Stellenbosch Football Club

From the training ground to match day – the application of tactical periodization

Our journey in the high-performance blog started with tactical periodization (TP), where we came to understand the importance of concepts such as specificity, and complexity within our training regimes. We learnt about how important it is to understand the physical demands imposed by training and how our understanding of the physical can influence and assist the technical and tactical.

In our second post, we lunged our way into the gymnasium, our focus was on how we can best describe the physical qualities of our footballers. The data collected plays a major role in being objective when applying our individual player development programs and ensuring that we can accurately track progress and athlete coping processes.

Continuing with our theme of data, in our third post we took a deep dive into the world of data science. We looked at how we can keep our head afloat in an industry that is producing more and more data each day. Learning why being able to the see the “big picture”, while not getting lost in day to day process, is important.

We finished our trip around the high-performance universe with our fourth post, delving into the importance of subjective data. Factors such as athlete well-being and sleep quality provide insight into how our athletes are responding to training stressors, and more importantly life stressors.

As we enter our second round of blog posts, we will look to dive deeper into some of the detail that was mentioned in our first round. Our focus in round one was to introduce the important of data in the world of high-performance sport, while we will now shift our focus to how we use data in the field of return to play / performance.

From the training ground to match day

Our blog today will look to provide insight into the day to day workings of our tactical periodization model, and how we use our principles to prepare our footballers for the rigors of playing in the Premier Soccer League (PSL).

Start with the end in mind

Reverse engineering is known as the process or method through the application of which one attempts to understand through deductive reasoning how a device, process, system, or piece of software accomplishes a task with very little (if any) insight into exactly how it does so.,exactly%20how%20it%20does%20so%20,%20January%202022

This is exactly the same process we follow as sport scientists when integrating into our sporting code. Once we have clearly identified our key performance indicators (KPI), we can use the process of reverse engineering to plan our preparation strategies.

What are the physical demands of football?

The physical demands imposed on footballers during a competitive match are affected by multiple different factors. These can range from; playing position, playing formation, team tactics, game situation, the individuals’ technical qualities, ball possession, intrinsic motivation, the quality of the opponent, and the individual physical capacity(Bangsbo, 2014).

Albeit that footballers can cover between 10-13km in a match, the vast majority of this distance is completed either walking or running at lower intensities. These periods of low intensity running are broken up by phases of play that are extremely demanding both from a high speed running and action (acceleration / deceleration) perspective.(Ravé et al., 2020) From this statement we can deduce that footballers require a well-developed aerobic base, however are required to be able to sprint, complete high-intensity actions, repeat these high-intensity actions and most importantly recovery efficiently from these high-intensity periods.

How does this relate to our tactical periodization model? – a sport scientists’ viewpoint.

One of the key aspects around which tactical periodization is centred is that of specificity.

Specificity entails that training should be as specific as possible in order to enhance team and player performance during competitive matches. There should be a permanent relationship between all the dimensions of the game and the training practices/drills are specifically representative of the desired game model (style of play)(Bordonau & Villanueva, 2018).This specificity is broken down into, technical specificity, tactical specificity, psychological specificity and for the purpose of this blog most importantly physiological specificity.

Due to extremely long footballing seasons, very brief off-seasons and pre-seasons, it is unwise to propose a traditional block periodization approach to football. Concepts like tactical periodization promote the development of physical traits horizontally (within a week) as appose to vertically (between weeks/phases)(Robertson & Joyce, 2014). This means that all physical traits are developed together, however in different doses. Horizontal alternations provide each training sessions with a clear physical objective, that speaks to the technical, tactical and psychological outcomes(Bordonau & Villanueva, 2018).

With our understanding of the physical demands of football, and our new learned skills of tactical periodization, we can start matching up the physiology of football with the philosophy of a football first approach.

Small sides games (SSG) – strength

Small sided games such as 3v3s and 4v4s, can be implemented on days when we are targeting strength and high levels of metabolic power when most of the training tend to overload the neuromuscular system, both in terms of intensity (work per min) and volume (total work completed)(Laursen & Buchheit, 2019).These sessions are designed to promote football actions , increase the footballers ability to complete football actions , and work on their ability to recover from these actions. Due to its high metabolic demands these sessions generally take 48-72 hours to recover from. These sessions are used to develop what we call “mechanical” resilience.

Are the legs able to withstand the highly stressful metabolic demand without succumbing to a soft tissue injury?

Medium sided games (MSG) – endurance

Medium sided games like 7v7-9v9s, can be used on days where we are targeting the aerobic system. Although these games do not replicate the peak running demands associated with matches, the high but not maximal metabolic response (high heart rate response, moderate lactate levels) help improve the athlete’s ability to maintain high levels of work rate over sustained periods of time(Laursen & Buchheit, 2019). Due to its lower levels of mechanical intensity, it allows footballers to accumulate larger periods of work without acute spikes in mechanical fatigue, while also promoting recovery from the previous small sided training session. With its lower mechanical demands and large training volume medium sided games take 24-48 hours to recover from. These sessions are focused around developing an efficient aerobic system, that allows for greater recovery capacity. These sessions are used to develop what we call “locomotor” capacity.

 Can the heart and lungs cope with the running demands and maintain a high work rate?

Large sided games (LSG) – speed

Large sided games like 10v10-11v11’s are your primary tool when targeting speed, and speed exposure. Using playing dimensions that are longer (more so than usual), than they are wide, puts emphasis on verticality of play. The playing space created by large playing dimensions create space for players to sprint, sprint for longer distances and sprint more frequently. We have come to learn about the important role that regular sprinting plays in creating robust hamstrings , reducing injury risk , and improving maximal speed abilities(Oliva-Lozano et al., 2020).  Due to the low mechanical loading (compared to SSG and MSG), in conjunction with less overall training volume, large sided games require 24hours for total recovery.

Can the athlete reach 90% of their Vmax regularly, can the athlete repeat near maximal sprints?

Putting it all together

As a sport scientist, we are not always at liberty to dictate the session design. The head coach has the extremely challenging role of combining the technical, tactical, physical and psychological aspects of his game model. Our role is to ensure that are we preparing our footballers for the demands of the head coaches game model.

Through our process of reverse engineering, we have been able to identify KPI’s that are measurable and through our understanding of tactical periodization we have been able to associate these physical KPI’s with football specific methods and principles.

We can now start the process of interpreting our training data and asking ourselves key questions:

  • Are we as a technical team getting the players to reproduce the metabolic demands in training?
  • Are we as the technical staff getting the players to reproduce the running demands in training?
  • Are we as the technical staff providing the players the ability to sprint, sprint regularly, and sprint maximally?

Answering these questions will provide crucial context in guiding our on-field preparation strategies. This will in turn aid as a feedback loop to the head coach in ensuring that from a physical aspect his game model is being attained.

Bangsbo, J. (2014). Physiological Demands of Football. Sports Science, 27(125), 1–6.
Bordonau, J., & Villanueva, J. (2018). TACTICAL PERIODIZATION: A proven successful training model. In
Laursen, P., & Buchheit, M. (2019). Science and Application of High-Intensity Interval Training. In Science and Application of High-Intensity Interval Training.
Oliva-Lozano, J. M., Fortes, V., Krustrup, P., & Muyor, J. M. (2020). Acceleration and sprint profiles of professional male football players in relation to playing position. PLoS ONE, 15(8 August), 1–12.
Ravé, G., Granacher, U., Boullosa, D., Hackney, A. C., & Zouhal, H. (2020). How to Use Global Positioning Systems (GPS) Data to Monitor Training Load in the “Real World” of Elite Soccer. Frontiers in Physiology, 11(August).
Robertson, S. J., & Joyce, D. G. (2014). Informing in-season tactical periodisation in team sport: development of a match difficulty index for Super Rugby. Journal of Sports Sciences, February 2015, 1–9.