HPNXmas – Our favourite sport writing of 2016

The 12 days of HPNXmas is our way of giving back over the holiday period, and providing a place for some of our thoughts that didn’t get run for whatever reason during the year.

Today, we conclude our run of 12 posts over the 12 days of Just After Christmas with a roundup of some of the writing we liked and thought was good across the sporting world in 2016.

AFL Writing

The AFL has plenty more than a trophy at stake in 2016 – Ryan Buckland, the Roar

Ryan Buckland takes about the most in-depth look at the issues around the upcoming AFL collective bargaining agreement of almost anyone, and the piece largely holds true nearly a year later.

Goal Kicking Accuracy Maps – ExpScoreA Model to Predict and Rate Shots by Quality and Match Analysis Using Shot Quality – Rob Younger, Figuring Footy

A series of posts detailing Younger’s groundbreaking analysis of shot quality, shot accuracy and probability as a tool to analyse football.

Classifying players’ positions using public data – Matt Cowgill, The Arc

Matt’s posted some great stuff this year, including his repeated trolling of Fremantle fans but our pick is this attempt to machine-learn himself a year-to-year classification of player positions from the basic AFL statistics available to the public

Eddie McGuire, Caroline Wilson and violence against women: the AFL must act – Erin Riley

Important and timely article that not only hit the right fiery note but also helped kickstart a broader conversation in the mainstream footy media about something which might otherwise have disappeared without a trace. Can’t ask for much more from a piece of writing, really.

The Exorcists – How the Western Bulldogs captured a nation’s adoration after years of disappointment – Jay Croucher, the Roar

One half of HPN will never read this because his own memories of that day are of expensive and crushing disappointment, but allegedly it’s the best read on the topic.

Swans coach John Longmire played a key role in Buddy Franklin’s recovery – Caroline Wilson, The Age

About Franklin’s recovery in the specific instance, but also a good look at the prevalence of mental health issues in football more broadly.

Non-AFL Writing

EXPOSE: Players open up about W-League conditions – Ann Odong, SBS Zela

The sadly departed Zela did some great work, possibly none with more profile than Odong’s writing on W-League playing conditions, at a time when women’s sport is making great advances in Australia. There’s a number of other great pieces you may have missed on the Zela front page.

They came, they rallied, they won – Jarrod Kimber, Cricinfo

Remember when the West Indies won both T20 World Cups in succession? This is a brilliant encapsulation of that joy and of the strengths and hopes of West Indian cricket.

Lit pitches, murdered wickets – James Coyne, The Cricket Monthly

Coyne files dispatches about cricket from Central and South America, an interesting beat for a writer. This piece, about cricket in Belize, is ultra-vivid about life playing the game in an ever-developing backwater.

Pakistan’s National Baseball Team Just Wants You To Know They Exist – Lindsey Adler, Deadspin

The story of Pakistan’s extremely new and inexperienced baseball team at the World Baseball classic. Spoiler alert: they didn’t win, but it also didn’t matter.

Inch For Inch, Inika McPherson Might Be The Most Talented Jumper On The Planet – Sarah Barker, Deadspin

Fascinating profile of a unique character at the Rio Olympics and her wild and winding path to get there. In an age of even per-fabricated “rebel” athletes (we see you Nick Cummins), McPherson has truly lived a different life to not only most professional athletes, but also people.

The Art of Letting Go – Mina Kimes, ESPN

Charming in depth look at Korean baseball’s history and development through the lens of the post-hit “bat flip”, a taboo behaviour in American baseball.

What Are The Worst Olympic Sports? – Walt Hickey, FiveThirtyEight

Presents some random head to head survey data to confirm, among other things, that the horseys are the worst sport. Because horseys are the worst sport.

The Secret History Of Tiger Woods – Wright Thompson, ESPN

ESPN The Magazine has a lot of hit and miss content, but anything Wright Thompson does for it is pretty top notch. This is a long read on Tiger’s going off the rails which tells, among other things, of his obsession with experiencing Navy SEAL training.

Vertical Descent Adventures in Synchronized Swimming – Elisabeth Donnelly, VQR Online

Yo, so synchronized swimming isn’t that great, right? That piece from Hickey above confirms it. But this piece here is gold. Well worth the read.

A cricket writer’s journey to the remote World Twenty20 venue of Dharamsala – Geoff Lemon, the Guardian

Lemon is generally a pleasure to read, here he covers the World Twenty20 in the Himalayan hinterland of India.

How I Accidentally Made The First Official Cuba-To-Florida Kayak Crossing – Brent Rose, Deadspin

How this journalist accidentally broke a record that he didn’t know existed, doing something that thousands had done before.

Where Did All The NFL Parity Go? – Scott Kacsmar, Football Outsiders

Football Outsiders consistently produce some of the most intellegent writing about American Football today (alongside Bill Barnwell and a couple of others). This one from Kacsmar dives into the seemingly disappearing parity, specifically in the AFC.

The legacy of Game 7 – Zach Lowe, ESPN

You can pretty much pick whatever Zach Lowe article you want – as Slate indicated earlier this year, he is pretty much the best American sportswriter going right now. This works in traditional Lowe fashion, sculpting the narrative at the start and supporting it with evidence throughout.

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