Women’s football: hampered by technologies designed for men

Women’s football is not just a men’s game where players are replaced by female players. Practice conditions, equipment, clothing, many elements must be reviewed and adapted to the physiology of players, whose risk of injury is increased by these sub-optimal playing conditions. This alert of scientists, doctors and women’s football experts has been published in the journal sports engineering,

Improper footwear poses a risk of injury

,Women’s football boots are little shoes for men, they are not made specifically for them.”Dr Craig Rosenbloom, top sports doctor for the Football Association and Tottenham Hotspur Women’s Football Club, explains. Spikes are one of the major issues raised in the publication. ,The shape and volume of the feet of female players are different from those of male players., says Katrin Okholm Krieger, first author of the publication and expert in the biomechanics of sports and women’s soccer in particular. For example, while short legs are wider and longer legs are narrower in both sexes, the sizes that should be considered small or large differ between men and women, concluded earlier work from 2008.

,Another important criterion is the point of curvature of the foot”. adds Katrin Okholm Krieger. Because crampons make football boots rigid, they are designed to be able to bend in a specific spot at the base of the toes. Problem, “The ratio between the toes and the foot is different between men and women”, the researchers point out. The flexion site is therefore not ideal for players who are at risk of stress fractures by flexing the foot at the bone site. Especially since the crampons of women’s shoes are the same size as men’s shoes, allowing for less weight and muscle strength, as well as a different way of walking. ,Technically, the traction applied to take these studs off the ground will be stronger for female players than for male players.”, says Katrin Okholm Krieger. So theoretically their crampons should be lower, otherwise there is a risk of potentially increasing injury risk – although this has yet to be demonstrated.

Tools hinder performance improvement

Where their male counterparts are supplied with fitting quarter size shoes, female soccer players must contend with pairs supplied by sponsors. The same problem is with sports bras, the model of which is dictated by the kit provided by the sponsor, not the specific needs of the players.

Far from allowing players to improve their performance, their equipment is currently a source of risk and discomfort. Even devices specifically used to track, measure and ultimately enhance athletic ability are playing against female footballers. The wristband and vest with the GPS and heart rate sensor are huge and set to male-specific settings. ,A large proportion of these tracking technologies are designed for men, and are therefore not adapted to the female body and physiology, leading to sub-optimal data collection., co-author of the publication and sports performance expert Dr. Naomi summarizes the Datsun. While there are some models that integrate the device into sports bras, they are not always adapted to the specific needs of female players’ breasts, and therefore require more flexibility.

Combined delay of suppliers and research in women’s soccer

But the authors don’t want to discredit sports equipment suppliers. Sure, the products are designed for men, but with the rise of women’s soccer only recently in the public eye, they should be given time to catch up with the market that’s opening up to them, Naomi. Datsun argues. Especially since the scientific knowledge that allowed the development of these devices also came late. ,Manufacturers are acknowledging these issues and there has been a positive change in the development of technologies specific to women’s football.”say the researchers. “However, due to a lack of research – data often being extrapolated from men to women – not enough is known about the specific challenges faced by top female soccer players, limiting opportunities for technical development”.

players get injured

Meanwhile, Craig Rosenbloom’s biggest concern is the health of the players. ,Female players are at higher risk of concussion and cruciate ligament injury than male players, but we don’t know why.” These unknown causes again underline a limitation of the care that can be provided due to the delay in research on the topic. In addition to unsuitable shoes, the quality of pitches may contribute to these injuries. Women’s football matches of the Women’s Super League (the top-level English competition) often take place on Sundays, on grounds already used and therefore worn by their male counterparts the day before.

Should I go down a ball size? The size of the ball can also be considered down. ,Female players have a greater level of white matter microtrauma than male players when headed by a large ball, and cognitive impairment is not seen in male soccer.”, explains Katrin Okholm Krieger. But, she says, the improvements expected from the use of the smaller ball have yet to be demonstrated.

The color of the shorts, a “significant change”

Nevertheless, some improvements can be made without delay. Female footballers are often required to wear lighter colored shorts to match the colors worn by the male players. ,The fear of sweat marks and visible leakage during menstruation is a cause of concern for many players.”, tell the scientists. Employees also report that players ask them to look at their shorts when playing in light colors. ,Some players say they don’t even pay attention to the game because they are afraid of blood stains on their shorts.”, they add, echoing the experience of rugby and tennis players. What can be the details of the clothing thus affects the performance of the players. Still modifying the color of the shorts”is a significant change that can be implemented very easily and quickly”, concludes Katrin Okholm Krieger.

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