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Regulating Intensity via Game Moments

Prior to illustrating how a coach could logically increase the intensity of a given exercise or training week, it appears that a clear application of complex thinking to the sport of soccer must be discussed first.

According to Morin (2000) in Mallo (2015), “A system is represented by a series of elements which interact between themselves with the aim of reaching a certain objective.” The idea is that the “properties of a system cannot be explained by individually examining the parts as any change in these parts affects the whole” (Morin, 2000, in Mallo, 2015). In essence, “the whole has qualities that the parts do not have in them” (Mallo, 2015). In this case, the system is the team and the elements are the eleven players (the interactions between teammates bring out characteristics that are not present in the individual on their own), which work together to achieve success on the field. To paint a clearer picture, critics often say that Lionel Messi is not the “same” player for his club and country, and one possible explanation or reasoning is due to that fact that FC Barcelona and Argentina are two different systems.

Due to the ever-changing situations in the sport of soccer, teams (systems) must be able to exchange information with the environment (the game), in order organize themselves while disorganizing the opponent. Martin Acero and Lago, (2005a) in Mallo (2015) said,

“Depending on the fact of exchanging or not exchanging energy with the environment, systems can be considered open or closed, respectively. Open systems are continuously interchanging energy with the surrounding so they maintain themselves far for equilibrium.”

More specifically,

“This means that a complex system is permanently in a dynamic state, oscillating between phases of order and disorder. The most effective area of the system would be that close to the edge of chaos, as it will allow a greater energetic interchange with the environment" (Mallo, 2015).

With regards to the notion of “order and disorder”, a coach’s game model (principles, sub-principles, and sub-sub principles) is of extreme importance in order to help guide the team towards self-organization. Mallo (2015) said,

“The examination of how complex systems self-organize is extremely important. Unlike machines, living organisms have emergent properties and organize themselves following a network pattern instead of adopting a hierarchical structure.”

The idea is that the playing principles (game model) provide the team with a framework to help the self-organization process during each moment (offense, defense, and both transitions) of the game. Mourinho (2002), said

“Tactics is understood as a well-defined set of principles of play, both for attack and defense (and their transitions) in accordance with the way of play desired by the coach. The ultimate goal is to ‘organize’ the ‘chaos’” (Delgado-Bordonau and Mendez-Villaueva, 2014).

From a general perspective, the tactical periodization training organization strategy is based on the concepts of complex thinking. Xavier Tamarit (2014) said, “Tactical periodization is, then a training process that emphasizes the organizational aspect of the team, working the game model in the way that the coach wants to achieve.” The idea is that the training process is guided by the coach’s game model (tactics), and subsequently each session revolves around operationalizing the coach’s game principles.

As previously discussed, teams are open system that are constantly exchanging information with the environment (hopefully), and usually the team that is able to maintain self-organization the longest will be more likely to win a given match. From this perspective, the team as a whole must maintain high concentration levels for ninety minutes or more, which is mentally taxing. The idea is that within the tactical periodization paradigm, the coach must understand “intensity” from a concentration standpoint. Rui Faria elaborated further by stating,

“Intensity is essentially about concentration, mainly because the game involves thinking, and thinking demands to be focused, and demanding to be focused is a high demand…which is fundamental for our game, the way the coach wants the team to play. Having the capacity to remain focused as much as possible implies a certain capacity of concentration and the capacity to hold on as long as possible implies a certain volume of intensity of concentration” (Tamarit, 2014).

To better explain the relationship between intensity and concentration, Carvalhal (2001) in Tamarit (2014), said,

“If we want to run a distance at maximum speed, we will do it with high intensity. However, if we want to do that same distance carrying a tray full of glasses, doing that as quickly as possible without dropping any glasses, inevitably this second action, even though slower, will be more intense because it requires high concentration.”

The idea is that the coach can control the intensity of an exercise by regulating the moments and game principles included in a given exercise.

To illustrate an example of how a coach can control the intensity of an exercise, a “line game” on the “strength” acquisition day within the tactical periodization paradigm will be described. The “line game” will consist of a team of six (goalkeeper, back four, and holding midfielder) verse a team of five (four midfielders and one striker) in a space that is 50 yards long and 44 yards wide. Additionally, a dynamic player will be utilized acting as a holding midfielder for the team of five to provide contextual quality to the game (can only help circulating the ball) while also acting as a target player for the team of six (team of 6 defends the goal/attacks to the dynamic player – team of 5 attacks goal).

In the first version of the exercise, the game will only consist of one moment for each team. The team of six will only train the defensive moment, while the team of five will only train the offensive moment. For each repetition, the team of five will start with the ball, and once there is a goal, shot on goal, or lose of possession, a new ball will begin from the dynamic player. Within this example, the team of six will be working on the coach’s defensive sub-principle in the defensive third, while the attackers will be training the coach’s offensive sub-principle in the final third of the field.

In order to increase the intensity of the previously described exercise, the coach can add a moment of the game to each team. For instance, the team of six will train the defensive and transition from defense to offense moments in the defensive third of the field, while the team of five will train the offensive and transition from offense to defense in the final third of the field. To ensure only those four moments occur in the exercise, a rule will be implemented that says the team of six has eight seconds to try and execute a pass to the dynamic player to earn a goal. If the team does not score within eight seconds (time runs out or team of six regain possession), that play is over and a new ball will begin from the dynamic player. The idea is that by adding another moment to the game for each team, the intensity (concentration) will increase due to the addition of another sub-principle of the game model.

For a third progression, the coach can add another moment to the exercise, ensuring that each team must self-organize three different sub-principles of the game model. Now, the team of six will train the defensive, transition from defense to offense, and offensive moments, while the team of five will train the offensive, transition from offense to defense, and defensive moments. Utilizing the same exercise design, once the team of six loses possession of the ball in the offensive moment, a new ball will begin from the dynamic player, to guarantee that only three moments per team are being trained (regulation of intensity).

Under the tactical periodization paradigm, coaches must be cognizant of the mental demands of their training sessions, as it is extremely challenging for groups of individuals to self-organize themselves in accordance with their teammates. The idea is that the number of moments and game principles included in a given exercise will determine the concentration load on the players. However, even though the tactical element guides the training process, it must be understood that the physical component is being trained synergistically with the game principles. For instance, in the previously described exercise designs, the number of players and the grid dimensions will help elicit a “strength” adaption within the players as the exercise will demand “acceleration, decelerations, changes of direction, jumps or shooting on goals” (Mallo, 2015). Tamarit (2007) in Mallo (2015) elaborated further by stating, “The way to guarantee this predominant muscle contraction (high tension) is by designing tasks based on small spaces, with short durations and involving a low number of players.” Moreover, by controlling the exercises by moments and rules, the coach will allow the players ample recovery time in order to train at “maximum relative intensities” (Tamarit, 2007 in Mallo, 2015) in addition to creating opportunities to provide the players with coaching points.

Although the game of soccer is extremely physical, one cannot forget that the brain guides the player to knowing when and where to run.


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.

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

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