A tautology is a statement that is always true because it basically affirms itself. “A bachelor is an unmarried man” if often quoted as an example of a tautology. Bachelor and unmarried are basically two different ways to say the same thing.

All true statements in formal logic and mathematics are tautologies. So “2+2=4” is a tautology because if you look at set theory that is the underlying mathematical structure of “2+2=4” you can see that both sides of the “=” are basically the same. So within formal logic and mathematics, tautologies are very useful. Because, although all the information that you get with a tautology in formal logic or mathematics was already there, we limited humans learn new ways to make use of mathematics and formal logic this way. So we actually learn something.

This is not the case outside of formal logic or mathematics. In the real world you don’t learn anything from a tautology. If you know both words “bachelor” and “unmarried’, you don’t learn anything when I tell you that a bachelor is actually also unmarried. You already knew that when you learned the word “bachelor”. So while tautologies have limited use when used in mathematics and formal logic, they are pointless in the real world.

For football this means that it is important to avoid tautologies everywhere, especially in an analysis. Here is an example of using a tautology to come to a conclusion (which is pointless):

“All in all, Nagelsmann’s Leipzig were capable of winning against Marco Rose’s Gladbach due to their effectiveness in the first half as well as their counter-attacking threat throughout the whole game. Leipzig overall created much bigger opportunities and therefore also deserved the win as the xG values prove.”


Can you spot the tautology? In the real world they are harder to spot because we don’t use the “=” sign. The tautology in the above quote is that Leipzig won due to their effectiveness. Not only is this a cause and effect statement with all issues of those kind of statements, but is also a tautology. This is due to the fact that effectiveness in football means winning. Nobody writes “Gladbach lost due to their effectiveness”. That is a really weird sentence. In philosophy we call these sentences “deviant sentences” because we intuitively know that there is something wrong with these kind of sentences, even though they are grammatically correct. The best example is “The submarine swam through the sea.” It is grammatically correct, but nevertheless very wrong.

The same goes for “Gladbach lost due to their effectiveness”. But here the reason why this sentence is deviant, is that effectiveness so closely related to winning that it makes no sense to link it to losing. But given that effectiveness is so closely related to winning, claiming that a team won because of its effectiveness is a tautology that doesn’t inform us of anything.

Thinking sport

Football is much more of a thinking sport than a doing sport. Good examples of a doing sport are athletics or gymnastics. Doing sports are more about physical prowess and lack an element of gaming. Thinking sports are more often team sports and have matches where you play against each other. So a thinking sport has many more elements of a game.

The thinking part of a thinking sport is mainly pattern recognition. Most of the time this happens unconsciously and players react directly on recognized patterns. Given that the brain only has three ways to learn these patterns (imprinting, associative learning and instrumental learning), for the most part recognizing the right patterns has to do with having a rich associative model of football inside your brain. To be clear: the brain doesn’t really have a model, but the easiest way to understand how the brain stores learnings, is to think of all the learning as a model of the world. Specific learning about football then creates a football model. In the same way that everything stored in the brain about the player himself, creates the person as football player model. If a coach enriches these models suddenly the player is capable of more.

Although pattern recognition is for the most part build on game intelligence acquired through associative learning, technique (acquired through instrumental learning) also plays its part. For being able to recognize a pattern is one thing, being able to act upon the recognition in such a way that it is to the advantage of a team, is another. If a player fails to make a play, good scouts always ask themselves whether this was due to the fact that the player didn’t recognize the right pattern because he lacks game intelligence, or whether he saw the right pattern but lacked the technical ability to execute the right action for that pattern because he lacks technique. As in most cases, it is easier to teach a player technique that game intelligence, players lacking in technique, but who have good game intelligence, are often more interesting for scouts, than players who have excellent technique, but lack game intelligence. Another clear indication that football is primarily a thinking sport.