Investigating performance responses in the context of rule changes: an example from women’s water polo



It is the end of the Honours’ year in Sport and Exercise Science at the University of Canberra.

This year I have had the opportunity to be a member of James Simpson’s supervision team.

James is a postgraduate scholar in Performance Analysis at the Australian Institute of Sport.

He has been investigating Changes in Tactical Behaviour in Elite Women’s Water Polo.

I am mindful that James will be submitting a paper for peer review and so I will not preempt any submission he makes by sharing the detail of his research here.

I do want to share an outline of his work here to add another example to the literature on the occupational culture of a performance analyst.


In October 2014, the Fédération Internationale de Natation (FINA) approved a rule change in junior and youth water polo. Overall team size was reduced from thirteen to eleven. The number of players from each team in the pool during a game was reduced from seven to six, of which one must be the goal keeper.

The rule change was used for the first time in international competition at the 2015 Under 20 World Championships.

James worked with the head coach of the Australian women’s team at the World Championships.

Analysing Performance

James journey to provide a performance analysis service at the Under 20 World Championships followed a classic service model approach.

  • Preliminary discussions between the AIS and Swimming Australia.
  • Preliminary meetings between the head coach of the junior women’s team and James, the analyst.
  • Agreement about priorities for the coach.
  • Agreement about real-time and lapsed-time services.
  • Confirmation of digital technology resources for the project.
  • Logistics for accreditation, travel, accommodation and subsistence agreed and confirmed.
  • Delivery of the service at the championships.

All of which seems very reasonable. But as with all performance analysis projects, James needed to be agile in his provision of the service. Two of the obstacles to the service exemplify the tenacity required to deliver on agreements made with a head coach who would be relying on a performance analyst:

  • The venue for the championships was changed relatively close to the championships: a trip to Mexico became a trip to Greece.
  • At the venue, despite assurances from the organisers, James was not able to film from the agreed position in the pool.

The second of these did place a great deal of stress on James as there was no official video record of the championships.

James overcame these obstacles and as a result has a total record of the championships for his archive and for subsequent analysis. He was sufficiently well organised to be able to code events in the pool in real time and then to add detail and check for accuracy with lapsed-time analysis.

Changes in Behaviour

Whilst James was exploring some statistical tests to compare behaviours in new and old rules, my colleague Chris Barnes and I went off on a tangent to look at some machine learning possibilities for the data James had collected.

Chris used JMP to explore a decision tree approach. His leaf report has these measures (response probability and response counts) for new rules (NR) and old rules (NR):


We thought this promising.

Chris visualised these data with these clustered correlations:


The dark red diagonal line shows maximum correlation.

This started us off thinking about how we might classify games by data alone … and how many additional games we might need to make our approach much more robust.

This is a work in progress. We are keen to share it here for some good reasons:

  • This is not reported in James’ paper.
  • It suggests a fascinating line of enquiry in an abstract approach to behavioural change in games where the rules have changed.
  • It demonstrates, I think, the growing knowledge performance analysts will develop as they start to interrogate data collected with traditional performance analysis methods.

I am looking forward to the response of peer reviewers to James’ paper. There will be lots to discuss.

In the meantime, Chris and I will continue on our tangent.

Performance Enhancing Drugs in Sport


On Monday 30 August I met Will Grant’s class at the ANU. My topic was Performance Enhancing Drugs in Sport. I wrote this blog post as a point of reference for discussion in the class. There is a Slideshare link too.


In 2007 the Select Committee on  Science and Technology of the UK Parliament reported on Human Enhancement Technologies.

In their discussion of drugs in sport they note that doping “refers to the use of performance-enhancing drugs which have been prohibited by sporting regulatory organisations.” The report observes that:

The prevalence of doping in sport has been attributed to a number of factors. Athletes are often under significant pressure to deliver medal-winning performances. They may also face team pressure where success is dependent on the performance of all. There are often significant financial gains to be made from success in many competitive sporting events. Other factors contributing to doping in sport might include a perception that other sportsmen and women are doping and getting away with it and that competition is imbalanced should an individual athlete choose not to go down the same route. Finally, the ease of availability of many prohibited substances may be an exacerbating factor.

Chapter 2 of the Committee’s report provides a detailed background to the regulation of performance enhancing drugs in sport.

The World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) promotes, co-ordinates, and monitors  anti-doping in sport in all its forms at the international level. WADA’s key activities include “scientific research, education, development of anti-doping capacities, and monitoring of the World Anti Doping Code – the document harmonizing anti-doping policies in all sports and all countries.”

WADA points out that:

The Code is the core document that provides the framework for harmonized anti-doping policies, rules and regulations within sport organizations and among public authorities. It works in conjunction with five International Standards aimed at bringing harmonization among anti-doping organizations in various areas: testing, laboratories, Therapeutic Use Exemptions (TUEs), the List of Prohibited Substances and Methods, and for the protection of privacy and personal information.

The current code in use took effect on 1 January 2009. WADA publishes a list of prohibited substances each year. WADA asserts that:

  • The List is a cornerstone of the Code and a key component of harmonization.
  • It is an International Standard identifying substances and methods prohibited in-competition, out-of-competition and in particular sports.
  • Substances and methods are classified by categories (e.g., steroids, stimulants, gene doping).
  • The use of any prohibited substance by an athlete for medical reasons is possible by virtue of a Therapeutic Use Exemption (TUE).

The 2010 List specifies the following prohibited substances:

  • Anabolic Agents
  • Peptide Hormones, Growth Factors and Related Substances
  • Beta-2 Antagonists
  • Hormone Antagonists and Modulators
  • Diuretics and Other Masking Agents
  • Stimulants
  • Narcotics
  • Cannabinoids
  • Glucocorticosteroids

The 2010 List specifies the following prohibited methods:

  • Enhancement of Oxygen Transfer
  • Chemical and Physical Manipulation
  • Gene Doping

An example of the detail of the Prohibited List can be found in the changes made to the 2010 List WADA_Summary_of_Modifications_2010_EN. For example:

The issue of growth factors enhancing certain functions was addressed in more detail. Additional examples of growth factors affecting muscle, tendon or ligament protein synthesis/degradation, vascularisation, energy utilization, regenerative capacity or fibre type switching [e.g. Platelet-derived Growth Factor (PDGF), Fibroblast Growth Factors (FGFs), Vascular-Endothelial Growth Factor (VEGF), Hepatocyte Growth Factor (HGF)] were included.

The Australian Sports Anti-Doping Authority (ASADA) is “a government statutory authority that is Australia’s driving force for pure performance in sport. It is the organisation with prime responsibility for implementation of the World Anti-Doping Code (the Code) in Australia.”

Amongst other duties ASADA is responsible for Athlete Wherabouts AW Policy:

As a result, the Code, the ASADA Act 2006 and ASADA Regulations, which contain the National Anti-Doping (NAD) scheme, requires certain Athletes to provide current and accurate Whereabouts Filing to enable Athletes to be located for Out of Competition Sample collection.

ASADA’s mission is to ensure that:

  • every member of Australia’s sporting community has the opportunity to access quality anti-doping education
  • a blend of flexible teaching and learning approaches that cater to a diverse range of needs
  • efficient participant and program management, with meaningful and timely reporting to enable continuous monitoring, evaluation and accountability.

Ryan Napoleon

An Australian swimmer, Ryan Napoleon, provides a current example of the issues and responsibilities raised by WADA’s role in anti-doping and ASADA’s delivery of national anti-doping implementation practice.

The world governing body for swimming (FINA) announced that:

The Australian swimmer Ryan Napoleon was tested positive to the substance Formoterol (Class S.3 Beta-2 Agonists) on 16 November 2009. According to DC 10.4, during the hearing of the Doping Panel it has been sufficiently established how the substance Formoterol entered the body of the athlete due to the use of an inhaler wrongly labelled by a pharmacist. It is clear that the swimmer had no intention of enhancing his sports performances. The Doping Panel underlines the responsibility of the athlete to check his medicine (in this case for asthma). The Doping Panel took into consideration the degree of negligence and decided to apply a 3 months period of ineligibility starting from 20 august 2010.

This is a Swimming Times post on Ryan’s case. This is a post in Pharmacy News about the case.

The national body for swimming in Australia (Swimming Australia) stated that:

Swimming Australia has been informed by FINA’s anti-doping agency that Queenslander Ryan Napoleon has been suspended from swimming for three months. An asthmatic for 20 years, Napoleon took medication from an asthma inhaler which was incorrectly labelled and subsequently tested positive to Formoterol, a common asthma medication, which is also a banned substance on the WADA list. Napoleon has taken the asthma medication Pulmicort for the majority of his life, however on this occasion a Pulmicort inhaler was incorrectly labelled, and was actually Symbicort – which consists of the banned substance Formoterol. In the FINA hearing which was held via teleconference last Wednesday, the panel accepted that Napoleon was not at fault due to the mistake of the pharmacist incorrectly labelling the medication, and that there was no intent to use the banned substance, which he could have applied for a TUE for, if he knew he was actually taking it. FINA did however find that as an elite athlete Napoleon had a ‘reduced responsibility’ in this matter, and should have been fully aware of the medication he was taking, and subsequently applied the three month suspension.

The ban means that Ryan will not compete at the Commonwealth Games in Delhi. In a very impressive statement about responsibility, Ryan observed that “A mistake was made, and the FINA panel accepted that a mistake was made in the hearing, but as an athlete I still understand that I have a responsibility to check all my medication thoroughly.” See my Postscript 2 below for an update.

I am interested to discuss with Will’s class what students the same age as Ryan think about the decision at a personal level and at a governance level.


An Australian Academy of  Science (2004) discussion of drugs in sport concludes that:

Historians point out that drugs have probably been used to enhance sporting performance for more than 2000 years, so it’s unlikely the problem will ever go away. Some commentators are even calling for the legalisation of such drugs so they can be dispensed, administered and monitored more closely. Others say the only way to ensure the health of our athletes is to stamp out drugs altogether. For now, performance-enhancing drugs are illegal, so athletes who use them are cheats. And, given the health risks associated with drug abuse, we can safely say that the race to beat the drug tests is a race nobody wins.

I think this quote contains the essence of the discussion for Monday.

  • Play and display
  • Regulation and deviance
  • Ethical behaviour
  • Governance

In a recent study (2010), Matthew Dunn et al report the findings of a study of 974 elite Australian athletes. They found that:

The athletes surveyed endorsed testing for banned substances as an effective way of deterring drug use; believed that the current punishments for being caught using a banned substance was of the appropriate severity; and indicated that there should be separate policies regarding illicit drug and performance-enhancing drug use.

James Connor and Jason Mazanov (2009) have explored some of the Faustian issues (taking a drug that guaranteed sporting success but would result in their death in 5 years’ time) for those who choose to take performance enhancing drugs. They note that “athletes differ markedly from the general population in response to the dilemma”.

Some Literature

In addition to the hyperlinks in this post, I think the following are interesting contributions to the discussion of performance enhancing drugs.

John Hoberman’s Testosterone Dreams (2006) and Mortal Engines (1992)

Andy Miah’s Website

Ivan Waddington and Andy Smith (2009) An Introduction to drugs in sport: addicted to winning? Abingdon: Routledge.

Postscript 1

Shortly after discussing performance enhancing drugs with Will and his group news broke about Travis Tuck and his appearance at the AFL Tribunal in relation to illicit drugs. Amongst other issues raised by Travis’s case is the role a sporting organisation plays in the sanctions against those who fail drug tests. The AFL policy has raised significant debate about duty of care in relation to players who are at risk.

Postscript 2

Lausanne, 14 September 2010 – The Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) has issued its decision in the arbitration between the Australian swimmer Ryan Napoleon and the International Swimming Federation (FINA).
The decision reads as follows:
1.    The appeal filed by Ryan Napoleon on 2 September 2010 against the decision of the FINA Doping Panel of 20 August 2010, decision 03/10, is partially upheld.
2.    The decision of the FINA Doping Panel of 20 August 2010, decision 03/10, is partially set aside.
3.    Ryan Napoleon is sanctioned with a three-month period of ineligibility commencing on 15 June 2010.
4.    All competitive results obtained by Ryan Napoleon from 16 November 2009 up to and including 28 January 2010 shall be disqualified, with all of the resulting consequences including forfeiture of any medals, points and prizes.
On 2 September 2010, Ryan Napoleon filed an appeal with the CAS against the decision issued by the FINA Anti-doping Panel imposing a three-month period of ineligibility following a positive doping test for the substance Formoterol (Beta-2 agonist/specified substance) on 16 November 2009. The CAS conducted an expedited procedure in light of the fact that Ryan Napoleon was selected to represent Australia at the upcoming Commonwealth Games in New Delhi/India. The parties were heard by a CAS Panel composed of Mr Stuart McInnes (United Kingdom), President, Mr Malcolm Holmes (Australia) and Mr Olivier Carrard (Switzerland) by video conference on 10 September 2010. The full award with the grounds will be issued at a later date.

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