Kickouts & why teams kick short

This article first appeared in LiveGaelic and was followed up by an interesting article from ex-Dublin goalkeeper coach Gary Matthews

The basics
Over 25 Championship games in 2013 1,095 kickouts were charted. Due to the vagaries of TV coverage not every kickout was captured however we are still left with a healthy 1,065 kickouts for which we have a complete picture. It is these kickouts that are referenced below.

The kickout team gained possession (won) 64.5% of the time and from those possessions – gained directly from their own kickouts – they managed a shot 75.9% of the time.

On the 35.5% of kickouts won by the opposition they managed a shot 79.1% of the time. Therein lies the challenge; by their choice of kickout type can a team maximize the number of shots they create from kickouts whilst minimizing those they give to the opposition?

First let’s look at the definitions used in measuring kickouts. Much like the shooting statistics on the blog the pitch is broken up into segments.
• Any kickout that lands inside the 45m line is considered to be short
• Any kickout that lands between the 45m & 65m lines is considered to be medium (referenced as “mid” )
• Any kickout that lands past the 65m line is considered to be long

A team is deemed to have “won” the kickout if they are the first team to gain possession from that kickout.

So where did the kickouts go?

Length % of all kickouts
Short 21%
Mid 30%
Long 49%

Despite the predominance of the short kickout in commentary on the subject just about one in five kickouts go short. Half of all kickouts still go long with the remaining 30% landing between the 45 & 65m lines.

49% of all kickouts are won through broken ball whilst 43% are won cleanly. This however is a function of where the kickout lands as 99% of all broken ball from kickouts is won in the “mid” and “long” range whilst 55% of all clean wins occur from “short” kickouts.

Kicking Team Outcomes

Length Won Turned into a Possession Turned into a shot
Short 94% 59% 81%
Mid 61% 66% 75%
Long 54% 75% 74%

The above table shows the results for the kickout team. At first glance the data intuitively make sense. The longer the kickout the less chance the kickout team has of winning the ball however the more likely they are to convert that win into an attacking possession. (a possession is where a team has control of the ball within the opposition’s 45)

Kickouts Won #shots
Short 100 94 45
Mid 100 61 30
Long 100 54 30

Were we to use the aforementioned conversion rates in a sample of 100 kickouts from each segment you can see from the above table that a team will get 50% more shots from short kickout routines. Granted this is just one year’s data and as such is open to variances based on the teams actually covered in the 25 games however it is still noteworthy. 1,000 kickouts is a hefty sample size and 50% uplift in shots is quite significant.

Defending team outcomes
This of course only tells the story from the kickout team perspective. We have to balance the outcomes above with the returns that the defending team achieves.

Length Won Turned into a Possession Turned into a shot
Short 6 100% 77%
Mid 39% 79% 80%
Long 46% 72% 78%

Similar to the kickout team’s returns the above table makes sense. The defending team win more kickouts the further from goal the ball travels, mainly because there is more of a contest, however when they do win them then the possession rate increases the closer to goal you go.

For both these scenarios (kickout & defending team) there is an argument to be made that the quality of shot will differ depending on the strength of the opposition, how strong the individual teams are at kickout strategy etc. but that is for further study. There is also the consideration that short kickouts won by the defending team may lead to more goal chances but the volumes are so low, that whilst an important consideration, it can be omitted for now.

Again if we convert the percentages to what would happen for every 100 kickouts we get the below.

Kickouts Won #Shots
Short 100 6 4
Mid 100 39 24
Long 100 46 26

Combining the outputs give us a complete picture

Kickouts Won # Shots Won # Shots Shot Differential
Short 100 94 45 6 4 41
Mid 100 61 30 39 24 6
Long 100 54 30 46 26 4

(2nd & 3rd columns are for the kickout team; 4th & 5th for the defending team)

That’s a fairly conclusive table, (always with the proviso that it is based on one year’s data), in favour of kicking short.

It is not that this difference is driven by better teams either. The below table shows the actual results for short kickouts throughout the year.

Short Kickouts Possessions Possession % Shots Shot Rates
4 semi finalists 117 68 58% 57 84%
Other 109 70 64% 55 79%

Converting these results into 100 short kickouts for the 4 semi finalists combined, versus all the other teams combined, the non semi finalists would have manufactured 1.7 shots more from their short kickouts.

What is noticeable however is the mix of kickouts that the more successful teams employed.

Kickouts Short % Short or Mid %
Dublin 117 26% 73%
Mayo 114 38% 64%
Tyrone 83 19% 37%
Kerry 89 30% 69%
Other 662 16% 43%

Three of the four semi finalists (Tyrone being the exception) kicked a significantly smaller portion of all their kickouts long. So whilst the more successful teams are not necessarily better at the execution of short kickouts they do seem to have recognized its merits.

Though commentary is shifting, in the main kickout success rates are used as a proxy for whether a team is winning the midfield battle. In one sense this is not wrong as by far the biggest percentage of kickouts are hit straight and long (31% of all kickouts).

However kicking long is taking an increased risk with your own team’s possession. By doing so you are more than likely giving the opposing team extra opportunities to shoot that would not materialise were a greater portion of your kickouts short.

Am I advocating taking every kickout short? No. What is predictable is easily defendable. Plus no tactic or strategy should be built on one year’s data. However every team should have the ability, and confidence, to alter their strategy as the demands of the game require. And fans should probably show more patience and not be so quick to berate teams that kick short. “Hoofing” it down the middle is not always the best option.


One Response to “Kickouts & why teams kick short”

  1. Kerry V Tyrone 2015 All Ireland SF | dontfoul Says:

    […] has been made of the short kickout as a strategy. As a strategy it is fine – see results from 2013 – however it needs to be executed properly. A lot of the issues for Tyrone on the short kickouts […]

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