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Jovan Dabic about Tactical Periodisation

Jovan is the next in line of WFA educated coaches to be interviewed by Fotballdykket. We have previously spoke with, unfortunately though these articles only exist in Norwegian (for now):

This interview was conducted by Sebastian Loram. This is the first article he has written for us, but there is more excellent news to come. Sebastian works as an analyst and player developer for Southampton Solent Mens 1st while studying for a degree in Football Studies. He is also truly one of the best football brains I know. Now, I hope you enjoy the article! – Jonas Munkvold


We were allowed excellent insight into the mind, experiences and work of current Guangzhou R&F FC assistant coach Jovan Dabic.  

Jovan specialises in football periodisation, thus representing a very advanced and progressive group of coaches consistently looking to improve the state of the modern game. With an interesting journey into professional football, Jovan offers great motivation and advice for aspiring coaches, in addition to his valuable knowledge regarding football education and periodisation. 

Jovan have previously done two podcasts with “Just Kickin’it” pod. Links for these can be found below.

To start off, can you please tell us about how you got into coaching and the path that has led you here?

“My journey started when I was 17 years old. I didn’t actually think about becoming a coach, I only dreamt of being a football player. But when I was 17, I had a bad knee injury and after that I couldn’t return to the field. My big dream just disappeared over night.

My ex-coach, who I knew well, offered me a job to work in his academy as a youth coach. One day, he came to me and said “If you want to stay in football, you can only do it as a coach or something like this”. It was painful but it woke me up. So I started to transfer the same working attitude that I had as a player.

I started with my coaching education at University and in the USA for a Coerver coaching course. One day I received a message from my professor, this was during my studies. He asked if I wanted to volunteer for the University team and be his assistant. I helped him for two years and had a great time. After losing contact with him for some time, I received a message from him asking whether I wanted to go to China. This was the beginning of the next journey.

During this time, I felt that coaching in football was on the wrong track as the whole education was about opinions and subjectivity. Even with Coerver, the focus was on the ‘How’, and not the ‘What’. Then I heard a podcast featuring Raymond Verheijen and action language theory. At first I was confused by the content, but something deep inside me told me to listen to it over and over again. So, I began understanding what Raymond was talking about; action language, action theory and periodisation – I just didn’t know how to apply it.

I attended a basic course in Lisbon, and while I was there, I heard about the mentorship programme in Amsterdam. I was told it was so demanding and many quit the course. That was exactly what I wanted, and needed. The small gladiator in me had woken up. This happened to be my best decision ever. I chose to follow WFA (World Football Academy) every year. From my perspective now, the injury I experienced almost 14 years ago was the best thing that could have happened to me. Raymond Verheijen and WFA have influenced my life very well, and I aim to make them all proud.”


Could you please explain more about your first job in China? As a Periodisation coach, are there any specific examples of what your work involved?

“My first job was as a youth coach in Shenzhen, but after two years I realised I wanted a bigger challenge in order to reach the professional level. So after another mentorship programme in Serbia and Experts Meeting with WFA, I got the chance to work in another academy in China, now in Dalian. However, I felt an organised system was lacking, there was no competition and football was looked at as just some sporting activity. It was after this that I was asked to join a club in the third league. This was my first experience in a senior job, and on top of that I was a periodisation coach. This was a very important step forward as I got to control more than 80% of the training plan – tactical training, football fitness training and recovery training.

From this position I realised many important things. Firstly, beside fitness periodisation, we need tactical periodisation and communication periodisation. Secondly, how we train team functions and make progressions, this goes hand in hand with football fitness periodisation. Finally, the environment, so how the coaches’ impact the players on an unconscious level.”


Were you able to communicate your ideas to the players in training – is it important that they are able to understand your methodology?

“I think that players should know what they are doing, how they will do it, and why. For me it was difficult to speak with the players partly because of the language barrier and partly because of the hierarchy. The first step is to speak with the head coach to inform him of your plans – the what, the how and the why. Then, he will decide if he will talk to the players or if you will get the chance to speak to them. I didn’t have that chance. So only if the players asked me something in training, then I was more than happy to explain.”


Could you share some examples of how you would plan the weekly training cycle during the season?

“After the game, in the first 48 hours, the players need to recover. Then, in the last 48 hours, they have to prepare for the next game, meaning two tactical trainings. If we have two days in-between the first 48 hours (recovery block) and second 48 hours (game preparation block), we can have tactical-technical training and football fitness training.


Sunday – Recovery

Monday – Off

Tuesday – Tactical-technical

Wednesday – Football fitness training

Thursday – Tactical

Friday – Tactical

Saturday – Game


This is just a simple example of when we have six days between two games. If we have less than six days, it will be different. Also, every time we played an away game, we didn’t have the chance to have the recovery training the day after. Instead, we gave the players two days off as a recovery block. One of the reasons is because players in China live together in a hotel during the season and this was the only opportunity they could visit their families.”


“I always focus on football when making the training sessions. The starting point is always an 11v11 game, the next step is simplified games; 10v10, 9v9, 6v6 or 4v4 – always a game.

Can you please elaborate on what a typical session would look like on each day?

Recovery Training

  • Usually a rondo and then football tennis – this will still be competitive.


Tactical-Technical Training

  • According to the principles of periodisation we have big games (11v11/8v8), medium games (7v7/5v5), and small games (4v4/3v3).
  • This is on the first day after the day off, so we have bigger games (11v11/8v8), extensive possession and extensive passing. The emphasis is always on one of the team functions; attacking, transition or defending.
  • The most important is to control intensity through the number of players, amount of space and duration of each game. More players and space means less actions per minute.


Football Fitness Training

  • Intensive passing with less space and players, followed by shooting exercises (the first of this kind in the week). I like to make the shooting exercise a game (4v4/5v5) on a relatively small field. This gives the players an opportunity to practice communication and decision making, not only execution.
  • After that we play football conditioning games in overload. Depending on the week in a cycle we can play big (11v11/8v8), medium (7v7/5v5), or small games (4v4/3v3).
  • If you want to use football as a fitness training to overload the players, there must be a clear tactical reference. Without reference, it’s impossible to overload the players.
  • Culturally, in China if the players are not running, they have the feeling that it is not conditioning training. So in one part of the season I combined interval running with conditioning games.


Tactical Training

  • The first tactical training should be focused on the next opponent. Again, football games are the focus, but this time with more players and in a bigger space.
  • The second tactical training, before the game, is more intensive. This means less players in a smaller space.
  • Additional shooting exercises.
  • Finally, at the end we play bigger games on a relatively small field.


“I always focus on football when making the training sessions. The starting point is always an 11v11 game, the next step is simplified games; 10v10, 9v9, 6v6 or 4v4 – always a game.

We usually see coaches choose exercises which do not involve communication and decision making. These are the two most important parts of football action. The focus should always be on football – better communication, better decision making, then better execution. The only way to improve these is by playing football.”


Could you share some examples of how you would plan the training cycle in pre-season?

“The pre-season week is the same as in the season, the same principles occur. We play a game, then we recover, we plan tactical trainings, then have tactical-technical training and overload training (football fitness training). The focus is always on communication, decision making and the execution of the decision.”


You’ve described your career so far in China, do you think more coaches should look to work there?

“Everywhere offers an opportunity to learn something, this includes China. I think for young coaches China can be good in terms of the differences in culture. This gives young coaches the chance to become more adaptable and flexible. I think this is very important in life, not only in the world of football.”


Very importantly, what are your plans for the future? Have you got any goals you want to achieve?

“Living without a goal is like sailing without a compass. I always try to set up a yearly goal and day to day goals – long term and short term goals. Short term goals should be steps on the way to the long term goals. After I decide what I really want, I write down from week to week and month to month in my dairy what I need to do to reach my goals, and what I actually did. This way, I have some kind of data for my personal growth. I have achieved many of them and I am in the process of achieving one now. For me, personally setting and achieving goals is like periodisation.

My plan for the future is to become the best I can as a football coach, in order to create a better world for football.”


Finally, for any aspiring coaches reading this interview, what advice could you give them for working in professional football?

“Young coaches should focus on their personal growth, what they want to become, not what they want to have. Learning opportunities are everywhere. One must be more open to what happens in their environment. Invest in your knowledge, find mentors and role models, this is very, very important.”


Thank you Jovan for doing this interview with us. We wish you all the best and may our paths cross in the future! Below are links to the two podcasts he has done with Just Kickin’it podcast.


In this episode, they discuss the theory of football action language. Unfortunately, general non-contextual words are used far too often by coaches in communication with their players. Things like, “Be sharper” or “Lacking confidence” are said by nearly every coach, but what is the consequence of using non-descriptive language in how it is interpreted by the brains of our players? We then offer an alternative form of communicating called action language.

In this episode, they discuss the concept of football braining and create a theoretical reference that coaches can use to guide how they coach the brain of their players. This episode puts psychology into football language.


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