A Deeper Look into Tactical Periodization

Due to the openness and uncertainty that exists in the game of soccer, the coach must view each training session as an opportunity to further improve the team’s ability to read and interpret the game in the same language. Castelo (2000) referred to soccer training as “an educational process that aims to develop the technical, tactical, physical and psychological capacities of players and teams in the specific context of competitive situations through systematic and planned practice exercises, guided by principles and rules substantiated on scientific knowledge (Raul Oliveira, 2014). However, before a training session can be planned, the coach must clearly develop their game model (style of play).

In essence, the coach’s game model is the “language” that the coach aims to teach the team, thus each training session is directly related to operationalizing the coach’s style of play. Guilherme Oliveira (2003) said,“The model of play is an idea/conjecture of game consisted of principles, sub-principles, sub-sub-principles…representing the different stages/phases of the game, which hang together, manifesting on its own functional organization, or an identity” (Raul Oliveira, 2014).

Moreover, Javier Mallo (2015) continued by stating,“The coach has to be as precise as possible to clarify his playing conception, as the clearer and more coherent the picture is, the easier it will be to transmit it to the footballers and for them to understand it.

To further explain, the coach’s game model is under constant construction in an effort to mold their style of play to best suit the players at their disposal. Guilherme Oliveira (2003) continued by stating, “The final model is always unattainable, because it is always under evolving reconstruction” (Raul Oliveira, 2014).

Once the coach has constructed their principles, sub-principles, and sub-sub-principles in relation to each moment of the game (offense, defense, transition from offense to defense, and transition from defense to offense), a training strategy must be implemented that progressively operationalizes their game model (tactics) in addition to appropriately developing the players from a technical, physical, and psychological perspective. There are many training strategies that the coach can utilize, however, it appears that tactical periodization is an optimal strategy due to its holistic nature. Gaiteiro (2006) said, “Tactical periodization addresses the complex phenomena, as it contemplates the object in its entirety and context (Tamarit, 2014). The idea is that each training session is specific to the game model in addition to not separating the tactical, technical, physical, and psychological components. Jose Mourinho said,“One of the most difficult questions is how to make operational our style of play. We try to achieve that by creating exercises where we are able to embrace all the dimensions (technical, tactical, physical, and mental), but never forgetting our first concern, to enhance a given principle of our game model” (Juan Luis Delgado-Bordonau and Albert Mendez Villanueva, 2014).

In accordance to tactical periodization and the planning of training, the coach must be aware one "supra-principle" and three methodological principles that accompany the training strategy. The "supra-principle" is the “principle of specificity” (the “principle of the principles” (Frade, 2005 in Tamarit, 2014), and the methodlogical principles are the “principle of propensities”, the “principle of complex progression”, and the “principle of horizontal alternation” (Mallo, 2015).

The “principle of specificity” revolves around the notion that the training environment must be specific to the demands of competition, and more importantly, specific to the coach’s game model. Xavier Tamarit (2014) said, “Every training exercise or drill should focus on a moment of the game and the tactics that the coach wants his team to produce.” The same author continued by stating, “Specificity basically means exercises must relate to competitive reality and training must adhere to this principle” (Tamarit, 2014).

The “principle of propensities” relates to the idea of “designing training contexts which make it possible for certain behaviors to be manifested with greater frequency” (Mallo, 2015). For instance, if a coach wants to improve the team’s defensive sub-sub-principle (i.e. applying immediate pressure to the possessor to deny shooting opportunities) in the defensive third, the coach could develop a 4v4 exercise in an area of 40yd x 36yd. Implementing such exercise would organically create shooting opportunities (due to the small area), thus giving the players a large volume of repetitions to execute the application of immediate pressure to the possessor.

The “principle of complex progression” refers to the hierarchical structure of the playing principles. According to Tamarit (2007),“This principle is closely related to the hierarchical organization of the principles and sub-principles of play. It can be characterized as the reduction of complexity to the model of play by experiencing principles and sub-principles” (Raul Oliveira, 2014). The idea is that the coach must rank his or her playing principles based on the importance of them in relation to the game model. Tamarit (2007) stated,“Some principles are more important and valued than others in terms of what is intended. A coach’s ability to articulate all the principles that conform to his or her game model will determine the team’s “DNA” (Juan Luis Delgado-Bordonau and Albert Mendez Villanueva, 2014). For instance, if a coach’s game model calls for his or her team to defend in a low block of pressure during the defensive moment, then in terms of a hierarchical structure, that particular coach would appear to value the main defensive principle (low block of pressure) more than the sub-principles of the offense to defense transition phase due to the low-block of pressure being a main focal point of their game model.

In the tactical periodization training strategy, the final methodological principle is the “principle of horizontal alternation”. In essence, the “principle of horizontal alternation” is “in charge of regulating the relationship between effort and recovery” (Tamarit, 2007 in Raul Oliveira, 2014). When planning the training week, the goal is to alternate the dominant type of muscular contraction, thus respecting the effort – recovery continuum. The idea is that “in biological terms, it is not possible for a body to deliver constantly the same effort, everyday” (Tamarit, 2014). During the middle of the week (in a 1 game a week setting), the three middle days of each training week are known as the acquisition days. For instance, in a weekly pattern with matches on Sunday’s, the acquisition days would be on Wednesday (strength), Thursday (endurance), and Friday (Friday) of each week (Juan Luis Delgado-Bordonau and Albert Mendez Villanueva, 2014). By alternating the dominant physical component in each session, the players will develop the appropriate physical capacities within the context of the coach’s game model. Jose Mourinho said,“Our daily concerns are directed to make operational our game model. However, the structure of the training session and what to do each day is not only related to the tactical objectives, but also with the physical fitness component to be prioritized” (Juan Luis Delgado-Bordonau and Albert Mendez Villanueva, 2014).

In relation to developing training session in harmony with the designated physical components (strength, endurance, and speed), the space, number of players included, and the work/rest ratios are manipulated to elicit the necessary physical adaptions. For instance, a strength day would occur by “designing small tasks based on small spaces, with short durations and involving a low number of players, so the overall density of the tense muscular contractions is high (Tamarit, 2007 in Mallo, 2015). With regards to the endurance day, exercises “should be based on big spaces, longer durations and with the participation of a greater number of players, to allow collective interactions (Mallo, 2015). Finally, on the speed day, the goal is to elicit quick muscular contractions and decisions, which can be elicited by exercises “with little (7v3, 8v4) or without opposition (5v0, 11v0), focusing on speed of execution (Tamarit, 2007 & Silva, 2008 in Mallo, 2015).

When implementing the tactical periodization training strategy, an important notion to remember is that each week (morphocycle) follows a similar pattern in an effort to help the team stabilize their performances. In accordance with matches on Sunday’s, the tactical periodization morphocycle would be: Sunday: Game, Monday: day off, Tuesday: Recovery session (sub-principles), Wednesday: Strength (sub-sub principles), Thursday: Endurance (main principles), Friday: Speed (sub-principles), Saturday: Activiation (sub-sub principles), and Sunday: game (Gomes, 2006 in Juan Luis Delgado-Bordonau and Albert Mendez Villanueva, 2014). According to Juan Luis Delgado-Bordonau and Albert Mendez Villanueva (2014),“A stable level of optimal performance is achieved through the implementation and maintenance of the standard weekly plans. Thus, over the season, weekly dynamics regarding training content, recovery schemes, and the number and length of training units remain almost invariable.” In general, when organizing the morphocycle, the coach must be cognizant of the improvements needed in relation to the previous game, the type of session needed (recovery, strength, endurance, speed, or activation), and finally the adjustments needed in relation to the next opponent.

Once the coach identifies the tactical component of the training session (main principles, sub-principles, or sub-sub principles) and subsequently the physical aspect, the next step is the structure or flow of the individual training session. An example of a training structure could be: The warm up (cardiovascular stimulus), main sub-phase (i.e. possession game), main phase (i.e. line game), and the recovery phase (cool down and reflect on the training). When utilizing tactical periodization, the players must train at maximum intensity in order to apply and adopt the game model to the fullest. Xavier Tamarit (2007) stated, “Training sessions should not exceed 90 minutes. Players need time to recover after every training session so that they deliver maximum concentration and intensity at the next training session.”

The application and implementation of tactical periodization is a complex process, but a clear vision from the coach (game model) coupled with motivated and creative players, the team will be apprioriately prepared tactically, technically, physically, and psychologically.


Delgado-Bordonau, J. L., & Mendez-Villanueva, A. (2014). The Tactical Periodization Model. In Fitness in Soccer: The science and Practical Application. Moveo Ergo Sum.

Mallo, J. (2015). Complex Football. Topprosoccer S.L.

Oliveira, R. (2014). Tactical Periodization: The secrets of soccer most effective training methodology.

Tamarit, X. (2014). What is Tactical Periodization? Bennion Kearny Limited.

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