FIFA joins forces on ground-breaking female player health and performance study

FIFA, in collaboration with Orreco and Western Sydney University, is investing in female player health and performance research to build better future sports science systems.

For decades, the scientific understanding of the female athlete has been overlooked. Physiology, nutrition, injury patterns, sleep and recovery recommendations have all been based on research into male athletes, but this is quickly changing.

A new, exciting collaboration has seen FIFA join forces with Orreco, an Irish sports bioanalytics company that has pioneered innovation in female athlete sport science support, and Western Sydney University, Australia, to begin bridging this knowledge gap and come up with actionable guidelines or recommendations. This research will help provide the evidence base needed to provide data-driven system solutions for female football player sports science support via a fully funded PhD studentship.

Female football players have specific needs that differ from those of men. Research has highlighted that 51-93 per cent of female athletes report performance detriments associated with their menstrual cycle (Bruinvels et al., 2017; Findlay et al., 2020). In addition to symptoms being common, certain menstrual cycle phases are associated with impaired sleep, which may subsequently delay recovery from training and matches and also increase the risk of illness (Walsh et al., 2020). 

Developing interventions to support elite athletes in improving health and performance are predicated on accurate determination of menstrual cycle phases, which are highly individualised in terms of cycle length, symptom prevalence and severity. Best practice in identifying menstrual cycle phase involves routine monitoring of urinary and blood samples to quantify hormonal changes throughout the menstrual cycle, procedures that are clearly not pragmatic in supporting athletes competing at the pinnacle of their sport. 

However, with new tools, technology and measurement techniques, this research will examine methods to better understand and enhance the monitoring of menstrual cycle phases and their impact upon female health and performance in football. For the first time, comprehensive empirical evidence will be gathered at scale to produce a direct impact for players and, ultimately, the whole women’s game.

FARO, PORTUGAL - FEBRUARY 28:  Referee's and Assistant Referee's are put through a fitness test during the FIFA Women's Referees Training Camp ahead of the 2011 Algarve Cup on February 28, 2011 in Faro, Portugal.  (Photo by Richard Heathcote - FIFA/FIFA via Getty Images)

Professor Charlie Pedlar, CSO at Orreco, said: “We are at last seeing research ramping up to serve the needs of female athletes, but there is a lot to do. This exciting FIFA, Orreco and Western Sydney University collaboration will connect research directly into football clubs to serve the real day-to-day needs of players.” Dr Georgie Bruinvels, Female Athlete Science Director at Orreco, continued: “Too many athletes have to deal with issues relating to female-specific physiology, like fluctuations in their readiness to perform, sometimes debilitating menstrual cycle symptoms, disrupted sleep, and an elevated risk of injury. They don’t always have the systems in place around them to first understand, and then be empowered to proactively manage these. Without research, we’re stuck trying to find the most appropriate solutions, and this research will help to change that.”

Associate Professor Ric Lovell, Performance Scientist at Western Sydney University, added: “This collaboration with FIFA and Orreco is an exciting opportunity to generate new knowledge and to develop impactful and pragmatic solutions to support the performance of elite women’s football players.”

November 4, 2018 - Lisbon, Portugal - Lisbon, Portugal - November 4, 2018: The USWNT trains in preparation for an International Friendly L

Dawn Scott, a FIFA women’s football expert who has first-hand experience from coaching and high performance at an international level, said: “Having worked as a practitioner in the women’s game for over 20 years, I know that research has always been lacking, as has the information – especially in an applied sense – on female health. Working with Dr Georgie Bruinvels and Orreco over the last five years has enabled me to increase my own education and awareness around the impact on recovery and performance, as well as how to better support the individual athlete. More research is certainly warranted in this area, and I feel this particular PhD will add to that space and will help us better support female athletes.”

Finally, FIFA Chief Women’s Football Officer Sarai Bareman concluded: “There is a real need to have more research in the women’s game, and as the game continues its rapid growth, it is important that we tailor our support based on clear evidence and data. We are excited to be part of this groundbreaking research and to see what interventions we can develop to directly impact and improve our game.”

The PhD studentship includes fees, a consumables budget and a stipend. The deadline for applications closes on 31 October 2021. Click here to apply.

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