A new project is aiming to break the last taboos in women’s football from periods to pregnancy – and Staffordshire University is calling on women’s football clubs across the UK to help identify best practices which can be shared across Europe.

Dr Jacky Forsyth, Associate Professor of Exercise Physiology at Staffordshire University, explained: “We know that there are huge gender inequalities in sport but we want to focus on the positives and highlight what is actually being done well. Women’s football has made huge progress in recent years and by sharing best practice from grass roots to elite level we can help to continue that momentum.”

Jacky is a prominent researcher in women’s exercise and her work covers a range of topics including ovarian hormones and bone health. This latest research is part of the European Women in Sport (E-WinS) project which is funded by the Erasmus+ Sport programme and brings together experts from nine universities and sports organisations.

Staffordshire University is kicking off the three-year venture by gathering information from football players themselves but also coaches, leaders, managers and governors. UK-based clubs are being asked to take part in an initial online survey followed by a series of focus groups.

The research will address issues specific to women in sport including the impact of menstruation and hormone-based contraception on performance. Chelsea Women recently became the football first club in the world to tailor training to players’ menstrual cycles – something which Jacky believes more teams should follow.

She said: “We spend so much time talking about the science of sport and what we can do to improve performance, but relatively little time talking about the menstrual cycle, which can have important physiological, biomechanical, nutritional as well as psychological consequences.

“A recent study found that performance was marginally better in the second part of the menstrual cycle when oestrogen and progesterone are elevated. This is something that coaches should be aware of and factor into players’ training.”

The survey will also address pregnancy, maternity leave and the family responsibilities of players. In 2018, when Serena Williams dropped off Forbes’ list of the top 100 best-paid athletes it sparked much debate about maternity leave policies and the pressure women feel. There is also a strong move to ban illegal pregnancy testing on athletes and to get rid of anti-pregnancy clauses used by football clubs.

Jacky said: “We are interested to know what support is currently available for athletes. Some football clubs hire nannies to look after the players’ children during training and travel, and they also receive a specific training programme to help them get back in shape after pregnancy. We also know that women are paid less and that only a fraction of the total commercial investment in sport supports women’s sport. Pay, sponsorship, and media coverage are current and relevant topics that we want to explore as well.”

The E-WinS project partners will also collect feedback from women’s football teams across Europe with the ultimate goal of creating a freely accessible database of good practice tools and tips.

Jacky added: “We want to celebrate the great work happening in women’s football and so want to hear from as many people in the industry as possible. The more feedback we get, the more we can enhance the sport in future.”

UK football clubs are invited to complete the online survey or contact Dr Jacky Forsyth on J.J.Forsyth@staffs.ac.uk for further information about the project.

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