardo Deluca, FIFA GOAL Project (South America) Development Officer Harold Mayne-Nicholls, FIFA Referees' Committee Member Jorge Romo and the vice-president of the Beach Soccer Subcommittee at the AFA, Damián Duplillet.

Latin America kicks off
Taking part in the referees course were 15 futsal match officials who, under the tutelage of Edmundo Lima and Carlos Robles, wasted no time in adding another string to their bows. "Having a futsal background complicates matters to a degree, as the participants are used to a whole different set of rules. However, their having prior (refereeing) knowledge and experience makes our task that much easier, especially with the practical side of things," explains Robles, who officiated at the inaugural FIFA Beach Soccer World Cup this year in Rio de Janeiro. 

The referees gathered in their classroom every morning to discuss the rules of beach soccer before testing their newly acquired knowledge in afternoon practice sessions on a pitch purpose built by the AFA at the national football team's training facility. Speaking about the course afterwards, Robles said: "The outcome has been more than positive. Now that we have had this first experience, my dream is that one or two of these students will go on to referee at a World Cup."

Agreeing with the Chilean former match official was Edmundo Lima, who has been refereeing the sport for over a decade. "The spirit of beach soccer is that of Fair Play, something we've been trying to impart to our students. The fact that they're already operating in the world of football is a big help. On the whole, it's been extremely positive," said the Brazilian, who directed the physical tests at the end of the final day.

The situation was comparable for the coaching students who shared the practical sessions with the referees. Many of the 23 participants also came from futsal, which meant that they were already familiar with most of the basic concepts. "The quality of the participants was very high," explained Alexandre Soares. "Having people from a football environment in courses like these greatly simplifies your task," he added.

Soares, currently national coach of Brazil's beach soccer team, developed a multi-faceted work programme aimed principally at introducing participants to the basics of beach soccer coaching. "All the students assimilated the information very well, given the fact that they had come from other backgrounds. The course will be of great value to them, as will the very interesting exchange of culture and information they experienced," said Soares, before applauding what he described as the course's "exemplary organisation". 

The ideal climate
The farewell at the end of the course spoke volumes about what it had meant to the participants. Smiling and joking, the students eagerly posed for parting photos and warmly applauded their instructors, something Jaime Yarza readily picked up on. "At these types of events, it's fundamental to have a good working atmosphere. We had that here in Buenos Aires. The students didn't just participate openly, they did so in a relaxed manner, which helped create a pleasant working environment," he said. 

It was sentiment shared by Edmundo Lima, who singled out the relationship forged between the students and instructors. "The work atmosphere could not have been better. We thought that we might encounter some resistance, but what we actually got were friendships. When the course finished we were like a family," remarked the Brazilian.

The last word went to Soares, who summed up the experience, saying: "Courses of this nature are crucial to the growth of the sport. Without a doubt, we have taken the first steps towards developing the discipline both here and across Latin America."