Win-stay lose-shift strategy in formation changes in football

Kohei Tamura, Naoki Masuda*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

11 Citations (Scopus)


Managerial decision making is likely to be a dominant determinant of performance of teams in team sports. Here we use Japanese and German football data to investigate correlates between temporal patterns of formation changes across matches and match results. We found that individual teams and managers both showed win-stay lose-shift behavior, a type of reinforcement learning. In other words, they tended to stick to the current formation after a win and switch to a different formation after a loss. In addition, formation changes did not statistically improve the results of succeeding matches. The results indicate that a swift implementation of a new formation in the win-stay lose-shift manner may not be a successful managerial rule of thumb.

Original languageEnglish
Article number9
Pages (from-to)1-19
Number of pages19
JournalEPJ Data Science
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 2015 Dec 1
Externally publishedYes


  • reinforcement learning
  • soccer
  • sports

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Modelling and Simulation
  • Computer Science Applications
  • Computational Mathematics


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