You hear a lot about the Home Field Advantage. In the NFL this advantage generally translates to between 2-3 points a game with research suggesting that number may be less at the beginning of the season and greater in the last third of the regular season. It is commonly accepted that playing at home provides certain familiarities and comforts not to mention the support of the fans that makes a difference over time. The converse would also seem to make sense to the casual fan. Playing on the road can create certain adversities. When you think about what NLL barns are toughest to play in, you might intuitively say a place like the HSBC Arena in Buffalo because of the packed and supportive crowds. Before we go any further let’s take a look at the numbers.
In the 2011 NLL Regular Season only 3 teams had a better than .500 record at home…Toronto (7-1), Calgary (6-2), and Minnesota (5-3). So far this year only Colorado (3-0), Minny (3-1), and Rochester (2-1) have winning records at home. While Washington (0-3), Buffalo (1-2), and Edmonton (0-1) have loosing records at home. So is there really an advantage to playing at home?
From 2003 to 2010 the New England Patriots won 86% of their games at home with the Colts (81%) and Ravens (77%) not too far behind. So Gillette Stadium provides the greatest advantage of all NFL Stadiums? Not exactly…it just so happens that the Pats and Colts were good teams during that period and so they won most of their games regardless of where the game was held. To accurately measure whether teams have an advantage playing at home versus on the road, you need to look not only at their winning percentage at home, but how that relates to their winning percentage on the road.
Home Field Advantage
|Team||2010 Home||2010 Away||Ratio|
|Team||2011 Home||2011 Away||Ratio|
|Team||2010 Home||2010 Away|
Over the last three seasons it seems that The Hive in Minnesota and the Air Canada Centre in TO provide the most advantage for their respective teams. The Rock has not benefited yet this season from the ACC’s Aura, but it was less than a year ago that they won the Champions Cup at home.
Playing in front of a loud and supportive home crowd can be a boost. Sometimes this effect is felt more than consciously considered. Let’s not forget that the Home Field Advantage of not having to travel is only true in a few places…with Toronto being one. In most NLL Cities a significant number of players drive a couple hours, fly or both in order to get to their “home” rink. In which case the differences between home and away might dissipate.
During Boston’s first year back in 2009 we had a majority of players living in town. Thirteen guys lived in 4 apartments just blocks from the TD Garden. Although this scenario contributed to team chemistry in that first year, it did not translate to any sort of dominance at home, finishing the season at 4-4 at home while enjoying a road record of 6-2. It appeared that the close proximity to the Garden and added distractions might have worked against us. Players often had friends and girlfriends visiting from out of town on game weekends. Some guys might have been preoccupied by ticket requests, post-game arrangements etc. and not focused on the task at hand.
As much as familiarity and fan support can be comforting, travelling as a team and even staying in a hotel can allow a player or coach to focus on the game versus any number of potential distractions at home. You are more apt to be involved in other coaching or family responsibilities when you are staying at home. Players more often get caught in traffic or show up late when they are driving by themselves. Thus the “convenience” of playing at home can lead to a team with various degrees of focus.
In 2010 we had a few less guys relocate and we got a house 20 minutes away in Brighton. We opened with an ugly home loss to Toronto 17-7 and it appeared the inconsistency at home was back. The following home game we decided to have a team meal at Johnnies after our morning shoot-around and film session. This time together proved to be a valuable piece in coming together as a team. When you have players coming from all over to play sometimes the chances to get to know each other can be few and far between. The act of simply staying together for a meal versus all going off on our own was a subtle but important difference. Blazers’ President Doug Reffue agreed to continue the team meal as long as we kept winning. We won 4 home games in a row until losing a heart breaker to Buffalo in OT in mid March.
Normally players and coaches like to be at home in front of a packed house. I would suggest there are times when this can work against a team. Let’s consider a large home crowd when a team is struggling. Cheers can turn to jeers over time. Last March The Mammoth beat the Blazers at the Pepsi Center after loosing 13 games in a row at home which spanned the entire 2010 Season. During that season they won 4 on the road with three of those games decided in OT. Winning in OT takes confidence. A confidence that was questionable at home. It is possible that the anxiety of losing at home in front of thousands of fans contributed to a Home Field Disadvantage in that situation.
Sometimes the adversity of playing on the road forces you to focus on the game and give your best effort. Whether fans are cheering for you or against it is a powerful energy that if tapped into can make a difference over the course of a game. Playing at home can at times be distracting and can lead to a less than optimal focus. It is exciting to play in a packed house whether home or away…and if the home team doesn’t come to play, that advantage can vanish or even sometimes be used against you. With so many NLL Teams having a large contingent of commuting players the differences between playing at home versus on the road become blurry leading to a reduction in the Home Field Advantage we so often accept as true.A nine-year NLL veteran and former GM and head coach of the Boston Blazers, Ryan also coached Team USA at the '07 WILC and will do so again in 2011 in Prague. To purchase Ryan's Stir It Up DVD click here.
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