Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Randomness vs out of control

In ultimate, you occasionally see great upsets, games with few turnovers, and runs of 3 or 4 breaks in a row against a good offense. Now imagine a Strat-o-Matic Ultimate game. You would still see great upsets, games with few turnovers, and runs of 3 or 4 breaks in a row against a good offense. This article either does or does not say (I can’t figure it out) that the frequency of these things in Strat-o-Matic Ultimate is no different from the frequency in real ultimate.

This says to me (if it does say anything) that it’s probably folly to use a goal/no goal system to determine if you’re playing unnaturally well or badly. The human mind is terrific at finding patterns, but sometimes it finds patterns that aren’t really there. “Uhoh, tails came up twice in a row, better change the coin.” If you perceive a pattern that isn’t there, you may end up switching to a suboptimal strategy or set of personnel.

This is where your “scouts” are useful. Sometimes experienced eyes can tell whether a run is due to bad play or bad luck. It’s harder still to know whether a good run is due to play or luck, since a bad run forces you to consider making a change, while a good run is just business as usual, or so you think. Experienced eyes will go beyond just whether you scored or not and will look at the constituents of the point. Did we force any high stall counts? Were there any near-blocks? How many first options did we shut down? For the offense, did we make any bad throw choices that came out well? Were we clogging? Are we moving the disc? Did we just take good shots that didn't work out?

But these are hard to tell. If you were to ask me how our offense is doing, I would probably take how I felt out there and project it to the squad, with perhaps an observation or two about some non-turnover-causing mistake I witnessed (e.g., so-and-so cut me off so we’re not creating space well). It’s not that I’m being petty about it, but that’s the world I’m seeing for those 12 seconds of offense.

Who has better ideas of what to focus on? Anyone have any cues to focus on?


Idris said...

to many formulas for me to read that thing.

I know I'm dumb, so I'm not really suprised, but I have no idea what this post is about.

jtflynn said...

how many engineers does it take to translate a statistics paper?

evidently, more than two (and i dunno about you, but my stats background is pretty strong.) i understand the method described in C.Andrews' paper but not all of the mechanics nor conclusions (which don't seem to exist). If you have possession (or more possessions) you're more likely to score? That's a real breakthrough in understanding!

Anyway, I completely agree with your assessment that objective statistics aren't especially useful in evaluation of play, although they may tell you roughly where to look for problem sources. As a coach/leader, my objective is to determine our team's weaknesses, and WHY turnovers happen is much more interesting than HOW. Was it execution verus choice errors? Do we huck too much? Not enough? How are individuals contributing to turnovers (throws, drops, clogging, etc.)? Are O-team problems different than D-team? I could go on forever.

Anyway, until you can answer these kinds of questions, your stats are really only useful for wasting time with spreadsheets at work, not making the team better.


parinella said...

Summary of the post: just because you got broken twice in a row or gave up four in a row on defense doesn't mean that there's anything wrong with how you're playing (or just because you got two breaks in a row doesn't mean you're doing something right). There may be, but you need to look deeper.

I'd amend shiv's statement to "objective statistics over a short time period aren't especially useful in evaluation of play". And you won't be able to get to the answer for some of those questions unless you take stats. But by themselves they don't give you anything that you should feel comfortable acting on during a game or possibly even a tournament.

Anonymous said...

Yes, this very complicated paper shows the downside of statistics. It is possible to calculate stacks of stuff with maths. But does it really help in this instance in how to play better ultimate? I dont think so.


Dennis said...

"objective statistics over a short time period aren't especially useful in evaluation of play".

Homer coaching Bart in miniature golf:
"Keep your head down, follow through. [Bart putts and misses]
Okay, that didn't work. This time, move your head and don't follow through. "

But I would amend the quote from "especially" to "necessarily."

I could see some team having an over-reactive subber or coach, who is immediately changing lines or D's based on too little information or due to simple fluke runs based on luck.

The flip side is that I think most teams often refuse to see faults that are there or rationalize them away. The problem for most teams is often not adjusting quickly enough.

But it's incredible how blind many players are to the difference between good ultimate and good luck -- or bad ultimate and bad luck. I am constantly hearing on the sideline views of a game that are antipodal to reality: "The man is working, we just need to run harder" -- after a turnover free half by the other team, etc...


parinella said...

I didn't intend to badmouth the paper, and I was mostly referring to the "streakiness" section of the paper, where he found (I think) that there was no detectable difference in the patterns of scores and breaks between real ultimate teams and a random number generator.

Anonymous said...


this has nothing to do with your current post about some kid from Oberlin's stat paper on ultimate (they used to have a course that teaches klingon btw... cool.)

this post has to do with glory days. Saturday night at chesapeake, we (metal) sat down at a teammates house and watched '94 national semis of dog vs. ny to watch some cool ultimate and rehydrate and get ready for another 94 degree 94% humidity day.

after watching the film, i had a couple of questions. the film i was watching was not "HD" in any way (which is a shame because cork's hairdo was unbelievable... were those frosted highlights?).

so a couple of questions are:
1.) why were you guys playing on what looked to be a brown hayfield with green grass all around you.
2.) Where was it, and was it windy?
3.) besides the very intense celebrations and field rushing, i have heard that these years ultimate was very intense, gritty, and physical, but it didn't come off as that on camera. rather, there looked to be a lack of hard marks, a lot of zone, and not a whole lot of bodying up the downfield cutters or fouls. i dont' mean to insult anyone by saying the D wasn't good, just saying that it seemed less physical and more cushiony/poachy.
4.) all things being equal, if you had a time machine and put '94 dog in the 05 nationals, how would they stack up, athletically, skill-wise, etc.
5.) there seemed to be a general lack of dump-swinging and a lack of flow (like it seemed the thrower would have the disc for 6 or 7 seconds before throwing to the force side). was this due to each teams D or was that just how the O was played?
6.)hammers. holy crap there was a lot of hammers, but i don't really recall any other break throws (except al with a couple low backhands), and there seemed to be not a whole lot of pivoting and/or trying to get the disc to the breakside.
7.) the huck-n-hope seemed to be alive and kicking in '94. thoughts?
8.) were those observers in the orange suits? what role did they serve?
9.) would you say the avearge club national player in those years had better or worse throws than the current average club national player?
10.) do you think the clam was more effective then when teams didn't have a dump (thus making the 0-1-2's jobs a bit more dynamic) than now when a lot of teams have a 2 dump system kind of taking out the 1-2 from taking the first in cutters?
11.) is DoG ever going to wear "throwback" jerseys with the cotton T's and the umbro short shorts? please.

thanks a lot. al, i am sure you read jim's blog, so feel free to steal this post.

#3 metal

Jeters said...

Statistics and performance are hard to match up in a sport where statistical significance is lacking. Baseball and statistics are nicely matched due to the repetition of head-to-head actions with the major variables being people (there are others).

I would argue that Ultimate not only relies on the importance of people variables, but weather, games in a row, lack of head-to-head repeated battles, and so on. It's the main reason why soccer doesn't really focus on statistics (Slight exception with possession time, but not applicable to Ultimate).

This makes it even harder to use statistical based analysis to determine quality of play.


Anonymous said...

There is some discussion in general level on this (how coaches observe the game) in the book "Notational Analysis of Sport" by Mike Hughes and Ian Franks.

Some "excerpts" (all typos are mine):
Novice coaches were tested on their ability to observe and recall critical technical events during one half of an international soccer game. The results showed that the overall probability of recalling critical events correctly for all coaches was approximately 0.42
There was no difference between experimental groups but it was easier to recall certain categorized events (like set piece events such as corners, free kicks, throw-ins)

The more one focuses on a specific action the more peripheral play action is lost.

Experienced coaches do not appear to have any standard and predefined system of monitoring performance, and therefore training novice coaches is hard.

In one study, international soccer coaches could recollect only 30 % of the key factors that determined successful soccer perfomance during one match.
And they (soccer coaches) are only 45 % correct in their post-game assesment of what occurred during 45 minutes of play.

Also personal biases and arousal level makes it hard to make reliable observations of a game.


(Oh yes, this does not exactly answer any of your questions, but it is somewhat related to the topic and I felt I needed to promote this book - a collection of articles really)