Category Archives: Uncategorized

Rugby: A sport for sampling or specialisation?

By Jessica Pinchbeck

With the World Cup now upon us my household is at fever pitch and my six year old son is mesmerised by the strength, skill and speed of the players. He is a keen rugby player himself and has been attending training at the local club since he was four. However despite his passion for the sport he is yet to define himself as ‘a rugby player’ as he also participates in a range of other sports including football, swimming and golf.  This is similar to most of his rugby teammates who also take part in a range of sports from ballet to ice-hockey. However the majority of his football teammates tend to only play football, football and more football. So what is the best approach? Should my son choose to focus on rugby, the sport he excels at the most, and forget the rest? Would that make him a better rugby player and increase his chances of reaching elite level? What are the benefits and risks of such early specialisation?

Kelsey E ] via Flickr Creative Commons

Kelsey E via Flickr Creative Commons

Early Specialisation

Early specialisation is a hot topic at the moment with youth sports becoming more and more susceptible to commercial pressures and parents and coaches often encouraging children to participate in intensive training and highly competitive events in their specialised sport at a young age. There are various definitions for early specialisation however typically it involves continual year-round training in a single sport between the ages of 6 and 12 years with a specific focus on development in that sport. One of the main arguments for endorsing early specialisation is the positive relationship between the amounts of time spent in deliberate practice i.e. highly effortful and structured activity, and the level of achievement attained. Therefore in theory, the earlier you start practicing the earlier it is that you are likely to ‘make it’ to the top level. However this is a very simple outlook and this linear approach has been questioned in relation to sports performance. Although deliberate practice is considered important the exact requirements of the type and amount of such practice remains in question.

Currently the general consensus is that sampling a range of sports throughout childhood provides the best grounding for both progressing onto a higher level in a chosen sport as well as for continued participation into adulthood. Sampling allows for the transfer of cognitive skills and physiological conditioning to different sports. There is also strong evidence that in sports where peak performance is reached into adulthood specialisation does not need to occur before the age of 13. So how does this apply to rugby?

Rugby is a sport where peak performance is typically achieved later into adulthood. This corresponds to statistics from the previous World Cup winners where the RFU calculated average team ages of 27 (Australia), 28 (England), 27 (South Africa) and 28 (New Zealand). In their 2015 squad New Zealand have opted for experience including four players who have played in four world cups and France have just one player under the age of 25 with an average age of 29.1. Rugby players are thought to benefit from late specialisation whereby players sample different sporting activities to develop physical, psychological and sociological skills that benefit their rugby performance.

‘Rugby is a late maturation sport, further complicated by the different maturation rates that tend to apply to the different positions. There is also a wide consensus based on statistical evidence that selection for elite training and specialisation would be more effective if delayed until after maturation, that period of maximum growth and change. In practice, almost all sports begin such selection rather earlier. So the RFU and the Regional Academies must continue to encourage both early engagement and late specialisation in the sport.’ (England Rugby, 2013)

However according to rugby journalist Stephen Jones this is not happening within English rugby with Rugby Schools dominating and the quest for talent forcing children to specialise and be identified earlier. Interestingly in the England 2015 World Cup Squad Stuart Lancaster has eighteen players aged under 27 including youngsters Luke Cowan-Dickie (20), Elliot Daly (22), Maro Itoje (20) and Henry Slade (22) who have progressed through the player development pathway, which would suggest that the system is working to some extent. It would be interesting to know if these players were early specialisers. However one could also argue that the current system encourages early talent identification and specialisation which can often fail to distinguish between potential and performance and so for those players such as Cowan-Dickie and Itoje that make it to the top level many potentially elite youngsters have been disregarded. There is also evidence to suggest that early specialisation poses risks to the young athletes.

What are the risks of early specialisation?

Evidence suggests that early specialisation can lead to negative consequences, both physically and mentally. Early sport specialisation may increase rates of overuse injury and sport burnout, showing higher training volumes to be a factor in injury with injuries more likely to occur during the adolescent growth spurt. Evidence also suggests that athletes who had early specialised training withdrew from their sport either due to injury or burnout from the sport. This is particularly important for contact sports such as rugby.

As well as the physical risk of injury the main psycho-social risks of early specialisation include decreased sport enjoyment, low intrinsic motivation, compromised social development, social isolation, dropout, psychological burnout, and even the potential to lead to eating disorders in some sports. In contrast early sampling is thought to lead to sport expertise because of the intrinsic motivation that stems from the fun, enjoyment, and competence children experience through their sporting involvement (Côté & Hay, 2002).

What is the answer?

With early specialisation becoming more prominent despite the evidence documenting the risks the IOC have issued a consensus statement with a range of recommendations for those involved in youth sport. For example acknowledging that each child will develop at different rates due to varying responses to training. Developing children holistically, to provide a foundation that will help them be successful in life as well as in sport and ensuring steps are taken to prevent injury. In addition the IOC challenge governing bodies to embrace the recommendations which are based on academic evidence to ensure youth sport is healthier, inclusive, sustainable and long-term. Johnny Wilkinson is a good example of this ideal:

‘I have always loved rugby but have also been fortunate to play a whole host of different sports from a young age. I hope that all children have similar enjoyable opportunities to play and keep active throughout their lives’.

Evidence suggests that in a sport such as rugby there is no place for early specialisation and in fact participating in a range of different sports would provide a better foundation for performance as well as continued participation. So to answer my earlier question I will continue to support my son in his rugby but also encourage him to continue sampling a range of activities to promote a positive sports experience that hopefully continues into adulthood.

Gender and Inequalities in Sport Conference



This event focuses on the theme of equality in sport which seeks to engage debates about gender, sexuality, race, disability and multiple forms of representing this sort of research. In light of the move towards being able to communicate our research to the wider community, new forms of representations can be beneficial, purposeful and intentionally effective when aiming to communicate sensory, emotional, collective memories, intergenerational, and personal stories. Therefore, there will also be a focus on alternative and innovative forms of research.

Date:                           Thurs 17 March 2016

Location:                   Mercure Parkside, Milton Keynes

Event:                         10-5pm, 7pm evening conference dinner

Cost:                           £55 (includes lunch & conference dinner)

Various presenters will be discussing their own specialized research on these topics that include:

  • Prof Kath Woodward – gender and sport, Emeritus Professor at The Open University, UK
  • Prof Vikki Krane – social justice in sport, Bowling Green State University, Ohio, USA
  • Dr Jayne Caudwell – LGBT and sport, Associate Professor, Bournemouth University, UK
  • Dr Kitrina Douglas, Leeds Beckett University, UK


Also, we have a call for papers for delegates (e.g. PhD students to researchers with expertise in their field) to present their research (poster or oral presentation).

Abstract word limit: 300 words

Themes to evolve around gender, sexuality, race, disability, feminist methodology, reflective accounts, and multiple forms of representing these topics.

Deadline: Mon 30 November 2015

          Please send your abstracts to Hannah Leicester.

There will be 2 prizes (Amazon vouchers) that will be awarded for the following:


To register please contact Hannah Leicester to book a place and to make payment.  Payment options are cheque or card payment over the telephone.




What learning style are you?

All students vary in their style of learning and whilst some are quite critical of ‘learning styles’ perhaps they might be a helpful concept in which to guide you towards learning experiences that suit your style. Learning styles may be described as characteristic preferences for alternative ways of absorbing and processing information (Litzinger, Wise, & Felder, 2007). This concept was originally proposed by Kolb (1984) who devised a learning cycle, which incorporates four main approaches to learning:

  1. Concrete Experience                             (Feeling)
  2. Reflective Observation                         (Watching)
  3. Abstract Conceptualisation                 (Thinking)
  4. Active Experimentation                       (Doing)

Whilst, to some extent, every student should respond to each of the learning styles, everyone will inevitably have a preferred learning style and respond to this more and it appears that the majority of sport science students tend to lean more towards being ‘active learners’.

Felder and Solomon (2007) have found that a ‘guided discovery’ form of teaching helpful in the long term. Furthermore this style of teaching can promote more mastery and less performance-focused teaching behaviours andmore adaptive cognitive and affective responses than the command/practice style (Morgan, Kingston, & Sproule, 2005). That’s why the activities that we include can be beneficial for promoting more task orientated learning.

A more detailed model has been adapted and developed and these combined styles may help you understand your learning styles even further.

Accommodating           –          Feeling and doing

Diverging                     –            Feeling and watching

Converging                   –           Thinking and doing

Assimilating                 –           Thinking and watching

Kolb's LS

As you can see from the model, Felder and Soloman (2007) further extend previous ideas of learning types. Not only are there ‘active’ and ‘reflective’ learners, there are also ‘sensing’ and ‘intuitive’ learners; ‘visual’ and ‘verbal’ learners; ‘sequential’ and ‘global’ learners; understanding which learning style you might be beneficial for you.

If you need a bit of assistance, then take an ‘informal test’ to see what learning style might suit you best (remember to take these results with a ‘pinch of salt’).

Allow 10-15 minutes

What to expect from the IPC Swimming World Championships (13-19 July 2015)

As Wimbledon heads into it final weekend, another international competition begins on home soil.  Glasgow, a year on from hosting the Commonwealth Games, is the location for the IPC Swimming World Championships which takes place from 13 to 19 July 2015. The Championships will see over 650 swimmers from more than 50 countries looking to perform at the Tollcross International Swimming Centre ahead of the 2016 Rio Paralympic Games.  If you are unfamiliar with the event here is what to expect:

 Team GB

Seventeen swimmers, competing in front of a home crowd, will make up Team GB and comprises a number of world class athletes including multiple gold medal Paralympian Ellie Simmonds, four-time European champion Andrew Mullen, and Sascha Kindred who is competing at his seventh IPC Swimming World Championships.  As the build up to the championships gathered momentum, there was a British upset with S14 Paralympic Champion, Bethany Firth being forced to withdraw after she fractured her wrist in training with just two weeks to go.

Andrew Mullen (used with permission of Scottish Swimming)

Andrew Mullen (image used with permission of Scottish Swimming)

The rise of Disability Sport

Following the success of the London 2012 Paralympic Games an additional £8 million of National Lottery funding was provided to encourage more disabled people into sport.  This has been partially successful with 44 projects, mostly at grassroots level, receiving funding to increase participation in sport.  Last year Sport England identified that although the participation of disabled people in sport had risen, significant barriers still remain.  In their evaluation of their inclusive sport programme, Sport England recognised that swimming was one of the most commonly cited sports that disabled wanted to take part in, but had as yet been unable to do so.  The Paralympics in 2012 had a positive impact on the public perceptions of disability sport, but there is still more to be done.  The most commonly identified barrier cited was the ‘Attitude of Others’, which is in contrast to the practicalities that disabled people have typically identified as being the major barrier to participation in the past.  Although not every individual may aspire to perform at the level that we will see over the coming week, perhaps the excitement and live coverage of the event will not only inspire more disabled people to take part in swimming but also start to challenge some of the more negative attitudes that some people may hold about their participation in sport.

 The event

The event will take place in the 50m pool at Tollcross International Swimming Centre which was the venue for the 2014 Commonwealth Games.  Races will consist of swims in all four strokes (Freestyle, Backstroke, Breaststroke, Butterfly) and in the Individual Medley (IM: all four strokes in one race) across distances that range from 50 metres to 400 metres.  Swimmers are classified according to their disability and compete in events alongside other competitors who have been evaluated as having a comparable level of impairment.

 How are the swimmers classified?

All Paralympic sports involve a classification system to minimise the impact of impairments on the sport, in this case swimming.  Having an impairment is not sufficient for classification, it has to be shown that there is an impact on the sport.  Paralympic swimming caters for three impairment groups – physical, visual and intellectual and athletes compete in the same strokes as able-bodied swimmers namely Freestyle, Butterfly, Backstroke, Breaststroke and the Individual Medley (IM).  The sport class names in Swimming consist of a prefix “S” (Freestyle, Butterfly and Backstroke events), “SM” (Individual Medley), or “SB” (Breaststroke) and a number. The prefixes stand for the event and the number indicates the sport class the swimmers competes in.

The classification number indicates the impairment. Classification 1-10 involves some form of physical impairment, the lower the number the more severe limitation of the swimmer’s impairment.  Classification 11-13 involve visual impairment, and 14 indicates an intellectual impairment where the swimmer has an IQ below 75.

Classification is not a simple task and there have been a number of high profile controversial disputes over classification in recent years.  In the build up to the last World Championships in Montreal in 2013, gold medal Paralympian swimmer, Victoria Arlen (USA) was ruled ineligible to compete. Victoria had spent three years in a vegetative state because of an autoimmune disorder and woke with paralysis of the legs and a number of other symptoms consistent with the neurological condition transverse myelitis.  However, after winning a gold medal in London 2012 in the S6 100m freestyle the International Paralympic Committee ruled that she was ineligible to compete in disability swimming events as she could not provide evidence of having a permanent impairment with no hope for recovery. More information on classification can be found at

With a multitude of events, the scheduled appearance of many Paralympic stars, and several British medal hopes this competition looks set to be an exciting one!  Follow the excitement of the event and the fortunes of the Team GB stars at



Parenthood and Tennis – the challenge of being an athletic parent

By Candice Lingam-Willgoss and Jessica Pinchbeck

A glance at the top seeded men and women at Wimbledon this year reveals an interesting contrast in terms of family. While Djokovic, Federer and Wawrinka all have young families none of the top ten seeded women in this year’s tournament have children. While sporting mothers are not an uncommon concept, it seems within the world of tennis motherhood and being a professional athlete are a harder combination to balance, with research in the field recognizing how pregnancy and motherhood are key reasons why female athletes may end their career. (Nash, 2011). There is no hidden reason why so few female players give birth during their career, and these are in no way unique to tennis, very few women want to harm their career in their twenties whether that is sporting or otherwise, but perhaps more importantly for an athlete is the physical impact that pregnancy and having a baby can have on a woman. For the better part of a year if not longer the competitive regime is gone, add to that the return to playing which sees huge demands on an athlete in terms of time and travel which can prove almost impossible to handle, with tennis involving if not the most travel demands of any sport.

There are however, examples of tennis players who have managed to successfully combine the two worlds of motherhood and professional tennis, one such player is Lindsay Davenport, a player who is reported to have planned her first pregnancy and only retired when pregnant with her second child. While the demands of tennis may mean it is difficult for a woman to continue to have a competitive career after children there seems to be little negative impact on actual performance. Take Kim Clijsters, who retired from tennis to have a family but made ‘The Mother of All Comebacks’ when she won the 2009 US Open a couple of years after retiring just 16 months after giving birth to Jada Ellie.

It is clear that women who do return to sport following their pregnancy come back as different athletes. Of the women who have made it to the third round of Wimbledon Dellacqua is possibly the only player to spend a night on the floor, taking a turn lying next to her son’s cot the night before a crucial 2nd round match. Dellacqua has highlighted how having her son has led to a shift in priorities and even credits being a mother as “helping me in lots of ways” saying that having another mouth to feed had only made her more focused on her career.

This change in focus is something echoed by Heptathlete Jessica Ennis-Hill, “Before I had Reggie, it was all about me, me, me,” she said recently. “Now Reggie comes before everything else, but I’m still really competitive. I want to be there, and be at my best again.” But she also recognises that it is hard to do, “I’d be lying if I said there hadn’t been days when I thought, ‘I’m not sure I want to do this, because this is really, really hard.’ I thought, ‘I’ve already become Olympic champion. Do I want all the stress again?’ But I have to give it a go. I don’t want to look back and think, ‘Oh, maybe I could have done it.’ This could explain why some women wait until they retire until they have a family as it makes the job of professional athlete so much harder. As Palmer and Leberman (2009) note it isn’t just the sleepless nights often it is the management of the multiple identities of athlete and mother that can prove difficult, with constraints such as guilt, lack of time and lack of support all being potential barriers to a smooth transition back into sport which explains why more elite female athletes choose to wait until they retire to have a family.

Although men don’t experience the physiological repercussions of having a baby, as evidenced by Federer returning to tennis 6 days after the birth of his twin boys, they are still subject to the psychological impact of becoming a parent and having to balance family life and the demands of being a professional tennis player. In the last 25 years there are only nine players that have won grand slams as fathers. Federer however has accomplished winning grand slams and holding the world number 1 ranking since becoming a father and the key to his success may well lie in the fact that his wife and children frequently travel to tournaments with him, thus alleviating the psychological stress of having to spend long periods of time away from his family. Djokovic became a father in 2014 and won his first grand slam as a father earlier this year beating Andy Murray to win his fifth Australian Open Title. Replicating the views of Ennis-Hill and Dellacqua Djokovic feels fatherhood has benefitted his career and his approach to tennis claiming ‘I think it has a deeper meaning, more intrinsic value now to my life because I am a father and a husband’. Taking advice from Federer and his methods of balancing fatherhood and tennis Djokovic’s family often travel with him to tournaments and this year he took time off before Wimbledon to spend time with his family.

This all sounds like an easy solution however it should be noted that both Federer and Djokovic became fathers while already having established careers and are typically wealthy and successful enough to travel with their family to various tournaments or to take short breaks from the sport. Other professional tennis players with less lucrative earnings aren’t quite as lucky. Ivo Karlovic has an ATP ranking of 25 but talks of the struggles he experiences spending time away from his wife and daughter and relies on Skype to keep in touch.

In a 1984 study of analysing magazine articles on leading male and female professional tennis players for males the status of star professional athlete superseded other statuses such as husband and father, however for the women players the status of female took priority over the status of athlete. However after watching and reading the Wimbledon media coverage the role of the father has become more prominent in male tennis with increased media coverage on stars such as Nadal and Federa and their role away from the court as fathers and husbands.

John McEnroe admits that having children brought out the best in him, describing how often on the tennis circuit players lose touch with reality but having children changes that. Karlovic acknowledges that having a child does change things for a father stating that before having a child everyone is a little bit selfish but once you have a child life completely changes and everything is about the child. Research also suggests that fatherhood ‘may lead to a decrease in the output of cultural displays (behaviour used by males to compete for potential mates, such as the competitiveness in sport) which could have a negative effect on sports performance. Studies also document that married men and in particular married fathers have lower testosterone levels but to date there is no research on the effect of this on tennis performance. There is also a lack of sufficient data on fatherhood and the role that social and familial status has on sporting performance.

So whether you are a professional tennis player and a mother or a professional tennis player and a father it would appear that parenthood brings about change and challenges men and women in different ways. Some of the change incurred has a positive effect on a player’s career and some of the transitions to being a parent may be difficult to manage alongside the lifestyle of being a professional athlete.

Can Jamieson overcome adversity to compete at Rio?

BBC Sport has recently reported on Olympic gold medallist David Wilkie’s predictions about the relative chances of Scottish swimmers Ross Murdoch and Michael Jamieson being selected for the British team for the 2016 Rio Olympics. Michael Jamison competed in London 2012 and was one of our few medal winners in the pool winning silver medal in the Men’s 200m breaststroke.  However, he has seen a drop in form since then being beaten into silver in the Commonwealth Games by then relative newcomer Ross Murdoch and then failing to qualify for the World Championships this year.  However, there has been some indication that Jamieson is heading in the right direction as he decisively beat Murdoch in the 200 breaststroke at the Scottish Nationals in Tollcross, Glasgow several weeks ago.  He is currently ranked 28th in the world this year.  Murdoch’s success has been somewhat more consistent, having won Gold at the Commonwealth Games, he qualified for the World Championships behind the world record holder in the 50m and 100m breaststroke, Adam Peaty.

Wilkie is reported as saying that Jamieson will find it difficult to make the team and that “I think it mentally destroyed Michael for a while and he had to go away and take stock and work out where he wants to be. . . . He’s a class swimmer but he took a big mental hit”. Both swimmers have a hard task ahead of them – the 200m breaststroke is one of the most hotly contested events in British Swimming with a number of swimmers posting FINA A times in 2015 and being in with a real chance of GB team selection, their current world ranking as at 8 July 2015 is shown in the brackets: Adam Peaty (2), Andrew Willis (5), Craig Benson (10), Calum Tait (16) and James Wilby (25), all being in with a chance of qualifying for the two positions for Rio.

So David Wilkie is probably right that Jamieson will struggle to make the team.  However, this is possibly due to the high number of high quality world class breaststrokers that Great Britain has produced over the last few years, rather than the mental hit that Wilkie refers to.  Academic research that I carried out as part of my PhD, suggests that the mental destruction (which could characterised as adversity) that Wilkie refers to may be in Jamieson’s favour rather than being a debilitating factor.  In research that involved an analysis of Olympic Swimming Champion’s autobiographies (Howells and Fletcher, 2015), we identified that swimmers competing at the highest level experience (adversarial) growth following negotiation of adversity.  Adversity was characterised as comprising developmental stressors (e.g., dyslexia), external stressors (e.g., organisational stressor), embodied states (e.g., injury), psychological states (e.g., body image concerns) and externalized behaviours (e.g., self-harm) and involved a threat to the individual’s identity as a world class swimmer.  The growth that followed a transitional process, which included seeking meaning and the enlistment of social support, was characterised by enhanced relationships, increased spiritual awareness, prosocial behaviour, and importantly in the context of discussion about Michael Jamieson’s fortunes, superior performance. Furthermore, in a study of psychological resilience in Olympic champions, Fletcher and Sarkar (2012) found that “most of the participants argued that if they had not experienced certain types of stressors . . . including highly demanding adversities such as parental divorce, serious illness, and career-threatening injuries, they would not have won their gold medals” (p. 672).

Maybe Jamieson can use the disappointment of the last two years to grow psychologically and achieve the superior performance that he needs to qualify for Rio next year.  But even if he can he will be up against some of the world’s best breaststrokers just to qualify.


Fletcher, D., & Sarkar, M. (2012). A grounded theory of psychological resilience in Olympic Champions. Psychology of Sport and Exercise, 13(5), 669-678.

Howells, K., & Fletcher, D. (2015). Sink or Swim: Adversity- and Growth-Related Experiences in Olympic Swimming Champions. Psychology of Sport and Exercise, 16, 37-48.

British Athletes on Fire in Korea

So how well do you know your sport? Can you answer these three questions?

  1. What event is the second largest multisport Games in the world after the Olympics?
  2. At what event have 48% of all recent medallists at the Olympic Games, including Beth Tweddle, Jessica Ennis-Hill, and Michael Jamieson medalled at?
  3. What event is taking place in Gwangju, Korea between 3 and 14 July 2015?

If you don’t know the answer to these questions, then you may not be aware that the Summer Universiade, or the World University Games as it is more commonly known, is currently underway in Gwangju, Korea, and will run until the 14 July 2015. The World University Games is held every two years for student athletes and this year between 12,000 and 13,000 athletes from 141 countries are competing for medals in 21 different sports. Sixty-seven athletes from Great Britain and Northern Ireland have travelled to Korea to compete across 12 different sports to attempt to improve on the medal haul from the 2013 Games held in Kazan, Russia when Great Britain took home 1 gold, 1 silver and 4 bronzes.

Many of the events are already underway and by day five GB has already surpassed its success from two years ago and currently sits in ninth position in the medal table with 2 golds, 2 silvers and 1 bronze. Medals have already been won in the Artistic Gymnastics (Kelly-Jay Simm, Women’s Individual All-Around, GOLD), and in the Swimming (Jay Lelliot, Mens 400m Freestyle, GOLD, Men’s 800m Freestyle, SILVER; James Wilby, Men’s 100m Breaststroke, SILVER; Craig Benson, Men’s 100m Breaststroke, BRONZE). Kelly-Jay Simm is also in with a good chance of more medals as she competes today in the final of the vault, the uneven bars, and the floor exercise. Hopes are high for more medals in the pool as Craig Benson goes into the 200m Breaststroke later today (Tuesday 7 July) with the fastest qualifying time from the semi-finals. He is joined in that final by fellow Scot Calum Tait.

A positive start is likely to have filled Team GBR with confidence as more sports start over the coming days. Follow the medal successes of the team via the British Universities and Colleges Sport (BUCS) and the Games websites.

Women’s World Cup preview: what you need to know

By Helen Owton

The women participating in the FIFA World Cup in Canada are achieving against adversity. They are taking the field amid allegations of FIFA corruption, its president Sepp Blatter’s resignation, controversy over artificial turf, sexist videogame backlash and gender testing.

With 24 teams competing over a full month, it’s the largest and longest tournament in the history of women’s football. In the UK, all 52 matches will be given full coverage across the BBC for the first time. Indeed, this World Cup could rival the men’s tournament so let’s find out a bit more about what else we might expect.


England’s vital statistics

England is at number six in FIFA’s world rankings after qualifying first in the team’s group for the World Cup with a 100% record. The team had a tough friendly with Germany at Wembley who beat England 3-0 in November 2014.

More recently, after arriving in Canada for the Women’s World Cup, England played a friendly against Canada, losing 1-0 despite some strong performances from the team.

England reached the quarter-finals of the cup in 1995, 2007, 2011. This time there is a blend of experience and new talent and the team will be looking to improve progress at this tournament with their new head coach, Mark Sampson.

Playing technical

The artificial turf controversy has clearly highlighted how differently women are treated compared to men – men play on grass in the World Cup, but the women’s teams will play on a range of different artificial surfaces in Canada.

How will this affect the game? Apart from the increased risk of ankle injuries and the heat stress-related health problems from the potential high surface temperature, the women are likely to change their game to adapt to the turf.

The ball moves at a greater speed and players have less control as it rolls out of bounds more frequently. Put simply, it is physically more demanding than playing on natural grass. So there are likely to be more short and midfield-to-midfield passes to control the ball better.

Teams that might already hold the advantage of playing on such surfaces include Japan, which beat the USA on penalties in an nail-biting final at the 2011 competition in Germany. Japan’s style of play is technical; players maintain possession and their passes are short. Whereas USA (winners in 1991, 1999) and Canada, which both have an attacking style of play, might be affected most by the surface.

What’s new?

Eight teams are enjoying their debut at this year’s World Cup: Thailand, Switzerland, Spain, Cameroon, Costa Rica, Ivory Coast, Netherlands and Ecuador. This could lead to some high-scoring games, new plot lines and who knows what could happen in the games being played on a different surface?

Who qualified, who


Due to the increased number of teams, the format of the tournament has changed slightly. There will two more groups (six groups of four) and a second knockout round. In total 52 matches will be played and it will take seven successful games to win the tournament.

Players to watch

With the new teams, there are going to be a lot of new players to watch out for together with the existing talent, such as the well-known Marta Vieira da Silva from Brazil (who is the best player in the history of the game and FIFA World Player of the Year five times), and Abby Wambach from the USA (who is also among the best in the world and was awarded FIFA World Player of the Year in 2012). Wambach has scored more goals than any international player in either men’s or women’s football.

Fara Williams in action.
Friso Gentsch

In the England women’s team, along with Eniola Aluko’s speed and Fara Williams’s tough experience, there is rising star Fran Kirby who has natural ability and intuitive talent on the pitch. She is top scorer for the domestic side, Reading. She grabbed the heart of the nation when she spoke honestly about her struggle to come to terms with bereavement, her battle against depression and her fierce return to Reading, scoring 33 goals in her first season back. She is a talented footballer as well as a huge inspiration to others at such a young age.


At 21, Kirby is not the youngest player in the tournament, however. Vivianne Miedema, 19, from the Netherlands is another rising star and one to watch. She was a key player in helping the national team qualify for the first FIFA Women’s World Cup.

What I love about these women is their ability to push boundaries outside their footballing careers by tackling homophobia (Casey Stoney), standing up against gender discrimination (Wambach leading a discrimination lawsuit against FIFA over the artificial turf), and inspiring other women into football.

The first game kicks off on Saturday June 6 with Canada playing China; let’s cheer them all on with admiration and the respect they deserve.

The Conversation

Helen Owton is Lecturer in Sport & Fitness at The Open University.

This article was originally published on The Conversation.
Read the original article.

Join our team!

We currently have a vacancy for a full-time lecturer in Sport and Fitness (based in Milton Keynes) to join our growing and vibrant team of six staff involved in updating materials, overseeing teaching activities and active research that connects with our BSc (Hons) Sport, Fitness and Coaching.

If you have an excellent knowledge of sport and exercise science or sports studies, good experience of working in higher education and a strong research profile you can find out more about the post through the link below.

Lecturer in Sport and Fitness – Further information

Closing date: Monday 11th May 2015