Coaching UP – Stats and Repeat Sets


Coaching UP - Stats and Repeat Sets

by Smithy has begun to grow . We can tell because the stats say so. It’s time to say thanks to you and others that you may have made aware of this footy website. We are really pleased with the numbers although it has taken a team of geeks and mathematicians to explain them to me. Now I know that not only are we growing in the numbers of people joining us but most people who do are staying on the site for way longer than the average viewer on this type of site. The geeks have told me that’s because most people are reading multiples of our articles – up to seven at just one visit. Thank you again.

As you probably know I have always been quite interested in footy stats. They can confirm stuff your gut suggests but also smash some theories or thoughts that you hold and turn out to be misleading or even wrong (see I am not Fonzy like some of us coaches are painted)!

Like many things in footy Jack Gibson started statistical analysis way back in the late 60s or early 70s after one of his visits to the NFL. He became great mates with people at the old Los Angeles Rams. Jack and his old side kick Ron Massey brought back from the USA many professional enhancements to their coaching which the rest of us young fellas (cough) have run off for the decades since.

Tackle counts were the first of those enhancements I can remember and didn’t some players hate them; “give ups” for players who stood on the blind side (now often called short side) in defence and in the shade when all the work needed to be done. It’s hard to believe isn’t it that no-one actually knew how many tackles anyone was making prior to the days Jack and Mass introduced them to footy. I can remember guys rushing to the penciller post-game to see how many they had made – and the rest of us who didn’t so they didn’t ruin the social time we were planning that night!

We know now that those numbers told an important story but not the whole story. Having a team full of light weight tackling machines was the way some coaches decided to go in a complete over-reaction and that has happened from time to time with many stat-induced trends down the ages.

Personally, I graduated from QUANTITY stats only to QUALITY stats in the early 90s at St George. We decided to create a template of actions players take and rate them so that we had a consistent method of analysis. We added values of both positive and negative to every individual action which gave us total individual and team scores. The accumulation gave all sorts of possibilities.

Computers in their crudest forms joined in and as time went by newspapers and TV have made stats a significant part of their narrative and information supply. You can easily get into stuff that amazes when you combine the link from stats to video footage which is now bread and butter to coaches the world over in analysis of previewing opposition, reviewing matches, recruitment and retention.

Today stats abound in every corner of our lives especially in sport. To not be misled we all need to be careful even as viewers. I suggest that a lot more thought should be associated with their use especially from people being paid to bring commentary to the numbers someone has often presented to them a few minutes before they take the microphone and smile for the camera.

Here is a simple one that really irks me.

Take a look at the NRL competition ladder. See where the Roosters sit and the Dragons scramble. While you are there have a look at the “FOR” column for both clubs. Now listen to the continuous mantra of follow-the-leader commentary week after week telling us the key to success and winning is to dominate the possession and position battle (have more plays in the oppositions half or even within their 20 metres) and then “GET A REPEAT SET”.  Often it’s even the more emphatic “DON”T TRY TO SCORE!”

They support this with stats and here it is – drum roll and trumpets – the Roosters have a problem (yes commentators actually say this) because they are on the bottom of the ladder for gaining repeat sets! It’s apparently a hole in the skills of Pearce and Maloney. Wow.

So to confuse us all the Dragons are on top of that ladder? Which ladder? The one for repeat sets! But what about the ladder that matters? Oops, we all know where they are there.

The Roosters have been trying to score when they get down to that end (and everywhere else for that matter). With all that fire power why would you play negatively or in a restricted thinking mode of hold the ball till we get to the last play and then kick it to trap the opposition in goal.  If they put great plays together without great risk they are way more likely to score and take more out of the opposition as well.

If they haven’t scored but asked great questions on the way to the end of the set they have two tremendous young wingers who are great jumpers and others who are great at sniffing out kicked balls for tries. Kick it for them to contest for tries!

What a wasted resource this would be if the coaches and players at the Roosters had decided to employ the negative method of play – repeat sets.

So the numbers lie. The Roosters are not even attempting many repeat sets. Perhaps a better stat would be successful over attempted kicks for repeats.

But at this point some people/experts try to get us to believe that this is a must way to play; if your team is low in ratings in this part of the game you won’t win. Or worse, for example, the Roosters should change their attitude and philosophy to get more repeat sets! Huh?

Even with the most repeat sets the Dragons have the second worst “for” of the entire NRL clubs! Only a few in front of Parramatta who are also striving for repeat sets!

Surely working for repeat sets should be a secondary positive outcome for professional teams or perhaps a great idea when leading and running down the clock or to gain some composure if the previous sets have ended in conceding possession.

But as a primary goal this repeat set mentality is really playing with the minds of players to not back themselves; not trust them to know when to pass and when not to.

As a final outcome, after a good positive crack at them, gaining a repeat set is pretty good on the scale of all the other possible outcomes.

Handing the ball over at the end of a cracking set of attacking plays is not far behind some repeat sets and better than the most negative of that type of set.

This is just one of the very misleading stats (and associated philosophy) in footy.

If you would like to read more on coaching and pure footy information and discussion keep an eye out for more COACHING UP articles on