The tapering phase in sports annual planning typically refers to a reduction in workload that precedes key competitions. It is intended to allow athletes to have the physical and mental energy for the main competition.
In soccer there typically is a regular season and I don’t believe that each game is a main competition. The regular season and practice/game planning falls into the competitive phase. This is why I suggest that the tapering phase occurs after the regular season, but only if there is another competition to follow. There are many examples of post-season competitions in soccer:
- many leagues have play-offs, particularly in educational environments (High School, College/University), but also in professional settings. The North American MLS has play-offs, European leagues have promotion/relegation games.
- at the professional level there are international club competitions which have the championship game played after the national leagues have concluded play (such as UEFA Champions League)
- at the international level there could be summer tournaments, such as EURO, Copa America, FIFA World Cup
- in northern climates there are indoor competitions, quite often in tournament format. The outdoor season may end in November and indoor tournaments start in January. So there could be a tapering phase just prior to the tournament.
The objective of the tapering phase is for your athletes and team to be regenerated and at peak performance for the key competition.
Specific deliverables are:
- each player and the team are 100% ready for the main competition
- the opponents have been scouted and a game plan is prepared
- the team is ready to adjust the game plan depending on unforeseen events (for example opponent has different formation than anticipated)
This is the time when training may focus on specific aspects of the four pillars of soccer (technical, tactical, physical fitness, mental fitness) that need improvement based on a review of the regular season. It is recommended to work with the entire team, with functional units (defense, midfield, offense), or with individual athletes as required. But always keep the future opponent and game plan in mind when selecting areas to improve. For example if the season showed that the team was weak in pressing the opponent and got caught out of position and balance, but the game plan for the next game is to absorb pressure and counterattack, then you may not want to work on pressing the opponent in their half. Again, it is the prioritized combination of learning from the season with the next game plan that should drive practice design.
Training volume is low, but intensity is high. A key focus should be mental preparation so that individual players and the entire team enter the key competition with confidence.