Journal of Sports Science and Medicine
Journal of Sports Science and Medicine
ISSN: 1303 - 2968   
Ios-APP Journal of Sports Science and Medicine
Androit-APP Journal of Sports Science and Medicine
from September 2014
©Journal of Sports Science and Medicine (2006) 05, 533 - 540

Research article
Possession Versus Position: Strategic Evaluation in AFL
Darren M. O’Shaughnessy 
Author Information
Champion Data, Melbourne, Australia

Darren M. O’Shaughnessy
✉ Champion Data, Melbourne, Australia.
Publish Date
Received: --
Accepted: --
Published (online): 15-12-2006
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In sports like Australian Rules football and soccer, teams must battle to achieve possession of the ball in sufficient space to make optimal use of it. Ultimately the teams need to score, and to do that the ball must be brought into the area in front of goal - the place where the defence usually concentrates on shutting down space and opportunity time. Coaches would like to quantify the trade-offs between contested play in good positions and uncontested play in less promising positions, in order to inform their decision-making about where to put their players, and when to gamble on sending the ball to a contest rather than simply maintain possession. To evaluate football strategies, Champion Data has collected the on-ground locations of all 350,000 possessions and stoppages in the past two seasons of AFL (2004, 2005). By following each chain of play through to the next score, we can now reliably estimate the scoreboard “equity ”of possessing the ball at any location, and measure the effect of having sufficient time to dispose of it effectively. As expected, winning the ball under physical pressure (through a “hard ball get”) is far more difficult to convert into a score than winning it via a mark. We also analyse some equity gradients to show how getting the ball 20 metres closer to goal is much more important in certain areas of the ground than in others. We conclude by looking at the choices faced by players in possession wanting to maximise their likelihood of success.

Key words: Notational analysis, Australian Rules Football, tactical coaching

           Key Points
  • Equity analysis provides a way of estimating the net value of actions on the sporting field.
  • Combined with spatial data analysis, the relative merits of gaining position or maintaining possession can be judged.
  • The advantage of having time and space to use the ball is measured in terms of scoreboard value, and is found to vary with field position.
  • Each sport has identifiable areas of the field with high equity gradients, meaning that it is most important to gain territory there.
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