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17Dec/120

THE CARLTON BLUEPRINT

 UNRAVELLING THE BIZARRE ESSAY Number 13 - Ted Hopkins

 

###Was Juddy tall enough for the Carlton Captaincy?

 

Whichever way, 'pushed' or 'relinquished' is immaterial. Chris Judd is no longer the Carlton Captain and not even a member of the team's leadership group.

The move appears like the Prime Minister mysteriously announcing she is no longer interested in the job; instead of heading to Cabinet, she chooses to sit on the backbench.

How bizarre!

All teams thrive on good captaincy, and in Carlton's case, premiership captains are revered.

In the modern era—at least from 1968 onwards—the typical profile of a Carlton premiership captain is a celebrated 'big bloke' who can play tall and fill a key position role; viz, John Nicholls (Big Nick) three times (1968, 70, 72), Mike Fitzpatrick twice (1981, 82), and Stephen Kernahan twice (1987, 95).

Although Alex Jesaulenko (1979), was a mere 'six footer and a bit,' overhead he was unstoppable and could dominate in the key positions of centre-half-forward or full-forward.

On face value, it appears there is a direct correlation between height and overhead ability and Carlton premiership captaincy success.

Judd does not fit the mould, prompting the question: Was he ever tall enough for the captaincy?

Oddly, he is a surprisingly tall 189cm—the same height as Big Nick—yet has played almost exclusively as a rover, an indication of the changing shape of our game. In his five seasons with Carlton and 105 games he has taken only 33 contested marks. His contested mark average of o.3 per game is #38 for all Blues players during this time.

Following this logic, he could never have succeeded as a Carlton premiership captain. His successor should be Matthew Kreuzer, not the current favourite candidates, all shorties, Marc Murphy, Kade Simpson, and Andrew Carrazzo.

However, beware!

Just because something correlates doesn't means it's true.

There are a myriad of reasons Judd has not become a premiership captain at Carlton and has now stepped aside; some obvious, some that can only be guessed at, some that will never be divulged, and plenty of pure bad luck.

He is a gold-plated player and individual serving the Blues and the role with great distinction. And he is a proven premiership captain at West Coast (2006, having assumed the role from the disgraced Ben Cousins).

As someone who is credited with igniting the modern day statistics revolution in Australian sport (The Stats Revolution published by Slattery Media), I am constantly bewildered by the selective use and misuse of data by coaches and commentators who are either statistically naive or pushing barrows.

Without the hint of a smile and headlined by major media outlets, newly appointed coach, Mick Malthouse, recently launched the Carlton Blueprint, including statistical benchmarks guaranteeing unprecedented success.

He claimed his superior game plan would improve the team by five to seven percent, "which I think is realistic. I won't say 10 percent."

He attributes another three to four percent improvement due to young players getting, "a year older, which is in my favour."

His special understanding of the AFL fixture and preparation methods is expected to yield him "another two to three percent."

And finally, better team selection policies and game day rotations will account for an additional, "two to three percent" improvement.

Based on these projections, it would appear Carlton is certain to win every game next season. The premierships cup is already in the cabinet.

How bizarre!

The wonder is the new coach and club is not officially pinged for false advertising.

More convincing than the Blueprint would have been a proper explanation as to why Judd is no longer captain.

So far, all that is offered are diplomatic niceties and weasel words.

The value of captaincy is one of those things that cannot be statistically verified. Only the views of the protagonists  can provide insight.

Game theory attributes two main attributes for captaincy.

Firstly, consistency mixed with bursts of inspiration. In this domain, Judd is supreme. He rates highly for the leader who declares "come and follow me into the heat of battle."

If there is criticism of this form of leadership, it is because teammates can become too dependent upon the leader, or retreat because they cannot meet the high expectation he has shown.

It which case, it is not Judd's problem. It is a sign others surrounding the captain fall short.

If this is how the new coach and club see it and they are now throwing down the gauntlet by disconnecting the captain, then it should be said.

Otherwise, unfair speculation falls upon the capability and contribution of Judd.

The other main attribute for captaincy is strategic thinking and organisation.

The past three premiership captaincies are rated high in this regard—Nick Maxwell (Collingwood) Cameron Ling (Geelong), and co-captains Adam Goodes and Jarrad McVeigh (Sydney).

How a captain or team leaders deploys this attribute is mostly experienced internally. External observers can gain some insights when the captain is demonstrative on and off the field.

However, reticence and subtle demeanour can also be just as effective (which may be the case with Judd). Unless you are involved intimately with the club and the individual, it is difficult to know the score.

At Carlton (29 games 1967 - 1971), I had the privilege of playing under our revered captain, John Nicholls. Privately, he appeared introverted. On the field, he loomed large.

In the dressing room before my first game, the experienced and debonair centre-half-back, John Goold, sat quietly beside me and said, "If Big Nick says something to you on the field, do it."

As second rover, for the first centre bounce I attended, Big Nick said, "stand over there."

The ball hit me on the chest and I was away.

The second time I attended, again Big Nick issued instructions where I should stand.

The ball never came to me.

Afterwards, I asked 'Gooldy' what happened.

'Gooldy' said, "You were the decoy."

You can't put a price or a stat on good captaincy and leadership, but you know when it happens.

 

 

 

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6Dec/120

UNRAVELLING THE BIZARRE ESSAYS – Big Data; Get It, and Get It Right

By Ted Hopkins

 

Stemming initially from University research centres, IT houses, business conferences and webinars, the name Big Data has started bobbing up and is spreading fast.

Typical is a recently glossy business magazine, Momentum, produced by the University Of Queensland that is headlined: ‘Big Data, Get it and get it right.’

How bizarre!

Since much of it is huge, difficult to grasp, and then assess.

Getting it is one thing, unravelling it is another.

I should know.

As early as 1995 I saw some of this phenomenon coming.

Instead of Big Data I called it Champion Data, the name of the small sport statistics company specialising AFL that I found and directed, from back then until October 2009.

The enterprise and my involvement subsequently triggered The Stats Revolution, which is the title of the book I have written on the subject, published by Slattery Media.

So much has changed in that period of almost 20 years—the humble statistic is no longer the humble statistic.

A vast difference now exists between Bruce McAvaney quoting archival statistics as embellished punctuation; compared to how numbers are collected, read, interpreted, and presented today.

In many respects, the numbers gathered now by armies of well-trained statisticians, their numbers available in real time, have now become the game and its language.

Players and teams are subjected to constant measurement by coaches, commentators, policy makers, consumers, and more recently fantasy football enthusiasts and betting interests.

The story of how statistics have infiltrated and evolved in AFL, their usefulness and abuse, is similar to other fields of endeavour.

Big Data is going to get bigger, more persuasive, and will not go away. At times it can be fruitful, and often dangerous. In between, there is lots of superfluous and meaningless junk.

To get the picture, let’s start with coaching an AFL team.

There are around 200 full-time coaching professionals spread around the 19 clubs. Add sports scientists, recruiters, and other specialists and the count is in excess of 500 on football department payrolls.

Game day commitments, recovery sessions, RDO’s and ensuring players are not subject to repetitive strain injuries means the actual time spent on the training track is limited.

What happens during the rest of the week?

Play table tennis? Eat lots of toast and jam?

Perhaps!

Mostly, the in-between time is spent sitting in front of computer screens poring over an ever-expanding array of statistics and multiple vision sources, or attending meetings in which PowerPoint has taken over as the Head Coach.

Legions of football coaches, commentators and their respective support staff have now become ‘Professional Analysts’ searching spreadsheets for the ‘data nuggets’ that will confirm their particular point-of-view.

There are even desktop applications that can do it 'easily' for them. Suddenly, coaches, commentators and officials can claim the title of  ‘data savvy.’ Correlation and data mining are now lingua franca.

But this is just one way of looking at the Big Data question, albeit in its most obvious form.

Like an iceberg, there’s another thing happening under the surface.

It involves teams of highly skilled mathematicians, statisticians, code-cutters, visualisers, interpreters and their respective managers interrogating vast amounts of data.

Their collective priority is listening to what the data says.

Opinion is set aside because it can prove a distraction on the path of discovery. It is far too easy to mistake correlation with causation effects and to find misleading patterns in the data.

The sporting field and databases are rife with imperfections. Error and chance are also vital players.

In this alternative approach to Big Data, knowing the error rate is essential before any declaration of certainty is possible.

AFL season 2013 and the Grand Final provide a choice example of the differences between data used for spruiking or for knowledge.

From season start until the grand final a chorus of coaches and commentators declared ‘contested footy’ was the most critical factor for winning games.

Accordingly, it seemed players willing to use their heads as battering rams, became the way to ultimate success.

However, those who had been ‘listening to the data’ for discovery purposes knew otherwise.

Winning the contested footy count was obviously an advantage, but historically there were several other measures that rate significantly higher.

For example, kicking long to advantage proved consistently highest on the winning radar and poor kicking in the backline the worst thing.

As legendary coach Allan Jeans famously observed long before the advent of computers and Big Data, “there is no point winning the ball unless it is put it to good effect.”

In the grand final Sydney won the long kicks-to-advantage 78 to Hawthorn 53 and lost the contested footy count 140 to Hawthorn 170. They won the flag by 10 points.

How bizarre!

Big Data was right and wrong at the same time, depending on who was listening and who was spruiking.

 

Ted Hopkins is a Carlton premiership player and founder of Champion Data. His latest enterprize is TedSport, delving into the secrets of Big Data.

 

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28Jun/100

Roo Pressure Puts Glitch in Blues’ System

In round 12, on the Friday night stage at Etihad Stadium, Carlton suffered what could be called a network breakdown.

Against North Melbourne, the main systems instrumental in the Blues’ promising start of seven wins and four losses failed to connect.

Explaining reasons for the 29-point loss, coach Brett Ratten referred to the usual culprits: “A lack of intensity and skill errors,” he said. “We gave the ball back too easily. That diminished our confidence to run and spread and get involved.”

This is a standard coaching admission that, in reality, reveals nothing. There is no mention of an opposition out there on the playing field, and what it did to stuff up the best intentions of Carlton’s plan. No acknowledgement of the Disruptive Pattern Theory, which was in effect during this game.

Anyone familiar with computer systems should be familiar with the theory. A simple network glitch breeds panic. There is no plan B. What next? No clues! The Roos-Blues game is a good example of how the theory applies in action.

North was outstanding at disconnecting Carlton’s plan A, and then pouncing on the opportunities available. Without an apparent plan B, the Blues looked lacklustre. As Ratten lamented, giving the ball back too easily was certainly the case.

In round 12, on the Friday night stage at Etihad Stadium, Carlton suffered what could be called a network breakdown.

Against North Melbourne, the main systems instrumental in the Blues’ promising start of seven wins and four losses failed to connect.

Explaining reasons for the 29-point loss, coach Brett Ratten referred to the usual culprits: “A lack of intensity and skill errors,” he said. “We gave the ball back too easily. That diminished our confidence to run and spread and get involved.”

This is a standard coaching admission that, in reality, reveals nothing. There is no mention of an opposition out there on the playing field, and what it did to stuff up the best intentions of Carlton’s plan. No acknowledgement of the Disruptive Pattern Theory, which was in effect during this game.

Anyone familiar with computer systems should be familiar with the theory. A simple network glitch breeds panic. There is no plan B. What next? No clues! The Roos-Blues game is a good example of how the theory applies in action.

North was outstanding at disconnecting Carlton’s plan A, and then pouncing on the opportunities available. Without an apparent plan B, the Blues looked lacklustre. As Ratten lamented, giving the ball back too easily was certainly the case.

The supposedly lessercredentialled Kangaroos ‘won’ 79 turnovers from the Blues’ disposals and scored a matchwinning 9.8 (62) from these opportunities. In contrast, Carton won only 57 turnovers from North Melbourne disposals and scored just 4.4 (28) from these chances.

Importantly, the Roos knocked the Blues off their perch around the stoppages. Before the game, Carlton’s main strength had been its ability to out-score its opposition from stoppage wins.

During the game, the Blues had an exceptional advantage of 47 clearances to North’s 27. However, this domination resulted in Carlton scoring only 17 points more than the Kangaroos from their respective stoppage wins.

How could these two discrepancies have occurred? What is Carlton’s plan A? How was it derailed? What mattered in this instance is how North Melbourne applied pressure to the Blues’ system, and the effect this pressure had.

Carlton is the most captaindriven club of any. It’s not unlike North Melbourne of the 1990s under skipper Wayne Carey. Like the Carey example, the Carlton system is engaged to accommodate the exceptional talents of Chris Judd.

Watching Judd take flight, drawing opposition flak while teammates, confident he will prevail, are lining up in attacking positions, is among the most compelling forces in footy. It is a mistake to think the system is a one-man-show. If too much attention is paid to Judd, the likes of outstanding lieutenants Marc Murphy and Bryce Gibbs can get you.

Carlton takes pride in its dominance and effectiveness at stoppages. After Geelong, it is the second-best team at outscoring the opposition from stoppage wins. Slick and efficient exits from stoppages also propel Carlton’s run-and-spread caper.

In their seven wins, the Blues have averaged a remarkable 50 more kicks than their opposition, which is the highest kick differential for any winning team. Hence the supply to their revamped livewire forward structure (minus Brendan Fevola) has been top-notch, and the forwards generally have delivered.

But Carlton has lost five games and what has broken down in these losses is revealing. It has suffered a spectacular drop in kicking dominance, averaging 15 fewer kicks than its opposition in these games.

Against North, Judd, Murphy and Gibbs, along with Eddie Betts (five goals), made important contributions. However, the Roos were outstanding at limiting the roles played by the rest of the team.

North Melbourne, a team that usually struggles to outnumber its opposition for total kicks, evened the score with Carlton. Blaming the Blues’ lack of intensity and skill errors for the loss does not give due credit to how good the Roos were at disconnecting the captain’s system.

The sustained pressure North applied produced 31 turnovers forward of centre, while Carlton could manage only eight in its forward half. The result was further endorsement of the Kangaroos’ work-in-progress development. Carlton should also gain valuable lessons for improvement. Handling pressure and applying it are two of the keys to success.

Take note: the grand masters at these capers are Geelong and St Kilda. They clearly disconnect opponents better than any other teams.

25May/100

An Invitation to ‘The Hopkins Institute’

‘Carlton’s strength has endured because it has almost always operated in a zone between stagnation and anarchy, “the one place where a complex system can be spontaneous, adaptive, and alive”’.’

Dr Lionel Frost, The Old Dark Navy Blues: A History of the Carlton Football Club (Allen & Unwin, 1998), p. 12.

Fellow blue-bagger

You are warmly invited to the inaugural dinner and launch of

The Hopkins Institute

Where: Brandon Hotel, 237 Station St, Carlton (cnr Lee St).

When: 7.00 for 7.30 pm, Thursday 27 May 2010.
($45 for two courses, drinks over the bar)

Guest Speaker: Ted Hopkins (Author of “The Book of Slab”; aka as a Carlton rover who played 29 games between 68 and 71, including one you all know!)

What is The Hopkins Institute?: A diverse group of Carlton barrackers who share the aim of promoting discussion and celebration of ideas and events related to this great club – our glorious history, the course of the current renaissance, literature about or by Carlton people and the meaning of football and life. It is not an official Carlton Football Club group.

RSVP: ASAP
Scott Hargreaves (contact@scotthargreaves.com.au or 0417564642) or Lachlan Carter (lcarter@vicbar.com.au or 0411694767).

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11May/100

Taking the ‘Bomber Shuffle’ to a New Level

Long before Apple Macintosh guru Steve Jobs cottoned on to the idea of the brilliant iPod music shuffle invention, another kind of shuffle was happening in front of our eyes at the MCG and other footy venues around the country. I am referring to the ‘Hot Potato Shuffle’ warm-up drill before games, in which players swarm together into a tightly packed huddle and start jogging up and down, bumping into each other and shifting places.

The sole object of the drill appears to be shuffling the pill among the players at a distance no less than intimate kissing range. It’s a totally whacky thing to observe for anyone like myself who is steeped in the ancient ritual of a warm-up lap and casual kick-to-kick before games. Now, the Hot Potato Shuffle (like the iPod is to music) has become a ubiquitous feature of football, happening constantly during games, and not just before them.

We know who invented the iPod but who was responsible for this other thing? My research has led me to conclude it was Essendon’s 1993 team – the ‘Baby Bombers’ who won that year’s premiership – which was responsible.

Here is how I think it happened. At the start of 1992, under the stewardship of coach Kevin Sheedy and astute football manager Danny Corcoran, Essendon boasted an outstanding coaching panel that included reserves coach Denis Pagan and assistant coaches Neale Daniher and David Wheadon. Highly regarded recruiter Noel Judkin was also on board.

Sheedy had declared he wanted change and creativity. A new plan was discussed by the panel and hatched: ‘quick hands, speed kills’. Lurking among the Pagan-coached reserves premiership team of 1992 was a special crop of youngsters ripe for schooling in the new plan, including James Hird, Joe Misiti, Mark Mercuri, Steven Alessio, Ricky Olarenshaw, David Calthorpe, Michael Symons and Paul Hills.

The following year, these Baby Bombers progressed to the senior Essendon team. They had already been stamped with Pagan-style commitment to win the contest and adherence to the new team rules and playing style the coaches had introduced them to. During 1993, they also benefited from playing alongside senior luminaries including Michael Long, Mark Harvey, Mark Thompson, Paul Salmon, Gary O’Donnell, Gavin Wanganeen and Darren Bewick.

Adding to the quality influence of leadership that these players represented, veteran champion Tim Watson was coaxed from retirement. As the season progressed, the combination of youth and experience and quick hands was beginning to gel. My observation is that over time, the 1993 Grand Final teams, Essendon and Carlton, had grown to dislike one another intensely, eating at the heart enough to elevate it to a fierce rivalry.

However, there is a dictum in warfare: learn from the enemy. On the Carlton side were the genius hands of Greg Williams. How did he do it? Opponents spent considerable time studying not how to stop ‘Diesel’ – an assignment that was nigh impossible – but how to copy him. While the total package was not easy for mortals to replicate, his method of handballing and not kicking when he picked up the ball in heavy traffic became a model for team rules.

Another ploy hatched by Essendon in 1992 was the use of quick hands to get away from a tackle, with the player instructed to aggressively run and carry the ball into attack. Carlton started the 1993 Grand Final clear favourite. By quarter-time, the Blues looked a beaten side, trailing by 30 points. Essendon was just as fierce at the contests as Carlton, but was also dancing ahead in tune to the quick shuffling of the ball that left the Blues bamboozled and flat-footed.

Long and Mercuri were sublime exponents. Thompson is also listed in the AFL Record Season Guide among the best players that day. Sitting in the box that day was Wheadon, architect of the quick hands, speed kills philosophy. Essendon in 1993 had struck a high note. Long won the Norm Smith Medal and Wanganeen the Brownlow Medal. The Baby Bomber brand was born.

Today, not so surprisingly, we are watching a team that does the Hot Potato Shuffle more often and better than anyone else. Geelong has featured in the past three Grand Finals and won two of them. At the helm is coach ‘Bomber’ Thompson – and in the background tutoring the Cats is Wheadon, the club’s skill acquisition and game development coach. It’s no coincidence, is it?
Ted Hopkins is a Carlton premiership player and founder of Champion Data. His current project is TedSport, a high performance data analysis and consulting service.

This column was first published in the AFL Record. Copyright AFL 2010.

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