Understand Footy

Who will win in 2012?

Working out the 2012 season looks a simple process. At least two, arguably three, and possibly even four, clubs have the required loss aversion motivation to do so.

The two obvious ones are Hawthorn, a club that was “filthy” at having lost last year’s preliiminary final to Collingwood. That loss is now driving its 2012 campaign. Perhaps the AFL fixture makers had a sense of this when they scheduled the clubs to meet again in Round 1. Won’t that be fascinating to watch, because...

The second club is Collingwood. There’s nothing like a lost Grand Final to sharpen a team’s loss aversion for the following season, particularly when it feels it let an opportunity slip. And its players have been saying exactly as much all summer. Working against the Magpies is a very difficult draw (although as we saw in 2010, a difficult draw can work FOR you, as every win is worth “eight points” – four you get and four that your close rival does not).

So the obvious tip from us is a Collingwood-Hawthorn Grand Final, with the rider that, of course, injuries and other misfortunes can bring any campaign unstuck.

Which other clubs are a chance?

Only two, in our book. Carlton must be some chance as it’s gradually building a bank of heart-breaking finals losses, counting itself unlucky last year against West Coast (we don’t agree, by the way, we think the Blues were lucky to get so close, not unlucky to lose). We’re not sure that Carlton has the requisite sense of entitlement yet – that is, that it collectively believes it is good enough to win the premiership – but its case is building, it has a favourable draw to earn home finals, and we therefore think the Blues are a “lock” for the top four. Coach Brett Ratten has already declared this, which is a smart move (although the line “anything can happen from there” is a cop out. The really smart coach sets no ceiling. In other words, anything less than a premiership is a “loss”.) If the Blues can finish one or two, which is not out of the question given Collingwood’s very tough draw, their belief and sense of entitlement can only increase, which would make them more loss averse in big finals than they have been previously.

The “possibly even” fourth chance is St Kilda. This is an unfulfilled group that believes it was good enough to win two premierships but was unfortunate enough to miss both. Its core group *may* have enough steel and energy under a new coach to rise again for ONE last crack at the prize. Many things would need to fall the Saints’ way, but we’re not completely ruling out the possibility.

Best of the rest? West Coast can make up the numbers in the top four but we doubt its loss aversion, ditto Essendon, ditto North Melbourne. The Swans are a generally competitive (ie. loss averse) bunch which tends to keep them in the top half of finishers. And do not discount Fremantle, which is motivated by last season’s under-achievement and the arrival of Ross Lyon, who is well versed at engendering strong loss aversion in a group of players and also has the new-coach factor working in his favour.

And Geelong? Talented side with massive belief – which feeds into a strong loss aversion – but the Cats have not managed to win back-to-back before, suggesting that the satisfaction of victory dulls their loss aversion against highly motivated opposition. Yes, they will win many games, but no, probably not the premiership.

St Kilda
West Coast
North Melbourne

Why Cats won the 2011 premiership

Geelong won the 2011 Grand Final because when it came to the crunch, the Cats’ loss aversion was greater than Collingwood’s.
That’s the bottom line reason.
They were hungrier and more determined not to lose – especially to Collingwood (as it happens).
Loss aversion peaks for a team when it falls behind in a game and begins to sense collectively that it may lose (see
the rubber band effect).
Leigh Matthews observed at one point early in the 2011 Grand Final that he would prefer to be two goals behind than two goals in front throughout a grand final (until the end, obviously!)
He may not have been able to say why he sensed this, but what he meant was, in his experience it’s hard to hold a narrow lead like that because the opposition’s loss aversion is at its peak when the deficit is around two to three goals.
That margin is far enough behind to raise their motivation levels due to loss aversion but close enough to quickly wipe off the deficit – and for the leading team, far enough in front to start feeling inclined to protect your position and thus tighten up.
The leading team really needs to “break” the opposition at this point and stretch the lead to a point where “loss averse” starts to give way to “disheartened”.
It’s just like stretching a rubber band. You stretch it a little way (around a three-goal deficit) and it rebounds hard. But you stretch it beyond that point and snap! It’s game over.
The truth of this was evident in the 2011 decider when Collingwood got a break of this magnitude during the second term.
Many including the TV commentators thought that if the next two goals went Collingwood’s way that would decide the game in the Magpies’ favour as they would have demonstrated they had enough talent and motivation themselves to counter the Cats at peak loss aversion.
It didn’t happen.
Somehow, by sheer willpower (and one lucky sequence of events that culminated in a Jimmy Bartel goal from the boundary line), Geelong clawed back the deficit.
And after another period of “arm wrestling” when the Magpies’ loss aversion peaked in response that extended into the third quarter, the Cats went on from there.
Why did they win? Of course there are reasons to do with individual efforts, injuries, umpiring decisions and match-ups etc., but bottom line is that psychologically the Cats were hungrier and stronger.

Throughout 2011 t
he Cats were driven by last year's preliminary final loss to Collingwood. It was their primary motivator.
That loss drove their pre-season and, let’s face it, this is a supremely loss-averse group of men to begin with. (Demonstrated in their vow after the 2008 shock Grand Final loss to Geelong never to lose to the Hawks again. They haven’t!)
Coach Mick Malthouse observed astutely before the Grand Final that his team played “tight” in the preliminary final against Hawthorn.
That’s how you play when you are subconsciously anticipating a win.
The entire football world including the Collingwood footy club expected the Magpies to win that preliminary final. All the talk through the season and leading up to the game had been about premierships, Grand Finals, especially in relation to the coach, and the club gave little consideration to the possibility it might actually lose on the way there.
This mindset affected everyone from the players to the coach (which by the way explains his tears of relief – which is the normal response to narrowly averting an unexpected and devastating loss.)
It wasn’t until the last quarter of the preliminary final that the Collingwood players got urgently loss averse and “took the game on” – at the urging of captain Nick Maxwell, we might add, rather than Malthouse (whose three-quarter time message was merely to persist and “stick to the structures”).
Collingwood did pull that one out of the fire, prompting the Loss Aversion Institute to reassess their collective loss aversion favourably and declare that the Magpies must maintain that mindset, and the aggressive risk-taking that comes with it, to match Geelong’s motivation in the big one.
Problem was, the Magpies did not have enough of it.
Again in the lead-up, Cats captain Cameron Ling was citing 2008 (“We know how bad it feels to lose.”) It was a good omen for Cats fans that their players were thinking that way.
Ling might as well have added that the Cats had no intention of succumbing to Collingwood as they had the previous year.
In the end, Collingwood lacked the same fierce motivation to avoid loss.
Yes, the Magpie players wanted to win it for a few teammates, yes they laid a record number of tackles and gave their all, but they lacked one thing: those previous devastating losses burning inside them.
The Cats had that
we are not going to lose to these mongrels again motivation, which is the strongest of all. And it prevailed.
Next year, Collingwood will have it – a visceral, gut-level burning motivation to avoid a loss.
Sometimes you really have to taste one first to reinforce the motivation.
Unfortunately for Collingwood, that’s how footy works.
(And also unfortunately, by the way, Hawthorn will have it in spades next year, too. If we were punters at the Loss Aversion Institute –– and we are –– our first speculative bet next season will be on the Collingwood-Hawthorn quinella!)

The Age’s Jake Niall nails loss aversion in his 2012 preview

Loss Aversion can help us lose over-analysis

Many unanswerable football questions suddenly have explanations when viewed through the lens of sports psychology Fear of loss underpins all competitive behaviour.
It is blindingly obvious in football once you start looking for it.
Mind you, our straw poll of AFL coaches last week revealed that surprisingly few, if any, have a handle on the idea, even though they unconsciously employ some of its principles.
Loss aversion explains a great deal about sporting motivation.
It also explains, to take one example, why a team that gets out to a good lead can relax and play within itself (anticipating a gain), while the chasing opposition (averting a loss) simultaneously lifts its desperation levels. Soon the scores reflect this swing in motivation levels and tighten up.
Eventually the leading team realises its gain is under threat and lifts its rating again, usually drawing away to win.
In footy, this happens constantly (exhibit A: Richmond vs Melbourne).
It’s usually the better team that starts well – and almost always the better team that wins – although the occasional “choke” keeps things interesting.
Take Hawthorn and Carlton last Friday night.
Since that game, Carlton fans have been pointing to their second-half revival and bemoaning the early poor performance.
“What went wrong in the first half,” the commentators asked various Carlton players afterwards including Marc Murphy on Channel 10’s Before the Game.
Murphy, like his equally baffled teammates, floundered for an explanation and could offer none.
Try as coaches, players and commentators might, there is no explanation for such performance to be found in preparation, or tactics, or umpiring, or anything else – apart from the fact that a superior Hawthorn team outplayed Carlton.
When the contest was hot, the Hawks had Carlton’s measure.
Their team last Friday night was perhaps two goals a quarter superior to Carlton’s.
But what happened after half time?
Hawthorn got to a comfortable lead then unconsciously began to play more conservatively – as we humans do in anticipation of a gain – while Carlton players, now desperately loss averse, threw themselves into the contest.
The scoreboard gap closed, although the Hawks never quite looked like losing.
The final margin was two goals. Had the game gone another 10 minutes, in all likelihood Hawthorn would have pulled clear again.
In fact, the difference between Carlton and Hawthorn right now is anything from two to seven goals, depending on when the siren goes.
Just as the week before, the difference between St Kilda and Collingwood (actual margin 19 points) was anything from two to seven goals, depending on the surges in motivation levels and when the siren happened to end play.
Fans comforted by the thought that their team “lost by only 12 points” in these circumstances are kidding themselves.
Loss aversion got them close, but the reality is that a considerable gulf remains between the teams.
From time to time in the AFL a struggling team gets a reputation for being “slow starters” and its coach perhaps even begins to “focus” on that.
Richmond comes to mind.
Being a slow starter betrays not some lack of pre-match intensity by the players, or fatigue from a previous road trip, or any mysterious factor other than simply an inferior team meeting stronger opposition.
A demanding coach and club ethos can get your competitive spirit up – another way of saying you’re loss averse – so “slow starters” can fight back.
But they rarely, if ever, go on to win those games, because having a competitive soul (“I hate losing”) takes you only so far against superior talent who match your loss aversion when the outcome is on the line.
Collingwood’s reputation for flying starts reveals not some magical formula, but a superior team at the peak of its game.
So let’s factor in loss aversion later in games and avoid asking participants unanswerable questions about how and why they started them poorly.
It will save a lot of head scratching.