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Catarina Macario, Amel Majri, Marta, Dzsenifer Maroszan, Christen Press, Ellie Carpenter, Marie-Antoinette Katoto, Alexia Putellas, Beth Mead. These are just some of the names of women’s soccer players who have torn their ACL in the last two years.
As the sport continues to grow, it’s paramount to build an infrastructure that maximizes players’ health, safety and fitness – as far as women’s soccer has come, we aren’t there yet, but we needed to be yesterday.
There was a time when male athletes across sports were dealing with a similar onslaught of this terrible knee injury. It not only sidelined players for lengthy rehabs, but many were never the same again, and some had their careers ended. As science and rehab have improved, so has the process of recovering from ACL tears for both male and non-male athletes. However, there’s still a lot left unstudied about these occurrences in non-men’s sports.
Vivianne Miedema, Netherlands and Arsenal star forward, recently wrote for a Dutch newspaper that the number of matches might be to blame. “I really think we need to consider in women’s football when we look at the calendar, how we can put the players’ health first,” she wrote. “They are constantly going between really competitive games at club level, onto international level. … At the moment there are players who get barely any vacation and it’s consecutive, year after year after year. It’s great if we’re going to have more competitive games but let’s have a calendar that allows players to recover so we can keep the quality too.”
One doesn’t need a white lab coat to see that by the time the 2023 World Cup rolls around, most top-level players will be exiting a domestic season to jump right into a summer tournament for the third consecutive year (2020 Olympics played in 2021, EUROS/CONMEBOL/WAFCON/CONCACAF W in 2022, and 2023 World Cup).
Former USWNT High Performance Coach and newly-hired Senior Director of Performance, Medical and Innovation for the Washington Spirit, Dawn Scott, had a lot to say on the subject. Scott is widely credited with developing the stamina and physicality of the 2015 and 2019 USWNT that carried them through difficult opponents to back-to-back World Cup wins. She believes the issue is one of funding and research.
In a lengthy and well-compiled Twitter thread, Scott noted that “most of the methods we use for training women are based on research based on male cohorts...we need to commit to more research on female cohorts, and cohorts which span grassroots to the elite level.”
She also referenced studies in the area, but noted that they’re not enough and that many teams – front offices and medical staffs – don’t know about them or haven’t adjusted their fitness requirements and preventative treatments accordingly.
Chelsea coach Emma Hayes has led the London club to factor player’s menstrual cycles into their training regimens. As the body changes during, it’s common sense for player welfare and the club to adjust. Unfortunately, this is not yet the norm.
With additional research, it’s possible that the number of ACL injuries can be slowed. It’s a must for the game as well. Players’ careers may seem lengthy, but they truly aren’t, particularly not when measured against more standard professions. Imagine retiring before 40, as every top-level athlete is expected to do. We’ve already lost at least a season from so many players, and there are plenty of reasons that are likely a factor – but no one should be comfortable with ignorance being one of them.