Understand Footy


This is the age-old coach's conundrum – how to stop an opposition "run on".
The most effective circuit breaker is a break in play.
In the old days, a brawl would do it.
These days, a quarter or half time break does it. This gives the team on the receiving end of the onslaught time to re-focus and regain its own loss aversion.
What else can you do?
So-called tempo football, which became fashionable in the Noughties, is the other way. Deny your opponents the ball, slow down the play, and seek to take some energy out of their game.

What is form and momentum?

Be sceptical about the illusion of “form”. It is a fickle phenomenon.
Like the wind, it can come and go in an instant – in one play, in one fumble, in one miskick.
If it were a more tangible thing, sport would be a whole lot more predictable, and we’d all be better punters. If someone starts trying to compare the form of two teams, stick your fingers in your ears. It’s meaningless.
There is no accounting for “form” most of the time. Supposedly out of form teams suddenly win, and in-form teams unaccountably lose. Team A defeats team B, which defeats team C, which defeats team A.
Teams turn around massive losing margins in a week.
Every game, every set of circumstances and every contest – every match-up of players – is different. Motivation ebbs and flows between and within games.
Never be sucked in to tipping a football team on “form”.
Line up the teams on paper, factor in loss aversion and you’ll tip many more winners.


What about momentum?

There is no such thing as an indidual player having momentum in the sense that a player who has just kicked a goal is statistically no more likely to kick the next goal.
But in a team sense, momentum does seem to be a real phenomenon in Aussie rules, as first one then the other team get a "run on" and score quickly, players riding alternating waves of adrenalin, taking calculated risks that pay off, winning free kicks and rendering their opponents powerless to stop the avalanche.
Coaches insist that their teams make the most of their scoring chances "when we have the momentum".
You hear commentators say this too, as if momentum is some quality that teams take it in turns to have, or that randomly occurs if you wait long enough.
But this is not what happens at all.
Start noticing at what point in games these momentum swings occur. Almost invariably, momentum is generated by the team that is losing and fighting desperately to stay in the game.
Momentum is the manifestation of loss aversion.
It is the result of a trailing team lifting its intensity and then getting the game to run its way, while the opposition – almost always the team in front on the scoreboard – goes into its shell.
This dynamic generates a certain "momentum umpiring" phenomenon, too, that goes hand in hand with a crowd whose passions are stirred by a team's deeds and is baying for free kicks.
So not only is the ball appearing to bounce your way – that's the appearance when players are taking aggressive, calculated risks – but so are the free kick calls.
Of course, you generate multiple shots for goal, and should "take your chances" by nailing them.
The problem with "taking your chances" when you have the momentum is that scoring and hitting the lead yourself actually spurs the opposition's loss aversion and starts to erode your own – so you begin to lose the momentum.
So yes, you must kick goals, but missing the goals usually maintains your loss aversion and therefore keeps intensity levels high. Think here of those Collingwood sides under Malthouse that attacked via the boundary and found it hard to get the ball through the goals despite a high-intensity game that meant they had the momentum for long periods of games.
They maintained their intensity partly because they were missing the goals!
Of course there is a limit – you can eventually dissipate your momentum when trailing if the goals don't start to go through and players begin to feel resigned to defeat.
Beyond that, however, the idea that a club or team can have form and momentum" is a little nebulous.
It's the swings and roundabouts of motivation by loss aversion...

How to rate teams
Other footy myths