SUMMARY: Stoppages… inside 50s… disposals… so what stats should coaches really be worried about in games of football? The answer may surprise you. Includes two stats that we recommend all grassroots coaches keep a track of.

Background

If you follow AFL on TV, you will see a plethora of stats being quoted by commentators and experts alike. It sometimes makes for interesting viewing, but unfortunately for grassroots coaches like us, we simply don’t have the resources to keep this level of statistics.

Which begs the question – since our resources are limited and we can only keep a few statistical areas during our games, which ones should we choose?

It’s a question we thought we’d investigate. So we have examined some of the major statistical categories in the AFL this year (up to round 6) to see how they relate / don’t relate to a team’s position on the AFL ladder… and with surprising results.

Stoppages

If you follow AFL, you will know that our elite coaches and commentators alike harp on about the importance of winning the stoppages. Like former Melbourne Coach Mark Riley once told us in an interview, “Games go the way of the stop plays, so this is one area that teams need to be proficient at in order to wins games of football.”

So how true is this claim? Well here are how the better performing teams in this area are doing on the AFL ladder so far?

Stoppages Stats

LEGEND

Stoppages Legend

When you examine these statistics, a few interesting points standout. Firstly, 6 of the top 8 teams in this area are in the top 8. And the reverse is true for the bottom 8.

Strangely enough, Geelong – who are on top of the ladder at this point in the season – lose slightly more than they win yet are on top of the ladder. West Coast are also the 3rd best team in this area but are 2nd last.

Conclusion – Judging by these statistics, it is clear that there is a very strong link between winning stoppages and winning games of football, as coach Mark Riley claimed. The better teams in this area tend to be better positioned on the ladder, and the worst teams tend to be at the bottom.

Inside 50s

Inside 50’s are another statistic that commentators sometimes quote during games. So is there a pattern between the number of inside 50’s a team has and their position on the ladder?

Inside 50s

As you can see, there is a strong correlation between a team’s inside 50’s and their position on the ladder. But we did note that in a recent article in the Herald Sun, footy commentator Mark Stevens also stated that:

“Since 1999, 488 teams have conceded 60 or more inside 50s in a game without having 60 themselves. Only 59 teams won when this has happened. Therefore, as soon as it happens, you have only a 12 per cent chance of winning.”… interesting!

So what about the inside 50 differential then? (the difference between the number of times a team enters their 50 compared to their opposition). Well here are the statistics.

Inside 50s Differential

Once again, we see a very strong correlation. Here, the 3 top performing teams in this area sit in the top 3 positions on the ladder. 6 of the top 8 teams are also in the top 8. The bottom performing teams also sit bottom of the ladder as well.

Amazingly, Adelaide and Sydney are the 9th and 10th worst in the league respectively, yet 4th and 5th on the ladder. This is perhaps a result of their outstanding defensive pressure, which appears to be restricting the effectiveness of both their opposition’s delivery into the 50, and also the scoring opportunities once inside.

Conclusion – There is a strong correlation between inside 50s and a team’s position on the ladder, but this statistic only perhaps tells part of the story. A better indicator may be the inside 50 differential as footy commentator Mark Stevens made claim to.

Errors

Another area that coaches and commentators often look at is a team’s error count. Yet, when you look at the total error count on it’s own, the statistics don’t seem to reveal much at all.

Error Statistics

As you can see, the error count seems to be pretty evenly spread throughout the ladder. Geelong are one of the worst performing teams in this area, even though they are undefeated for the year thus far. West Coast on the other hand are one of the best performers in the league when it comes to errors, however sit second bottom.

But if a team has the ball more than the opposition, it only stands to reason that they will make more total errors. So will the error count as a percentage of disposals tell us anything?

Error Percentages

Once again, it seems to be pretty evenly spread across the ladder. The only thing that really stands out here is that 3 of the bottom 4 teams in this area are also 3 of the bottom 5 teams on the ladder. Other than that, there is no real pattern… probably because different styles of games tend to lend themselves to different error counts.

So what about the differential of errors compared to the opposition then? Does that tell us anything?

Error Differential

This statistic appears to be more revealing. As you can see, 3 out of the top 4 teams in this area are in the top 8 on the ladder. And 3 of the bottom 4 in this area are also 3 of the bottom 4 on the ladder.

Conclusion – Errors don’t tell us much as there are a number of different factors which need to be considered such as styles of play, defensive pressure and so on. Error differential on the other hand seems to be more insightful.

Disposals

So what about disposals then? This is something that is always bought up commentators… Well this is an interesting one.

Disposals

As you can see, 4 of the top 5 disposal teams occupy the top 4 positions on the ladder. The rest though appears to be a blur. This may be because weaker sides still tend to build up possessions, albeit “junk possessions” from kicking sideways and playing possession football.

Conclusion – There does seem to be a slight pattern of top sides having more disposals than the poorer performing sides. However, the quality of disposal (eg. attacking versus possession footy) needs to also be taken into consideration.

1%’ers

1%’ers are another measuring stick that some coaches look at in games. But how important are they really?

1% Statistics

As you can see, this statistic seems to be evenly spread. But look closer and you will see that 2 of the bottom 3 teams in this area also sit in the bottom 4 on the ladder. This tells us that 1%’ers are important, but only if your team can capitalise on them.

Conclusion

Statistics can provide some important insights into how your team may be travelling, but as you can see, they don’t tell the full story. Another statistic we would have loved to included in this article was ‘marks inside 50’ however in this case, we couldn’t find them anywhere in the public domain so couldn’t analyse them in the context of their ladder positions.

But back to the original question – what statistics should grassroots coaches be keeping then with their limited resources? Well here is what we have found to be useful.

      Stoppages – We’ve found that recording both the team that wins a stoppage and the player that wins it to be very useful. This lets you see whether or not you are winning the stoppages in a game. It also lets you identify the opposition’s top stoppage players so you can immediately plan negating tactics to reduce their influence. Furthermore, you can quickly see who your best stoppage players are on the day and can exploit them throughout the course of a game (eg. put them all around the stoppages when the other team gets a run on).
      Marks Inside 50 – We’ve also found recording your marks inside 50, the player who kicked the ball inside 50, and the player that marks it inside 50 to be useful. This allows you plan your defensive match ups a whole lot better as the game goes on.

We recommend you get someone in to record these two basic areas in your games. We also recommend that the record keeper be allowed to approach the coach when they begin to see important patterns emerging, such as a particular player dominating at the stoppages.

With these two important stats behind you, you’ll be able to make better informed decisions during your games and hopefully be more competitive as a whole.

Posted by David Johnson

David “Johnno” Johnson is our chief football researcher and writer. With over 20 years of coaching experience in all grades of football David was also a prominent footballer himself, having played at Teal Cup level and was even recruited by the Essendon Football Club. The pinnacle of David's coaching experience saw him as the assistant coach of the East Fremantle Shark Football Club in the WAFL for a number of years.

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