Kits and balls engineered for men could be hindering performance of female footballers
In a recent review published in the Sports Engineering journal, researchers highlighted the lack of football kit specifically designed for women, saying that most kit are designed with men in mind rather than women, affecting the safety and performance of women on the pitch.
The study features input from a global team of academics, practitioners, and England Women's National Team Captain Leah Williamson, who posted ten questions to highlight the minimal progress made in professional women's football technology and the barriers to making tailored equipment available to women players that still remain.
The authors concluded that more research is needed into gender-specific technology to help female footballers perform at their best.
Female footballers at risk of injury
Despite some progress, no large boot manufacturer has yet invested in a design to suit women. For example, football boots fail to account for the fact that women's feet differ from men's in shape and size. This means wearing boots made for men won't support the foot properly and can cause blisters and stress fractures in elite female players.
The length of the studs is also designed for how men move and run. However, women run differently, which means they need a different lengths of studs.
Another question raised by the study is the short's color. Both football players and staff question why kit color must match teammates from the men's team. Many women footballers feel uncomfortable wearing white football shorts due to the fear of tears, sweat marks, and possible menstrual leaks.
Some players have asked staff to keep an eye on their shorts when playing in light colors, and some have even said that they have struggled to focus during matches due to concerns about exposing themselves on television with visible blood stains on their shorts.
Additionally, the authors report that professional women football players are often obliged to wear specific sports bras supplied by kit sponsors rather than the optimum sports bra for their physique. This can also reduce performance and lead to discomfort while running and turning.
Then there's the football itself. Some concerns have been raised about the ball size and mass because of the "increased incidence and severity of concussion" in women's football compared to men's.
The paper raises other questions about football technology and engineering, such as the design of football pitches, tracking devices, and menstrual cycle tracking gadgets.
What is being done?
The author notes that while there are ongoing issues, the manufacturers acknowledge the lack of development in women's football technology, and there is a positive shift towards women-specific products.
Previously, gratitude was high for any gifted equipment or garment, but now the focus has shifted to constructive collaborations between the women players and the manufacturers.
There are reports that some leading manufacturers are developing boots specifically for women, which should be ready in time for the World Cup in 2023.
However, advances are limited by the lack of existing research, and concerted efforts are needed based on what women football ball player actually wants and need.