Should you be taking statistics in your game?

Is it appropriate to be taking stats in your games? Why do you take them and what do you do with them?

Data and statistics are everywhere we look, and sport is certainly no exception in our modern world. Like them or not, when taken accurately, stats certainly provide insight into player consistency on court and can highlight strengths and weaknesses regarding team or squad performance. While they can be interpreted in many ways, there is no ignoring them in the sports world where they have undoubtedly become more important than ever. But is the process of taking stats simply something that should be reserved for those at professional, elite level netball? Or does it have a place at every level of competition?

Maybe you are someone who thinks that the only statistic that matters is the final score? Or maybe you have your head buried in your iPad or other note taking paraphernalia every game day? In fact, there is a strong possibility that you find yourself sitting somewhere between these two chains of thought! In my coaching career I have had seasons where I have never lifted a pen to take stats or write game specific notes at all. I have had seasons where I have taken shooting stats only, and those where I have taken stats only to do nothing with them. I have had seasons where I have covered every stat you can imagine along with video analysis! Did one approach lead to a more successful season than the other? The answer to that is no. Does this mean I don’t find taking stats valuable? The answer to that is also no. Taking stats certainly has its place, but it is essential to remember that the feedback that you provide and the way in which you are using the information is far more important than the statistics themselves.

If you are someone that is interested in what taking stats can offer you as a coach, it is important to remember a few things before you throw yourself into it.

Firstly, coaches should be coaching (who would’ve thought right!). Coaches need to spend as much time as possible in the moment, watching the game unfold. Netball is a complex and dynamic game and it goes without saying that if a coach attempted to do their own stats, the stats would be poor and inaccurate and their ability to coach players would be affected as well.

So who should do them then? Some coaches like to involve bench players in taking stats to keep them involved in the game when court time is reduced, some like to ask team managers to take on the role and some like to engage someone separate from their extended coaching team. Those who are really serious will have multiple people engaged in the process to ensure that the information gained is as accurate as possible because incomplete stats have about as much value as no stats at all. So, if you are serious about wanting to gain the rewards from stat taking, find your people! You may find yourself pleasantly surprised by those who find this stuff interesting or you may even be able to put that parent who has too much to say on the sidelines to good use and keep them busy!

Another thing to really consider is the purpose of your stat taking! You could have a long list of things you are looking out for; passes taken, centre pass, breaking, obstruction, contacts…the list goes on. But is it really worth it? Are you going to use every one of those items on your long list and do anything with the information? Maybe you are, but I always find myself going back to the ones that give me the most leverage: Goal attempts/goals scored; intercepts; rebounds; tips/deflection (I would note if we gained possession here); and turn overs.

I find one of the most telling indicators of how the game was played out is found by looking at how many converted turnovers took place in the game. Now this list isn’t exhaustive and everyone has their own preferences because there are many of us who coach very differently, so its important that you choose what gives you the best leverage and what is manageable. So now that we have all of these statistics, what are we going to do with them?

How can they best be used to help you improve individual and team performance? This is more important than the actual process of taking the statistics in the first place! The information you now have can be used to help set individual goals, to reflect in preparation for your next match, to look at particular player positions, to discuss tactics and game plays and to look at common themes that may present themselves amongst players, or even from week to week. Please, whatever you do, do not use your stats to simply highlight player and team weaknesses. Generally speaking, players know when they have made mistakes and haven’t been at their best. Using them in such a negative way will only be detrimental to player and team confidence and your players will potentially stop taking risks and will be too afraid to make mistakes. Balance areas for improvement with the obvious strengths that your stats have brought to light!

As I mentioned before, if you already use stats, or you are considering dipping your toe into the waters, it is extremely important to use them purposefully, and positively and to ensure thorough and appropriate feedback is given. But be warned, stats don’t explain everything! Let’s look at an example: ‘Molly’, who is a wing defence, may not have had a lot of intercepts or deflections, but she held her player off the ring and prevented second phase on the circle edge most of the game. She played such a tight defensive game that her opponents’ mates were reluctant to pass her the ball. By all accounts, ‘Molly’ had an outstanding defensive game, her pressure caused many turnovers and she had a positive influence on the game’s outcome – a win for any wing defence! But sadly, many of ‘Molly’s’ wins will not find their way to the stats sheet! Stats simply can’t measure everything! Molly is one example, but the reality is that the examples of this in netball are endless. What about a held pass? Generally speaking, a held pass is caused by a great deal of defensive pressure from all players on the court, yet it will only appear as a stat for the player who ends up with the penalty and mark against their name for a turnover!

Statistics can be a very good measure for players and coaches to use and can provide significant detail about a game. You might take them for your own perusal, to help you plan your training each week, and you may take them to share with your players. Whatever your personal preference, it is worth considering that it doesn’t matter how good you are at analysing game statistics or how much you do so, the use of stats alone is never going to assure any coach guaranteed success….it is simply another tool you can add to your coaching repertoire. It is, however, one that can result in meaningless numbers, or, could alternatively be an essential coaching aid all of this depends on how you go about it.

By Coach Carrol

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