Change is good, right? Hell, apparently it’s as good as a holiday.
But not if you are a coach in the world’s best netball league. In that case, change is bad. Real bad.
The Vixens have been one of the most settled teams this season.Credit:AAP
Let me explain. There are two types of changes worth looking at when you are trying to figure out why the two teams who sit atop the Super Netball ladder – Melbourne Vixens and NSW Swifts – are dominating the early stages of this year’s competition. Namely, off-season personnel changes, and mid-match positional changes.
Firstly to the off-season. While some sides had a complete rebuild, others did not. Those that had the least changes were Swifts, Vixens, Firebirds and Fever.
There is a lot to be said around stability in your playing line. About spending year after year passing to teammates in training drills so that when you are under match pressure, you know exactly how far you can push them. About knowing that when your goal defence says left, she really means right.
That understanding takes years, and that is what both the Swifts and Vixens have. Firebirds and Fever have it too, but there is one key difference. Where Swifts and Vixens used off-season signings to supplement what they already had, Firebirds and Fever were busy filling gaping holes.
In Firebirds' case it was through the retirement of Laura Geitz and for Fever through the still-bewildering decision to dump Nat Medhurst. Both of these changes were to crucial players in key positions, and the results are there in their ladder positions – second last and last, respectively. While injury has also affected these teams greatly, it has exacerbated their situation rather than created it.
Which brings me to the second type of change, that which happens mid-match. Again it is a case of the less change, the better. The Diamonds' performance analyst, Dr Mitchell Mooney has crunched the numbers and shown that teams who make two changes or less will almost always win, while teams making seven changes or more will almost always lose.
So what comes first – the change or the score? Of course teams that make fewer changes will win – because they are winning they don’t need to make changes. Conversely, teams tend to make changes when they are already losing, so who is to say they weren’t going to lose anyway? To that end, the statistics reinforce what we already know.
Where the stats are interesting though, is in using them to predict what might happen at the end of the season as we head towards finals (with a nod to the World Cup happening mid-season that may very well blow every interpretation of every statistic out of the water).
The Swifts are also flying high.Credit:AAP
While it will be no surprise to learn that in the first three rounds Vixens and Swifts have made the least mid-match changes of anyone, and a lot less than they had both made at the same point last season, it is fascinating to see who the next best teams are.
Sunshine Coast Lightning are just about on par with the Swifts for number of changes, and ominously for the rest of the competition they are sitting on exactly the same numbers as they were this time last year, when they went on to claim their second premiership. Yes, they had plenty of upheaval in the off-season, but they look to have settled their line-up sooner than any of the other teams that had major changes.
The next two teams are, fascinatingly, the Giants and the Magpies. While the Giants are making more changes than they were last year when they won the minor premiership, they are still making fewer than the Magpies. In turn, the Magpies are making more than twice as many changes as they were at the same time last year.
What this points to is the fact that Swifts and Vixens are in the "Goldilocks" zone. They should both play finals this season. As for who will join them, it is still anyone’s guess, but rest assured those teams who settle first are in with the best shot, and at the moment that is looking like the Lightning and the Giants.
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