FIFA Expert on Health and wellbeing of female footballers in focus

An enhanced focus on women’s specific sports science is essential for the future growth of the game and the protection of female athletes according to Dr Georgie Bruinvels.

Dr Bruinvels, a FIFA Expert who works for Orreco and spoke at the recent FIFA Women’s Football Convention in Sydney says increased research is crucial as women’s football undergoes an unprecedented period of growth and professionalism. It is an area which falls under one of the pillars of FIFA’s Women’s Football Strategy: Educate & Empower.

Dr Bruinvels says only 6 per cent of sports science research is exclusively focussed on females. “Obviously there is massive scope to improve that, and there’s also so much opportunity and potential associated with it,” she said.

“It’s expensive, doing research on females, full stop. And it’s complicated. So often we just keep doing it on men, because we’ve done that so far and we can just apply it [as if] they’re the same. But we know that females aren’t just males with reproductive organs, and we need to really understand more about female anatomy and physiology to support females better.”

Several headline names were absent from the recent FIFA Women’s World Cup™ due to Anterior Cruciate Ligament (ACL) injuries. Dr Bruinvels says there is no one simple explanation for the proliferation of ACL injuries in women’s football.

“I think at the moment, everyone wants to say, ‘Females are more likely to have ACL injuries because X’, but it isn’t as simple as that,” she said. “We know, whether it’s pitch quality, whether it’s training loads, whether it’s football boots, whether it’s general clothing, that there’s so many considerations around potential risk factors.

“Of course, hormonal changes could be a risk factor, particularly where they can change so quickly over such a short length of time. But we need to step away from thinking of that one cause, and we need to think about supporting the full 360 player, from grassroots right the way up to elite.

“From my perspective, really focusing on developing education around female health should be the underpinning factor with appropriate and accessible resources. We need to think more about building the infrastructure around the game for female athletes to reduce the risk of injuries across the board alongside doing research internally, and to keep saying: Well, what do we need to do to better support females?”

The unprecedented spotlight shone on women’s football thanks to the recent FIFA Women’s World Cup offers a perfect springboard to empower female footballers and football bodies through education.

The world governing body – with the assistance of work done by Dr Bruinvels and a host of other world leading specialists – will, through the FIFA Women’s Health, Wellbeing, and Performance Project, utilize the existing FIFA platforms to disseminate information, education, and resources on how to support, develop and prepare female players.

“[There will be] information about various aspects of how to train and support females whether it’s physiology, psychology, nutrition, recovery, sleep, travel, and pre- and post-partum, and menopause. We’ve provided information about these areas. But also, importantly, how that translates to practice. So, how should players be supported around their menstrual cycle and what are the basics of nutrition for female players?

“And, alongside that, what infrastructure is needed to do that. Being mindful that not all Member Associations are going to have the budget … so, it’s really supposed to be aimed at empowering coaches, practitioners, and players, and parents as well – all stakeholders – with this information that they can run with in bite size chunks.

“It starts with education as a fundamental pillar and, obviously, the FIFA principles are research, education, and awareness. I still think we don’t know how good females can be. I think if we know how to work better with females, we will just unlock this whole new potential. It is such an exciting time for girls and women in the game!”

• FIFA Expert Dr Georgie Bruinvels says increased support and research into female specific health is required

• FIFA will disseminate information, education, and resources on how to support, develop and prepare female players to football stakeholders

• Education is at the heart of world governing body’s women’s football strategy, with FIFA launching the Women’s Health, Wellbeing, and Performance Project in August

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