May 24, 2019
By Grant Lindsley
Stats – Why goals and assists don’t tell the full story
I found myself hoping for something strange as I released a backhand throw during the New York Empire’s game against the Toronto Rush last weekend.
Two teammates – Harper Garvey and Ben Jagt – cut toward the sideline, and as I released the disc in their direction, I briefly hoped Harper would stand down.
Jagt was in the endzone.
If Jagt caught the pass, I’d get the assist.
But if Harper caught it, he’d be outside the endzone and get the assist himself for continuing the pass to Jagt.
Which is what happened: Harper threw the goal, and I registered a fleeting sense of disappointment. Disappointment when my own team had scored.
It’s an embarrassing moment. And it should be. I almost want to delete what I’ve written and try to forget that, for a moment, I was playing for myself instead of my team.
There’s nothing wrong with scoring goals or throwing assists, but in pro ultimate there’s an added emphasis on tracking and rewarding them. That can tempt players to prioritize individual glory over team success. The two aren’t always in conflict. But they aren’t always complimentary either.
Two years ago, after another game against the Toronto Rush in the 2017 AUDL Championship, I was named MVP for the now-defunct SF Flamethrowers. I happily signed the disc and threw it into the crowd, but I also wondered, Would I have voted myself MVP?
I wasn’t sure. Yes, I’d scored some goals, but I also had some critical turnovers – a throwaway over the head of Marcelo Sanchez, a stall late in the game. There may well have been other players – Ashlin Joye, Mac Taylor, Cassidy Rasmussen – who were more valuable to the victory than I was.
Had I been selected only for the highlights I had on the field? And possibly the highlights I had in my hair? Frosted tips were easy to spot from the media booth…
Perhaps MVP often stands for Most Visible Player.
Perhaps value and visibility are one and the same, if we’re considering spectator value. Which is fine, so long as players don’t confuse value-to-the-viewer with value-to-the-team.
Team value is harder to see and to measure than a simple tally of goals and assists.
How do you quantify shutting down an opponent’s best player but not generating a turnover? How efficient is an offensive line with and without a certain player, even if that player isn’t scoring or assisting? How do you measure the cultural significance of players who celebrate the success of their teammates?
I had a teammate in high school who refused to swing the disc when he caught reset passes backfield. Instead of looking to switch the field sideways, he’d turn upfield, right back to where the disc had come from, clogging the offensive flow but giving him a chance to make a spectacular throw.
Our coach began making a sound whenever that happened:
“Erh!” he would yell from the sideline, as if a gameshow contestant had answered a question wrong.
Maybe that’s what I’ll think next time I catch myself chasing an individual Fantasy stat.