Tactical Periodization: the secret for every coach
In previous blogs, we have discussed different periodization models. The model of Verheijen was one of the discussed models. Even though this periodization model is easy to understand and to implement, there are also some downsides. One of these downsides is that there is a focus on only one physical aspect at a time (for two consecutive weeks). Since the total cycle consists of 3 blocks, this means that each physical aspect is only targeted once every six weeks. But since a peak performance at the match requires a combination of different physical aspects, one might question whether focusing on only one physical aspect during the week is the most optimal preparation method. Hence, in this blog, we will discuss a periodization model that overcomes this disadvantage of Verheijen’s model: Tactical periodization.
What is tactical periodization?
Tactical periodization is a periodization method which has been developed by Vitor Frade, and has been implemented by managers such as Jose Mourinho and André Villas-Boas. Tactical periodization questions the view that four different aspects (technical, tactical, physical, and psychological) of the game are equally important and that they should be trained separately(Figure 1).
Figure 1: viewing 4 different aspect of equally important
Rather tactical periodization views the game as natural chaos where two teams try to influence the outcome of the game due to certain pre-determined behaviors during different situations (i.e. tactics of the team). Because tactics play such an important role in the match, this model prioritizes the training of tactical principles, over the other aspects. But, this model also highlights that to optimally prepare the players for a game, exercises should resemble the demands of the game. Thus even though tactics play the most important role in designing an exercise, exercises should also trigger technical, physical and psychological aspects simultaneously (figure 2).
Figure 2: The 4 different aspects according to Tactical periodization
Workload distribution with tactical periodization
Even though we can discuss multiple aspects of Tactical periodization, in this blog we will mostly focus on the distribution of workload over the week. For which we will discuss the preferred type of load for each day of the week. In this model, the days of the weeks are expressed relative to the matches (e.g. MD+1, MD-4, etc.). In the example below, we discuss a normal week with a match on Saturday and the next match on Saturday as well.
Match Day +1 & +2: Physical and mental recovery
Just like other periodization models, tactical periodization highlights the importance of recovery after the match. But tactical periodization does not only value the physical recovery after a match. This approach states that players need to be able to decompress, clear their thoughts, and mentally prepare for a new training week. Hence, on the first day after a match, no training session is planned, and the players should enjoy a day off. The second day after the match, an active recovery day is planned. During this session, the players perform light work (both physically and mentally) since players are still recovering from the last match and they should be ready for the next physical session during the week.
Match Day -4: focus on the next match
On the third day after the match (or MD-4), there is a shift in focus towards preparing the players for the new match. On this day there is an increased focus on the physical aspect of strength. This means that exercises are of short duration with relatively long rest periods, they are played on small field dimensions and focus on tactical aspects in smaller groups: individual level, group level (players which play close to each other; fullbacks and wingers) or on sectorial level (e.g. midfielders). The tactical aspects that a coach wants to focus on, should be related to the playing idea of the coach and should not yet focus on the next opponent.
Match Day -3 & Match Day -2: high demands
On MD-3, the complexity (chaos) of the exercises is highest and the most important physical component is endurance. This means that exercises are of longer duration with large spaces, and many players (e.g. 10v10). On this day, the coach can also introduce a tactical plan for the next opponent. On MD-2, the physical focus is on speed. This means that exercises are not only focused on physical speed but also on mental quickness. Therefore, exercises should have reduced spaces, to make sure players have limited time to think before they make a decision. However, since there is only 48h to the next match, it is important to not overload the players. Therefore, the duration of exercises is short and there should be sufficient recovery periods. When wanting to implement sprints on this day, they should be a straight line and not with changes of direction.
Match Day -1: details for the match
The last day before a match focuses on the last details for the next match and makes sure the players are fully recovered (physically and emotionally). A coach will focus on a specific game situation (e.g. set pieces), but the duration of the intervals needs to be short with a long recovery period. The size of the field is reduced, to make sure that the players need to react fast and don’t have to cover too much distance (which increases fatigue levels). An overview of the whole week can be seen in Table 1.
Table 1: Overview of a weekly schedule according to Tactical periodization
Interval of exercise
Number of players
What becomes clear from this week’s schedule, is the interaction between the technical, physical, psychological and tactical aspects. This approach highlights that these aspects should not be practiced separately. Rather, exercise should incorporate multiple aspects to come as close to the demands of the game as possible. And thus to train as specific as possible. Furthermore, this approach does also prioritizes the connection between the physical and mental state of the players. When a recovery day is planned, this is not only for physical reasons, but mental aspects are equally important.
Matches are chaotic in nature, and teams try to influence the outcome of the game with a tactical plan. Since tactics play such an important role in the outcome of the game, Tactical periodization prioritizes tactical aspect over the other aspect of the game (technical, physical, and psychological). This means that exercises are chosen which are in accordance with the tactical plan of the coach, but that they should also contain the other aspects (technical, physical and psychological) to train as match-specific as possible. When analyzing the distribution of load over the week, we see a wave-like pattern for mental and physical aspects, with the highest workload planned in the middle of the week. This is in accordance with other models we have discussed previously.
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