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Bad math: Curling statistics are wrong

[Håvard Vad Petersson is the longtime lead for Team Norway and skip Thomas Ulsrud, currently battling at the 2013 world men’s championship in Victoria, B.C. This opinion column appeared in the February 2013 issue of The Curling News, and has been republished here – by popular demand – for all to read, not just TCN subscribers]

The author in action at ECC 2012

By Håvard Vad Petersson

For ’spiel after ’spiel, and championship after championship, the CurlingZone or Curl IT or Canadian Curling Association or CCT/WCT crews are doing an amazing job keeping fans updated on the results of curling competitions across the globe.

At some of these events, they also provide statistics telling fans and the media how each player is performing.

After being in the business for quite a while now, I would like to tell the curling world something: these numbers are more of a lottery than a fact.

I’ll admit that the numbers have been close to fair a couple of times in my six years of championship curling, but at least 90 per cent of the time they are way off.

I’ve seen teammates outcurl their opposition, but the stats have suggested otherwise.

I’ve seen teammates who were outcurled by their opposition, but those stats have suggested otherwise.

I’ve received texts from friends and family congratulating me on a flawless game, when the truth is that I was disappointed with my performance.

I’ve come off the ice expecting numbers in the 90s, only to be surprised by a 67.

I’ve seen our national coach’s numbers differ from the official stats by up to 25 per cent! Who is right?

Most fans don’t understand “Efficiency” stats anyway: do you?

I stopped looking at these numbers ages ago. If my team is playing well, that’s all I really need to know. But when I see games on television and these numbers show up on the screen in the sixth end, and the commentators use them to tell the viewers how the players are performing, I can’t help getting upset… because the numbers are most likely wrong.

Has anyone heard stories about young curlers getting upset and wanting to quit the game because their stats are low? I have.

My Canadian friends tell me that some provinces – like Ontario – dropped all statistics services for their major championships years ago due to “negative player feedback.”

Here’s one clear example of how the stats volunteers – and they are mostly volunteers, bless their hearts – are missing the boat completely.

On swingy ice, more and more teams (European teams, at least) are drawing their first stone to the tee line or even to the back of the four-foot when leading by three points or more. This is to avoid the come-around behind a rock in the front of the tee line. No one is afraid of a freeze anymore.

Will the statisticians ever pick this up? I’m starting to think the answer is no.

Luckily for us, the games are still being decided by the team that gets the most points on the board. Thank God for that.

Because the percentages are most likely wrong.

[WCF photo (top) copyright ® by Richard Gray – click on images to increase viewing size]

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