Understand Footy

The breaking point

In most AFL games, it's around 20 points. Give or take a goal. In finals, it's greater, since more is at stake and combatants don't concede until there's absolutely no chance of victory (at which point, however, blowouts often occur.)
In ordinary games at Docklands, where scoring is often higher, the breaking point may be more like 30-36 points, whereas at a ground like Subiaco it may be closer to 20.
However, this also depends on the timing. The above generalisation applies to second-half leads.
In the first half, the rubber band is more difficult to break. It's not impossible for a team 40 to 50 points down early in a game to come back (although very rarely to never will it go on to win).

The Rubber Band Effect

Given that loss aversion motivation ebbs and flows during a sporting contest – depending on who is winning – a critical point is reached in most games. Upon reaching that tipping point, the outcome then pivots on who scores the next goal.
Think of what happens as being similar to stretching a rubber band. Either it snaps back hard, or it breaks down.
Here’s how it works in football.
Team A and team B are evenly matched and everyone expects a tight tussle.
Team A gets away to an early lead, hence raising the loss aversion of team B, which is thus motivated to try harder and to start taking more aggressive risks.
Loss aversion theory suggests that there must be a point at which the trailing team reaches maximum motivation.
This is indeed the case. In most AFL games of the modern era, depending slightly on weather and ground conditions, this seems to be around
15-24 points.
When the margin is in this zone, the trailing team’s loss aversion is peaking – while at the same time the leading team is starting to anticipate a win and tightening up. The rubber band has stretched to its maximum. Usually, now it snaps back hard, the trailing team bangs through several goals, and the game quickly tightens up.
However, if the leading team can extend its lead beyond that four-goal margin, the motivation levels of the trailing team start to drop quickly, as members of the trailing team become disheartened and start doubting whether they can win the game.
Now the elastic band can be stretched too far and it snaps.

A case in point was the 2011 Grand Final between Geelong and Collingwood.
Having won the early skirmishes, Collingwood skipped out to a lead of 15 points during the second quarter and was threatening to blow the game open.
The game’s rubber band reached its maximum point.
What happened? Collingwood could not score the next vital two goals to break the Cats.*
Instead, at maximum loss aversion, the Cats simply willed themselves back into the contest, forcing the ball forward by sheer strength of will and physical effort, scrambled two goals and regained their lost momentum.
Of course we know that Collingwood also raised its effort and a period of “arm wrestle” ensued, but now it was the Cats with the underlying momentum and belief and they went on to stretch the rubber band their way before eventually breaking it midway through the final quarter.
loss aversion rubber band comes into play in most games of AFL.
Watch for yourself!

* Think also of the 2010 Grand Final, when in almost identical circumstances, Collingwood led St Kilda by four goals late in the second quarter when forward Travis Cloke had two gettable shots for goal that would have blown the game open. He tightened up in his kicking stride (ie. choked) on both kicks and “shanked” the shots, leaving the Saints still within touch at half time. The rubber band was stretched to the maximum but still intact. What happened? The motivated Saints snapped back hard in the third term and eventually forced a draw.