This year’s SW/S Conference was about the relationship between Women’s Sport and technology a we send a huge thank-you to sportscotland who supported the event and The University of the West of Scotland, who allowed us use of their amazing facilities at their Hamilton Campus.
Technology is a part of all our lives. But what can it do for women in sport?
We have a bit of an insight from two of our speakers from the event. Nikki Gibson and Maggie Hendry work for sportscotland Institute of Sport. They ran a session about promoting an open and supportive online hub that will create an inclusive education space for women’s sport.
Nikki is a Performance Physiologist and Maggie, a High performance Physiotherapist, both have worked at the Institute of Sport for over a decade.
Maggie’s career spans over 25 years, including attending three Commonwealth Games, and the Women’s (Football) World Cup. She has worked with athletes from sports including, rugby, swimming, hockey and cycling: “To play my part in changing sports, I’ve worked with almost all of them”.
Nikki had specialised in working with athletes in cycling and triathlon before joining sportscotland 12 years ago.
The main focus of sportscotland’s research into female athlete sports research is to break the mould of what previous sports research has been done. A lot of it is carried out using only male athletes and these findings are still being applied to women, however, this is not working in practise to best support our female athletes both in their competing nor their everyday life.
Nikki explains: “It really calls into question everything we know. So everything I’ve been taught in my degree and masters. All the research we’ve tried to put into practise at The Institute, you have to question, are we just making assumptions about how female (athletes) respond?
“It highlights there’s a massive knowledge gap. There might not be that many differences. There could be loads of interventions that male and female (athletes) respond similarly. But without that research there, we can’t know for certain”.
At the Institute, their belief is that by using technology they can open up the conversation for athletes, coaches, and researchers alike to create a safe environment where people can share their experiences and learn from them, in order to create the best know-how for past, present and future Scottish female athletes.
Creating online forms for questionnaires, running virtual Q&A’s, remote medical consultations and education hubs, sportscotland aims to offer groundbreaking tools for all areas of sports.
Their research so far is showing even Nikki and Maggie things that with their own vast knowledge and experience things they never even thought about: “An example could be that even though I’ve worked with Triathlon and cyclist elites, it never occurred to me that a woman could be out on a six hour practise cycle with a group of men and not get the opportunity to change her menstrual product”, Nikki explains.
Again highlighting the flaws of a system not geared up to cater to female athletes. The industry as a whole needs to upscale their knowledge, but this can only be done by making this available to everyone. Though the use of technology it makes it so much easier and a lot more widely available to a bigger audience.
On the other side of it, we loose a lot of girls in sport during puberty and adolescence, factors like body image, a lack of supportive equipment including sports bras, not as many girls their age participating can all result in a major drop in girls continuing sports activities into adulthood.
Maggie highlights the importance of longevity of women in sport: “It’s not just when you’re young and don’t have to worry about family or your career, that sports should be important, We have to ensure that they retain that wealth of knowledge and experience, both for our athletes but say they want to transition into jobs within sport. Having a positive expereince as a young athlete and being enabled to grow and transition in performance but also keep all those other facets of life going, makes it easier to translate this into adulthood.”
Historically though, this isn’t the case, we don’t see the same amount of women in coaching or high level roles and it can be stemmed back to their experiences from early on in life.
By creating safe spaces for people in sport it will change things for the better and create a place for those ‘difficult’ conversations to have that will allow female athletes from all backgrounds, globally to be the best they can be, on and off the pitch/court/track.
These notions are echoed by all at SW/S. With the conference discussing how technology can help advance knowledge, access and understanding for women’s sports in general and open up sports for girls and women specifically, we know we are one step closer to making the field a more diverse and equal one.
Many thanks also to all other speakers and organisations that joined us on the day.