Understand Footy

Blues or Eagles?

West Coast defeated Carlton by one straight kick in their 2011 semi final at Subiaco. Are the Eagles "one goal better" than Carlton? The Eagles had the AFL 8 per cent homeground advantage after all (which as we know means 8 per cent advantage in free kicks, which is more like 12 per cent in the Subiaco cauldron, in fact).
The answer is no. West Coast got to a match-winning 21-point lead with a few minutes left to play. The Blues thought they were beaten, and the Eagles thought they were home. Loss aversion kicked in big-time for the Blues, simultaneous with gain anticipation for the Eagles. Suddenly Carlton stormed back and almost stole it at the end.
The difference between the teams in this match was probably anything from one goal Carlton's way to five goals the Eagles' way. The Blues almost got the pendulum to swing at the right time to pinch it. But it would have been a steal!

FOOTNOTE: If you're the underdog, what's the most likely way to win? ANSWER: Don't hit the front too soon! The most likely way is to charge from behind to win, just as Carlton almost achieved. Get in front too early (as say Essendon did against Carlton, kicking the first four goals in the elimination final) and you're likely to motivate your opponent by heightening their loss aversion! Some smart stats man could confirm this by doing the numbers on boilovers as late "heists" as compared with games in which the underdog team got away early and led throughout.

How to rate AFL teams

The final margin
blues beaten copy
in any football game is not easy to predict -– even though the bookies seem to get uncannily close when they set their “lines” pre-match.
You often hear it said, for example, that “Collingwood is a six-goal better team than Hawthorn”. Or “Geelong is two goals a quarter better than Essendon”.
But is it realistic to compare teams in that way?
If that was the case, then by extension we could quantify each team in the competition in terms of being x goals better or worse than every other team, and predict results accordingly.
Problem is, that’s not the way football really works.
How often does Team A defeat Team B, which a week later defeats Team C, which in turn defeats Team A?
Pretty often, right?
Given that we now understand loss aversion, and can see the swings in motivation levels and momentum that take place both before and within every football game, we can also understand that the difference between two teams is quantifiable only in general terms.
It is far more accurate to say that the margin between Collingwood and Hawthorn is anything from one goal to seven goals (Collingwood’s way) depending on the flow of the game, the vagaries of lucky bounces or umpiring decisions, and the ebb and flow of loss-aversion momentum -– and where that all sits when the final siren sounds.
Who wins depends on the swing of the pendulum at the final siren.
EXAMPLE: By the end of the 2010 season, the difference between Collingwood and St Kilda was anything from one goal St Kilda’s way to nine goals Collingwood’s way – depending on the ebb and flow of play.
In the Grand Final, the Saints almost got the pendulum back far enough to steal the premiership. And not surprisingly either, as they had enormous loss aversion working for them that day.
They had lost the previous year’s Grand Final in heartbreaking circumstances (the ultimate loss aversion generator) and then trailed at half time in the 2010 decider by almost four goals.
If ever loss aversion was going to kick in for a team, this was the moment!
Sure enough, the Saints dug deep, the Magpies tightened up (as is human nature in anticipation of a gain) and St Kilda almost stole it. Only a desperate loss-aversion motivated play by Nick Maxwell allowed the Magpies to save the game at the death.
A week later in the replay, Collingwood’s loss aversion had increased significantly – having come so close to a loss they could feel it – and this time when the final siren sounded the pendulum was at the other end of the scale – Magpies ahead by nine goals.
So we can say Collingwood was anything from zero to nine goals better than St Kilda.
We can’t say that Collingwood was “nine goals better” however, because that ignores the evidence of one week earlier.
So let’s have fewer definitive statements and start understanding how the smarties, like bookmakers, view sport.
All results within a spectrum of outcomes are possible and definitive statements about one team being “x points” superior or inferior to another are simply one more example of the sort of useless generalisations often tossed around in sport.