We need to talk about Work Rate

GAA is obsessed with Work Rate. It is probably the single greatest point raised by coaches, pundits and fans when assessing a team’s performance. How often are we told that the winning team had incredible “Work Rate”, how many dressing rooms have been told to “up their Work Rate”?

But what do we mean? What is Work Rate?

As a hurling man I know it is usually based on the holy trinity of Hooks, Blocks and Tackles (I’m sure teams may add in rucks won, etc). Without these three fundamental principles a team cannot win. I don’t disagree with this principle, in theory.

What I do think we need to talk about is: using a straight count of Hooks, Blocks & Tackles as a measure of Work Rate.

How do we assess a rugby performance – Tackles Made? No.
When Ireland recently beat Canada 52 to 21, Ireland made 101 tackles, Canada made 172. Is this a reflection that Canada showed a much higher work rate?

The top three tacklers in the Premier League at the moment – 1. Burnley, 2. Hull, 3. Middlesbrough. Are these teams showing more “Work Rate” than the others?

My opinion, based on analysis done on dozens of hurling games, is that:
We need to focus more on the logic behind “Work Rate”

My Logic

  • You can only tackle the opposition player when he has possession
  • If one team has more possession of the ball then there are more opportunities to tackle them.

For example – Tipperary play Kilkenny in the 2017 NHL.

  • Tipperary have 20 Hooks, Blocks and Tackles
  • Kilkenny have 40 Hooks, Blocks and Tackles

Kilkenny have shown the higher work rate? My argument is that this simple measure is flawed.

Say Kilkenny had 100 possessions of the ball and Tipperary had 200 possessions of the ball – are we still of the same opinion?

Kilkenny had made 40 hooks, blocks and tackles on Tipperary’s 200 possessions – i.e. Tipperary have been tackled for every 5 possessions they held (200/40).

Tipperary meanwhile have had made 20 hooks, blocks and tackles on Kilkenny’s 100 possessions – i.e Kilkenny have been tackled for every 5 possessions they held (100/20).

So both teams have tackled each other for every 5 possessions the other team had. Equal “Work Rate”. Not simply Hooks/Blocks/Tackles showing 40 v 20 as most basic statistics will show.

 

A Better Measure of Work Rate

Work already printed by Colin Trainor in Statsbomb has created a measure to show that the quantity of tackles made by a team can only be relevant to the passes of the opposition – his measure PPDA is calculated by:

PPDA = Number of Passes made by Attacking Team / Number of Defensive Actions

We can amend this formula to meet the differences in style between hurling and soccer. A defensive action in hurling would obviously be – Hooks, Blocks and Tackles. Number of Passes in hurling is not a major factor, possession of the sliotar would be an arguably equivalent measure.

Hurling PPDA = Number of Possessions by Attacking team / Number of Defensive Actions

or

Possessions of Team A / (Hooks + Blocks + Tackles by Team B)

This, for me, is a basic starting point in calculating “Work Rate”.

This is not an ideal complete measure, but telling a team it “allowed 4 possessions for every tackle” is more relevant than telling they made 5 hooks. It is a measure that can be compared to any other match.

 

Optional Improvement – Add in Location

Based on the Hurling PPDA two measures should be recorded post-match:
1. Possessions by Location
2. Hooks/Blocks/Tackles

With one extra note of detail when collecting the measure we can have a much more incisive measure, if we also note the location of both counts then we have an even better measure.

We can now split the pitch into say three segments for location:

pitch-zones

Now when we calculate the Work Rate we can refine it to cover the 3 areas of the pitch. This can tell us, for example, how much pressure our forwards applied inside their 45:
Opposition Possessions in Area 3/ Our Hooks, Blocks,Tackles in Area 3

Training can be made to focus on real areas of weakness based on this measure.

 

Optional Improvement – Add in Time

Noting the time of each possession and hook/block/tackle can allow us to further understand if our team dropped their “Work Rate” over a certain period of the match – (Personally I have broken the match into 6 equal time segments with 12 minutes each taking injury time into account). Does the Hurling PPDA drop for the last time segment? Does the team maintain an average Hurling PPDA throughout the 6 time segments, are we consistent?

 

Conclusion

This post was written to try and open a debate on how we calculate the obsessive term “Work Rate”. It’s a very basic and simple idea but it is aimed at opening a discussion. I could only cover so much detail in one post. Other elements such as the quality of tackle and effect of tackle which can be weighted in the calculation.

I would love some responses from analysts or hurlers about their experience of the “Work Rate” obsession.

I understand that a coaches intention is to get his team to increase their tackling numbers so that they battle harder but I can only imagine that player must find it hard to listen to a tackle number being low when they have been in control of the sliotar.

 

 

One thought on “We need to talk about Work Rate”

  1. Hi sheikhbarabas;

    This is a good article and I agree that you can’t just measure work-rate through the number of hooks/blocks/tackles committed & rucks won and that there are other factors to be considered. One that can be overlooked is that work rate isn’t just about regaining possession, it is also about retaining it.

    As hurling has developed into more of a possession game, movement off the ball and players making themselves an option for a short pass or a target for a long delivery are as important work as winning the ball back from the opposition.

    In fact, it could be argued that retaining possession is more important as the harder you work at retaining it, the less work you will have to do to regain it. The best teams (not just hurling) appear to have this balance just right.

    I know that this may complicate your attempts at measuring it even more but I believe that it has to be included in any conversation about work-rate!

    Regards

    Hurler on the ditch!

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