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A Tactical Periodization Model For Elite Gaelic Football.

Updated: May 18, 2021

The use of a tactical periodization model for the development of the physical , physiological,, technical, and tactical capacities in elite Gaelic Football.


One of the most difficult tasks in elite Gaelic Football (GF) is managing the weekly workloads of amateur players who are in reality, competing in a semi-professional environment. Anecdotal reports of high training demands have been verified in a survey of Elite GF players, (Kelly, Banks, McGuinness, & Watson, 2018). Figures 1-3 illustrate that players partake in between 3 and 5 training sessions a week, with > 50% of players reporting field-based sessions lasting 3 or more hours. Considering travel time to and from training, preparation and work commitments, legitimate questions have been raised around player burnout, work/life balance, player welfare, training overload and player enjoyment.


Training methodologies

From the coach’s viewpoint the primary goal of their training methodology is to ensure that players’ fitness levels meet the demands of their direct opposition during match-play, while effectively being able to execute their positional, technical and tactical roles.


One interesting training approach originally used in soccer but now being adopted in other sports is Tactical Periodization (TP). As the name implies, the tactical dimension is the overarching dimension of the game and the physical, technical, and psychological dimensions exist within this tactical dimension.

This approach runs contrary to popular practice in GF training where the four dimensions are viewed in isolation, with the same level of priority and typical training sessions are structured as such (see Figure 4). Personally, I would argue that in recent years an increased emphasis is placed on the physical development of players, at the expense of tactical and technical development resulting in longer training times, less clarity of tactical play and player burnout.

The other important component of TP is that within the TP model the word “periodization” is not used in its traditional sense (periodizing the physical load of training), rather it refers to the periodization of the tactical principles trained throughout the week.


In essence when you work under the TP framework, the separation between fitness coaches and technical coaches does not exist. This unified structure creates an environment that encourages coaching staff to develop drills and games that integrate the tactical, technical, and physical components.


Given the amateur status of elite level GF and the time constraints on players and coaches alike, could a TP model offer a potential solution? This blog aims to introduce the methodology of TP and illustrate its potential application in elite GF, with the help of examples from my professional practice as a coach at the elite level and as an academic.


Tactical awareness, the missing link

GF forces multiple demands on players due to its free-flowing nature and quick movement of play from end to end of the pitch, (Reilly & Collins, 2008). Match-play is characterised by turnovers and fast paced-transitions from defence to attack. These turnovers and counterattacks can contribute to enhancing the dynamic flow of the game, which is sometimes attenuated by the extreme zonal defensive strategies commonly adopted by teams, (Bradley & O’Donoghue, 2011). The result being that “tactical awareness” is a key discriminator of success within GF, and as such, the solving of tactical problems and the acquisition of tactical abilities must be at the core of all training activities.


To further illustrate the importance of developing tactical ability, a study from McGahan, Mangan, Collins, Burns, Gabbett, & O'Neill (2021) compared positional differences in running demands and technical performance variables among elite GF teams from separate divisions. Interestingly, the findings illustrate that Division 3 (D3) teams had greater high-speed running and relative high-speed distance metrics than their Division 1 (D1) counterparts, suggesting that greater amounts of high-speed running are not necessarily related to team ranking in elite GF. However, scoring accuracy in addition to a higher frequency of tackles, particularly in the middle third of the pitch, were characteristics more strongly associated with the higher ranked teams. D1 teams adopted defined tackling strategies, forcing turnovers in higher areas on the field closer to the opposition's goal. The results of this study indicate that technical proficiency, rather than high-speed running profiles differentiate D1 and D3 teams, thus highlighting the importance of technical and tactical competence in differentiating between higher and lower-ranked teams.


It would be wise to suggest that coaches at all levels place technical and tactical elements as a central tenet of their coaching philosophy to maximize the development of the key performance skills required during match-play.


How to generate a TP model for GF? - The starting point, The game model

It is the coach’s role to generate a tactical approach that allows players to anticipate the actions of opposing players, identify predictable scenarios and create a sense of order within this chaotic environment. This identifies a need for coaches to have a clear idea of the tactical approach their team will adopt and within the TP literature this is described as a game model, (Tee, Ashford, & Piggott, 2018; Delgado-Bordonau & Mendez-Villanueva, 2012). To do this the coach must consider their own philosophies in relation to the players available to them. Once finalised the model must be simple enough to represent the game in its entirety but also be flexible enough for players to be creative as a clear game model helps players to have a “shared mental landscape” for the game, (Richards, Collins, & Mascarenhas, 2017).


Game moments

In soccer, proponents of TP often design game models around the so-called “moments of the game,” which represent the 4 main states a team may be in during a match (Figure 5).

This is where we meet the first stumbling block as GF match-play requires the introduction of an additional game moment, the contest for possession. A compelling argument can be made for its inclusion as a game moment when we observe the percentage of possessions that lead to scores. In soccer, research has shown that possession won from kickouts leads to 8% of goals scored (Tenga, Holme, Ronglan, & Bahr, 2010), however in GF winning teams will score from 33% of their possessions. In GF match play these contests for possession originate from the restart at the beginning of each half, however the kick out (the goal keepers action of restarting the game) is a far more common scenario with up to 44 kickouts occurring in a game (Daly & Donnelly, 2018). Kickout possessions are the origin of possession for 29-33 % of all team possessions in a game, (Gamble, Bradley, McCarren, & Moyna, 2019) with kickouts to the wings resulting in scoring opportunities on 31% of occasions and central kickouts resulting in scoring opportunity 21% of time (Daly & Donnelly, 2018). Therefore, it seems logical to include kickouts as a game moment to a GF specific model of TP.


Principles and Sub Principles of Play

Because of the complex nature of sport, no two moments of play will ever be identical, and it is impossible to practice for every scenario that a player will experience on the field. To reduce this complexity, teams may apply a set of principles and sub-principles to guide the tactical responses and on field behaviours that the coach desires, (Martins, 2003). These principles are related to one of the four moments of the game and are designed to make the game model more understandable for the players.

I have outlined a proposed game model for Gaelic Football illustrating game moments along with principles and sub-principles of play with the addition of the underpinning skill-sets.

Morpocycle

Within the TP methodology a Morpocycle is the weekly layout of training activities and follows the same pattern throughout the week (Tamarit, 2015). It is the weekly learning plan for the way the team wants to play and is structured to ensure training of the physical components are balanced, recovery is allocated, and fatigue is mitigated, (Figure 8).


A proposed Morpocycle for Gaelic Football

Applying a model such as Figure 8 which was developed for professional soccer to GF may be inappropriate as the landscape between professional and amateur sports differs greatly. Therefore, before designing a TP model for GF, the coach must consider the points outlined in Figure 9.



Additionally, just as a needs analysis of the sport identifies the demands of the game which informs the coach when planning training loads and creating training games to replicate match demands, the same principle applies to the technical demands of the game. The game design must ensure overload to the technical skills as well. Once the coaches have addressed these considerations, a TP model for GF, such as the proposed model in Figure 10 can be developed.

The proposed model in its essence is focused on how the team wants to play on match day and every training session is adapted to this way of playing, allowing for greater specificity as well as providing an environment for potential positive player welfare outcomes (Table 1).





Conclusion

To summarise, the proposed TP model when applied correctly has the ability to integrate all the aspects of high performance in a time efficient manner. From a coaching perspective, developing a philosophy, game model, needs analysis and Morpocycle design ensures a level of clarity and efficiency around the coaching process. Having 2 complete rest days, set training days, times and durations not only mitigates fatigue from week to week, but it also allows players to organise their lives outside of training days which will reduce emotional and social stress in the long run. This is a very brief overview of a model which requires coaches to delve into much more to get a true understanding of the approach.





References

Bradley, J., & O’Donoghue, P. (2011). Counterattacks in elite Gaelic football competition. International Journal of Performance Analysis in Sport, 11(1), 159-170.


Daly, D., & Donnelly, R. (2018). Data analytics in performance of kick-out distribution and effectiveness in senior championship football in Ireland. Journal of Sports Analytics, 4(1), 15-30.


Delgado-Bordonau, J. L., & Mendez-Villanueva, A. (2012). Tactical periodization: Mourinho’s best-kept secret. Soccer Journal, 57(3), 29-34.



Collins, D. K., Solan, B., & Doran, D. A. (2013). A preliminary investigation into high-intensity activity during elite Gaelic football. J Sports Ther, 1(10).


Gamble, D., Bradley, J., McCarren, A., & Moyna, N. M. (2019). Team performance indicators which differentiate between winning and losing in elite Gaelic football. International Journal of Performance Analysis in Sport, 19(4), 478-490.


Kelly, E., Banks, J., McGuinness, S., & Watson, D. (2018). Playing senior inter-county Gaelic Games – Experiences, realities and consequences. ESRI research series number 76 September 2018.


Martins, F. C. S. (2003). Tactical periodization in accordance with Vítor Frade: more than a concept, a way of being and reflecting football. Porto: Faculdade de Ciências do Desporto e de Educação Física da Unversidade do Porto.


McGahan, J. H., Mangan, S., Collins, K., Burns, C., Gabbett, T., & O'Neill, C. (2021). Match-play running demands and technical performance among elite Gaelic footballers: Does divisional status count?. The Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research, 35(1), 169-175.


McIntyre, M. C. (2005). A comparison of the physiological profiles of elite Gaelic footballers, hurlers, and soccer players. British journal of sports medicine, 39(7), 437-439.


Oliveira, J. G., & Porto, F. C. (2007). Nuestro microciclo semanal (morfociclo). VI Clinic Fútbol Base Fundación FC Porto. Osasuna.


Reilly, T., & Collins, K. (2008). Science and the Gaelic sports: Gaelic football and hurling. European Journal of Sport Science, 8(5), 231-240.


Richards, P., Collins, D., & Mascarenhas, D. R. (2017). Developing team decision-making: a holistic framework integrating both on-field and off-field pedagogical coaching processes. Sports Coaching Review, 6(1), 57-75.


Rønnestad, B. R., Nymark, B. S., & Raastad, T. (2011). Effects of in-season strength maintenance training frequency in professional soccer players. The Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research, 25(10), 2653-2660.


Tamarit, X. (2015). What is Tactical Periodization?. Bennion Kearney.


Tee, J. C., Ashford, M., & Piggott, D. (2018). A tactical periodization approach for rugby union. Strength & Conditioning Journal, 40(5), 1-13.


Tenga, A., Holme, I., Ronglan, L. T., & Bahr, R. (2010). Effect of playing tactics on achieving score-box possessions in a random series of team possessions from Norwegian professional soccer matches. Journal of sports sciences, 28(3), 245-255.

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