There have been moments of brilliance and disbelief; new match and player records have been set; and of course, controversy around the use of VAR. The event is a showcase for international women’s football, and with England in contention for winning the tournament, and Scotland making their finals debut, a spotlight has been firmly placed on the talent of women’s football in the home nations. However, as is the case with other sports, there are areas both on and beyond the pitch which merit attention to develop and progress the game domestically and internationally. As a researcher and PhD student involved in women’s football within the Carnegie School of Sport, it is evident that the limited research base involving women footballers needs to be addressed if it is to contribute to the development of the women’s game.
Unfortunately, this limited research base within football is not an isolated incident - women are underrepresented within the field of sport science more broadly, with studies involving women participants in the minority. Potential factors contributing to this gender imbalance in research have been identified including sociocultural influences, funding, and a research infrastructure dedicated to investigating women’s athletic performances and experiences. Whatever the contributing reasons, it is important to understand the potential impact that this lack of research has on women athletes. Without women centred research, practitioners rely on informing their practice through research based on men. This is inappropriate due to the physiological and biological differences between women and men. However, a growing body of research involving elite women athletes is addressing this gap to better understand the relatively unknown complexities of the woman athlete, to enhance provision and support for elite women athletes, and ultimately to help improve performance.
Match performance in the elite women’s game remains under researched in comparison to elite men’s football. Men’s football organisations have resources that provide researchers with access to data, resources which are not widely available in women’s football. For example, men’s organisations have dedicated performance analysis or data analysis provision, or use of expensive commercial products such as OPTA or STATS which provide detailed in-depth analyses of match performance data. Recent changes to FIFA’s regulations in 2015, have allowed the use of wearable technology, such as GPS, within competitive matches. The lower costs associated with GPS have been capitalised upon by elite women’s football organisations who have employed this technology to generate match performance data and explore match demands. However, this research has mainly looked at match demands of senior international competition. There are few known studies exploring the match demands of elite youth female football, and my research aims to contribute to this limited body of work.
My Carnegie School of Sport funded doctoral study focuses upon quantifying the match demands of elite youth female footballers competing within The Football Association’s (The FA) Regional Talent Centres. These centres deliver provision for elite youth female footballers within England, and sit within The FA’s Girls’ England Talent Pathway. Rather than relying on existing male youth research or senior female research to inform their practice, practitioners will have access to data directly generated by elite youth female footballers within match play. Physical and technical match data will be collected at a number of centres, with both U14 and U16 age groups throughout two seasons. The application of these data will be invaluable for those working with the target population, providing opportunities to deliver population-specific practices and interventions. For example, developing strength and conditioning training programmes; monitoring player load for rehabilitation; informing coaching practice; and assisting with talent identification processes along the talent pathway. It is hoped that my research will offer valuable insights for those developing the next generation of senior elite players who may one day represent England in the World Cup 2023 and beyond.