Bizarre shots on goal

Ted Hopkins of TedSports talks goal-kicking.

Nothing generates as much emotion, frustration, and bizarre assertions than ill-directed and inexplicable missed goals.

According to a variety of sources official and unofficial, it seems while skills have improved overall, a continual paucity of sharp shooting has not improved, and gone backwards.

The latest example is August 29 article in the Age titled, ‘AFL hopefuls to be tested in goalkicking’:

“In news to hearten fans who can’t fathom why everything in the game except the finishing touch that matters most, potential draftees are set to be subjected for the first time to a goalkicking test at November’s AFL draft combine.”

The article then claims goalkicking is, “a skill that has declined at AFL over the past decade.”

Apparently, the AFL-AIS has now devised a scientific format to test; “all aspects of goal kicking, including set shots, on the run, and snaps.”

Comprehensive feedback from the tests, including data and vision will be provided to the clubs.

How bizarre!

No doubt, kicking skills are critical to foster and identify. However, this latest ‘inspired’ program itself, looks to be off-target.

Firstly, is it scientific overkill? All this energy, expense, and public relations are involved when a more pragmatic assessment can provide better results.

For example, astute observation, coaching knowledge, and checking the scoring details of draft prospects prior to the Combine testing is just as likely a more reliable guide.

Basing an evidence-based opinion on a handful of ‘shots-at-goal’ in an laboratory context during the Combine is questionable science simply because of the small data sample involved.

Over time and plenty of examples in real situations is the only way of determining a player’s true capabilities.

For four years prior to 2012, Tom Hawkins was derided as a sharp shooting dud. Now, suddenly, he’s the genius master blaster.

Would Hawthorn’s legend goal kicking genius, Peter Hudson, or today’s West Coast sharp shooter, Josh Kennedy, be downgraded because of their wobbling, ungainly approach to the mark?

The second reason the article rings bizarre is because of the incorrect claim scoring accuracy has declined.

Rather than decline, the relative stable scoring accuracy of the modern era more likely indicates a ceiling on scoring accuracy exists.

In nearly all other sports the acceptance of a ceiling threshold is commonplace and only microscopic increments are possible thereafter. For example, sprinting, jumping, and throwing events, or the frustration elite golfers experience trying to average under 1.5 putts per green.

In golf, only an advance in ball and club technology, or rules that expand the diameter of the hole, or flatten greens are likely to do the trick. The same principle applies in most of today’s professional sports, and goalkicking in AFL is similar.

[Prior to 1970, in each decade, scoring averages hovered below 50%, and afterwards, hovered close to 50% in the 70’s, and above since.](#myModal-461)

The improvement, first evident in 1969, was helped along by the introduction of the out-on-the-full rule; vastly improved footwear that replaced above ankle laced boots and nailed cork stops; and coaching edicts preferring drop punts rather than drop kicks and floating punts.

Seldom is the question asked or canvassed as to why a scoring accuracy ceiling exists in AFL.

Here are three reasons why.

1. Like golf putting, kicking for goal is technically difficult. The slightest degree of variation at the point of contact, level of impact, and the amount of pace can have a compounding and significant effect on the object’s projection.

2. In AFL it is custom for any player within scoring range to have a pot at goal whether they are a recognised sharp shooter or sprayer. In other football codes a designated kicker only is assigned the duties.

Simple arithmetic says that when any of the 36 players on the field are licensed to shoot, the chances of scoring accuracy is limited.

3. The aerodynamics of the Sherrin itself inhibit advances in scoring accuracy. The dominant lacing and four segment stitching are quite unique compared to other ball codes; in which the manufacture and shape allow for more aerodynamic control by the player.

Wind tunnel studies have confirmed the tumbling Sherrin generates more turbulent and unstable air flows compared to balls from other football codes.

Turbulence effects are obvious at Etihad Stadium.

There is no outside wind, a smooth surface. A Tomahawk bomb heads straight towards splitting the goal centre, then suddenly veers at the last moment and hits the post.

Why?

His kicking action was executed brilliantly.

In reality, turbulence has the last say.

The enclosed environment of the Stadium compared to other open weather venues present an ideal basis to test the proposition of declining scoring accuracy or otherwise.

If there is a ceiling on scoring accuracy and the three main culprits are as noted above, then it is expected scoring accuracy at Etihad over the past decade should be marginally ahead of other venues, but not by a largish margin.

And this is certainly the case. Focusing on set shots only is an appropriate benchmarking because this reduces the influence different games styles may have on shots-on-the-run or snaps.

From 2002 to 2012 the scoring accuracy for set shots at all venues combined is 62% and at Etihad 64.2%.

At Etihad the scoring accuracy for set shots from 2002 to 2009 is 64.7% and in the past three seasons 63%.

These simple calculations reveal fundamental principles regarding scoring accuracy.

In the first instance it appears weather effects can have a variable effect of between 2% to 3% on overall scoring accuracy. This is significant because 2002 to 2009 were drought years with drier grounds and less wind conditions.

During the past three years the weather has returned to more normal rain and wind patterns.

And in the second instance; while there has been a drop of 1.7% in set shot scoring in the past three years at Etihad compared to the previous seven years, the fall is still within the expected rate of variation.

And importantly, there are factors of game styles that can vary the rate of set-shot accuracy other than weather factors.

Tactics such as forward presses and increased congestion in forward zones can mean more players having pots-at-goal and from wider angles.

Before sounding alarm that bells scoring accuracy is in decline, further examination of existing statistics can help confirm the extent pressing and congestion may have on accuracy.

In summary, it is agreed good kicking skills are critical for success and the attractive appeal of the game.

However, if the footy public wants better scoring accuracy they should stop bagging the players for a decline that does not exist, and be willing to accept changes that most footy followers would find unpalatable.

For example, widening the distance between the goal posts, allowing a designated kicker to shoot for goal, eliminate behinds from the scoring system, or introduce a round ball as in soccer and Gaelic Football, or a smooth moulded oval ball as in the rugby codes and American Football.

Bewilderment and frustration at a player’s inability to slot a goal is a cherished feature of following the code, and will always exist.

Based on The Age article about testing draftees’ goal kicking skills at the Combine, footy is also destined for officialdom and experts getting carried away with pseudo science based on misreading the data.

How bizarre!

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