WiMU Pt.4: What Can We Learn From The Data?
By Laura Manescu
Laura takes a deep dive into some available data within high level Australian mixed play and what that tells us about the impact of women in mixed
Click here for Part 3 - Are we failing our women?
One important caveat here is that the learnings below are specific to the datasets and teams I analysed*. At present, we are fairly far from having enough data to tell an accurate and balanced story about our mixed division. I also recognise that there is inherent risk of seeking insights from the data that confirm what we want to see.
Despite this disclaimer, I believe that an analysis of even a limited dataset gives us a useful lens for challenging and validating some of the ‘truths’ about the mixed division and a starting point for further analysis.
So, what can we take out of the data?
Touches don’t necessarily define value
According to the datasets analysed, women touch the disc less on average than men. This is influenced the most by the roles and skillsets within a team. The 2015 Bluebottles had a male-dominant handler line up as compared to a team like the Japanese World Games team where play was driven by a very strong female handler. This reflected in the data when looking at gender-specific touches per game: 85% men vs. 15% women for the Bluebottles, 70% vs. 30% for the Crocs and 50% vs. 50% for Japan’s WG team. Important considerations here are that gender split, game time and point length all have an impact – in this case the Crocs vs. Japan Test Matches were played with even gender splits where the Bottles had a rough split of 55% vs. 45% points played per individual player by gender.
Digging into gender-specific stats as a percentage of touches can tell us more about the makeup of a team, roles and style of play. I only had time to examine this at a high level but for example, on the 2015 Bluebottles women had fewer throwaways as a percentage of touches than men (7% vs. 11%) and significantly more goals as a percentage of touches (24% vs. 6%).
I personally take a few things out of this data. First, while women may touch the disc less than men in general, this is not the case for all teams and demonstrates the point made in part 3 that the experiences of women are shaped by the style of mixed ultimate they are exposed to with the teams they have played on. Second, simply looking at gendered-touches doesn’t give us a good picture of how our women contribute on field. Where women may not be dominating handler movement or mid-field play, a team with dominant deep female receivers may still showcase their female talent through fewer touches but high goal/touch ratios. And because the role of players on field by gender makes a large impact on touches, arguing that men touch the disc more than women is not itself a sign that a team does not value its women. That said, this doesn’t excuse us when we neglect to play through the skills of our female handlers and midfield cutters in the under space.
Women pass to men more than men pass to men
In the games analysed, between 80% and 90% of female passes were thrown to males for both the Bottles and the Crocs. Where for the Japanese closer to 60% of female throws were to men. On the other hand, men passed to women 20-35% of the time across the Aussie teams and 50% of the time for the Japanese.
There are a range of considerations here that influence option taking which we can’t see from the data, but this does raise the interesting point that it isn’t solely male to male passes driving lower female touches per game. In relation to the existing discourse on women in mixed, this helps challenge the one-sided argument that the only issue at play in the mixed division is men looking off women. That said, we have an opportunity to shift these ratios as the % of passes thrown from men to women was quite low for these Aussie teams for the games analysed. We can work on encouraging more gender balanced passing – more on that in part 7.
Women’s athletic backgrounds have an influence on how they experience the sport
One study I read that was written by the National Centre for Culture and Recreation Statistics on ‘Women’s participation in sport and physical activities’ showed that the activities which had the highest participation rates among women included: Walking (32.9%), Aerobics/Fitness (13.0%), Swimming (11.8%), Tennis (6.1%), Netball (5.3%), Cycling (4.2%). The most important thing I take out of this is that other than Netball, none of these are team based sports.
While this research isn’t specific to ultimate, I think it’s worth recognising because when we recruit women to the sport at a university, youth or league level we have to understand the context of their past athletic experiences. This data suggests that designing experiences that are proactively inclusive for women is crucial because some women may not be used to asserting themselves on field in a team sport with men around. Doing this effectively is crucial to the growth of our sport because it impacts our ability to attract and retain female talent.
Opportunities for gender-split data
Gender-split data can tell us some interesting things about our players, our teams and our mixed division. While this type of analysis needs to be treated carefully to avoid confirmation bias and invalid assumptions, it does hold potential for helping challenge and reinforce some of our traditional thinking about mixed. This is particularly helpful when it comes to questioning some of our biases and preconceptions. However, at present we don’t have nearly enough data points to tell an accurate and balanced story about what is happening out there.
* Research based on statistical analysis from 17 matches during the Bluebottles 2015 campaign, 2 Crocs 2017 test matches and a paper written by the National Centre for Culture and Recreation Statistics on ‘Women’s participation in sport and physical activities’.