Monthly Archives: June 2015

Sport can help with your asthma if you learn how to listen to your body

By Helen Owton

It’s Wimbledon season again and many will be wondering whether champions Petra Kvitova and Novak Djokovic will repeat their 2014 winning performances; it’s worth remembering that both are asthmatic.

There are more than 230m people in the world with asthma and attacks result in a hospitalisation every seven minutes.

Sport can be a double-edged sword for people with asthma and even in the best of weather exercise can act as a stimulus, narrowing the airways and making it difficult to breathe. Around 80-90% of sufferers have exercise-induced asthma, which can trigger symptoms such as coughing, wheezing, tightness of the chest and breathlessness which can be caused by heat and water losses during exercise hyperventilation or endless streams of allergens such as pollution and pollen. If symptoms progress and become more severe, it can lead to a full-blown asthma attack where an overproduction of mucus further narrows the airways and limits oxygen intake.

So during May through to August, high pollen and pollution levels many are urged to reduce activity levels outdoors and keep their inhalers (normally the reliever) with them.

Yet, as Asthma UK points out, eight out of ten people with asthma aren’t doing enough exercise and as we know exercise has a number of positive effects including helping the heart, bones and digestive system to stay healthy, reducing stress and insomnia, and keeping unwanted weight off.

Mark Foster in 2008: has spoken about training with asthma.
Mark Foster/Flickr, CC BY-NC-SA

Other well-known sports asthmatics include swimmers Ian Thorpe, who reportedly took up sport as a way of dealing with his asthma, and Olympian Mark Foster, who has said “swimming can actually help because it teaches you breath control and how to make the most of your lung capacity … we are taught the best way to use all of our lungs not just a small part.” Foster said that in addition to taking a puff of his inhaler before every race, his coaches also kept a careful watch on his lung capacity and peak flow levels. Kvitova has said that she suffers worse symptoms in certain places and often arrives early before a tournament begins so her lungs can adjust.

Listening to your body

Sport can act as a distraction from asthma triggers and a way of ignoring the body. But asthma and sport are both central body experiences, that benefit from listening acutely to breathing patterns. Good breathing technique is fundamental to sport – and used alongside specific training designed to help professional sports people with their asthma, it can improve the experience of asthmatics.

Listen in.
Jogging by Shutterstock

“Deep listening” is an activity that requires careful, attunement to the nuanced and multiple layers of meaning enmeshed in sound. Asthma includes listening to sounds from the body: noisy heavy breathing, wheezing, coughing, panting, spluttering and sneezing. Some athletes develop acute attunement by identifying very subtle changes in their bodies in an attempt to anticipate and monitor their asthma and breathing.

Not only do athletes develop “deep listening” to their bodies, but “acute attentiveness to and active steadying of respiration, together with conscious efforts to relax and keep calm” is also required. With the benefit of experience and a developed attunement to their bodies’ responses, some sportspeople can learn what to expect during their sporting participation enabling them to feel more in control.

Therefore, many sportspeople can be more aware of their limitations when exercising, more in control of their breathing and know when not to push it to the max to avoid the onset of an asthmatic episode.

In research we carried out, some sportspeople said that, in general, they “did not listen to their bodies”, which often had later consequences such as a sudden onset of asthma after training or competing, along with feelings of panic and a reliance on an inhaler as a quick fix.

On the other hand, those who said that they “listened deeply” to their bodies, articulated an intelligent form of knowledge about their bodies which meant that while they couldn’t always engage in more activities, they did enjoy the activities in which they were able to participate and asthma seemed to be less disruptive to their daily lives.

Nonetheless, there are limits to the predictability of asthma and there are incidences where there can be an endless stream of potential allergens which takes conscientious efforts, precautionary measure and monitoring of bodily reactions.

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.

Is the not-so beautiful men’s game putting people off women’s football?

By Helen Owton and Mark Doidge

The FIFA Women’s World Cup is getting to the business end of the tournament. On Friday and Saturday the quarter-final matches will kick off with an enticing prospect as Germany take on France. It conjures up memories of classic tussles in the men’s game, not least the infamous 1982 World Cup semi-final which saw German goalkeeper Harald Schumacher’s “assault” on Patrick Battiston. The trouble is, it may be just these sorts of comparisons which are holding back the growth of interest in the women’s game.

In the current tournament, although matches featuring France and the hosts Canada have been popular and partisan, other games have been sparsely supported. Whilst the global television coverage is touted to exceed one billion viewers, there have still been questions about the lack of spectators, and lack of media analysis of women’s football in general.

Crowd trouble.
GoToVan, CC BY

Women’s football might be one of the largest growing sports, but it has a long way to go. Consider first that while Germany received $35 million for their triumph in the 2014 men’s World Cup, the victors in Canada will win only $2 million. And women’s football simply doesn’t attract the same levels of spectatorship as the men’s game. There are plenty of reasons for that, of course. It takes time to build a following and fanbase; to create stars.

Potentially too, this lack of spectators may be due to the many myths around women’s football (that were beautifully satirised by the Norwegian team). Sexist attitudes still exist, as exemplified by the man in charge of promoting Brazilian football, Marco Aurelio Cunha, who said women are “getting more beautiful, putting on make-up”. Not should we forget that women’s football is not celebrated in all countries, as seen in the outrage of men in Saudi Arabia. But crucially, we fear that women’s football is suffering from the tarnished image of its successful but divisive sibling – the men’s game.

The Norway team keep a straight face.

Reputational damage

When people say, “but I don’t like football” they are usually talking about men’s football. This has become associated with two distinct characteristics: cynical professionalism and masculine fan culture. Elite level men’s football has become associated with unnecessary diving, over-the-top showboating celebrations, disrespecting officials and questionable actions outside of the game courtesy of bloated salaries and corporate sponsorships.

Too much?

Whilst it is clear that football fans are not one homogenous group, a dominant form of partisanship has developed that emphasises difference through hooliganism, obssessive fandom, sexism, homophobia, racism and other forms of prejudice. Now, the “beautiful game” has been tarnished by the recent FIFA corruption and arrests.

This culture of discrimination and violence has helped to send stadium attendance of men’s football into decline in many parts of Europe. This helps to create a rump of masculine fans who perceive that as they are the only ones still attending; they are the “authentic” fans.

Obsessive fandom and the culture of masculinity nurtures a sense of authority that aims to exclude others from voicing opinions on domestic and international games. Within the game, bad calls, needless diving, and “friendly banter” often dominate football talk. Within these conversations, subtle power dynamics are minimising the voice of the less masculine, less obsessive fan.

Head case. Pressure falls on FIFA.
Steffen Schmidt/EPA

Support network

While we are also falling into the trap of comparing women’s and men’s football, it is important to acknowledge that many of the viewing public will be doing likewise. It is important to create a space that challenges the dominant masculine culture of football, replete with prejudice, and which consequently seems to influence why people watch the game.

Men’s football is locked into a symbiotic relationship between partisan support and commercial victory. As the men’s game has grown as a professional and marketable industry, the spoils of victory are manifest. Global celebrity, commercial endorsements and fan adulation can catapult male footballers into millionaires. Meanwhile, the masculine fan culture prizes these victories as symbolic domination over rivals. Within this environment, a mantra of “win at all costs” ensues. Ultimately the male players who dive or challenge the referee are replicating the chants and demands of the fans in the stands.

In contrast, the crowds watching the women’s game are much more diverse, far less violent, less abusive and less prejudicial. The current Women’s World Cup shows that there can be a space within football that permits a different form of fandom and spectatorship. It’s just hard to get there through the shadow cast by the big brother.

Cynical challenge

Women’s football doesn’t just represent the game being played well, it also represents a challenge to male-only spaces that value a very limited way of being a man. If you don’t want to push these agendas forward then at least support the women and men who are willing to. As Gabby Logan argues, women are entitled to occupy any space, and that includes sport.

The Kuwait football team.
Doha Stadium Plus Qatar, CC BY

Women have shown that on and off the field, they can excel in football. The BBC has shown excellent coverage by Jacqui Oatley, supported by Sue Smith, Rachel Yankey, and Rachel Brown-Finnis, and highlighted that good analysis of football is not the preserve of men; even if men perplexedly continue to dominate in coaching and match commentary roles.

On the pitch, Germany, France and the US have shown that professional, organised and enthusiastic teams can compete in high quality games and deliver spectacular goals.

The challenge for the women’s game is that as it professionalises, it avoids the cynicism that pervades the men’s game. Respecting the referee, avoiding diving and focusing on the quality of the football on the pitch has to continue in order to maintain a challenge the dominant, and damaging image of (men’s) football. In this way we can remember to appreciate just how beautiful the game of football is.

The Conversation

Helen Owton is Lecturer in Sport & Fitness at The Open University.
Mark Doidge is Senior Research Fellow in Sociology of Sport at University of Brighton.

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

Wimbledon is here – finally the summer of sport begins

By Simon Rea

This summer in the absence of an Olympics Games or major men’s football tournament sports fans are relying on events such as the women’s Football World Cup, the first European Games in Baku and the ICC women’s championships for entertainment.  From Monday 29th June this will be supplemented by two weeks of Wimbledon fever and a supply of tennis from lunchtime to bedtime.  The British tennis fans will be asking whether all our hopes of glory rest with Andy Murray or can any other British players have a good run in the tournament.


Image courtesy of PinkBlue at

Who will win?

The men’s singles and women’s singles could not be more different at the moment in terms of predictability.  If asked most people would answer that one of four, possibly five, men will win the men’s title while it seems that anyone could win the women’s title.

Women’s tournament

Serena Williams is once again the favourite for the women’s title and has been in spectacular form winning the last 3 major tournaments.  Most recently she won the French Open on her less favoured surface of clay but she hasn’t won Wimbledon since 2012.  Is she overdue to win or is her time at Wimbledon over?  If not Serena then two time winner and defending champion Petra Kvitova must be a favourite to succeed or Maria Sharapova, who has not won since 2004. These three stars of the game are joined in the top 5 by Simona Halep of Romania and Caroline Wozniacki of Denmark, both of whom have appeared in Grand Slam finals. Personally, I think this may be the year for Wozniacki who has underperformed at Wimbledon but in the last two years her performances have steadily improved and she has gained the consistency needed for success.

Men’s tournament

Novak Djokovic is favourite for the men’s title just ahead of Andy Murray.  They recently shared an epic semi-final on clay at the French Open that Djokovic just won before he was beaten in the final by Stanislas Wawrinka.  We are living through probably the toughest era in men’s tennis where four men, Djokovic, Federer, Nadal and Murray, have been competing for the major titles.  There has often been a rivalry between two players but never have we had four of the best players ever to play the game competing in the same era.  This has meant that each man has had to raise their game and work on every weakness to remain competitive

I think that this year may be Andy Murray’s year to win a second title.  Firstly, he came very close to beating Djokovic after producing incredible tennis to drag himself back from two sets down. Djokovic is probably his closest rival at the moment and grass courts represent Murray’s favourite surface.  He recently replicated his form of 2013, when he previously won Wimbledon, at the Aegon Championships to win the tournament convincingly.  His form has been up and down over the last two years but he finally seems fit and strong after his back surgery towards the end of 2013.  Murray needs to ensure that he doesn’t lets his opponent back into the match during the second set after he has won the first.  If he can show his ruthless streak he would be very well placed to succeed this year.

Are there any other British players to watch out for?

Heather Watson and Laura Robson are now well established on the tennis circuit but Robson has only recently overcome a wrist injury that had kept her side-lined for 17 months.  Watson is joined in the top three British women by Naomi Broady and a relative newcomer, Johanna Konta.  Konta is Australian born and has never got beyond the first round at Wimbledon, however, she performed impressively at the pre-Wimbledon Aegon tournament in Eastbourne where she knocked out 2 top-20 players so she is definitely one to watch.

British men’s tennis has a new number two in the shape of Aljaz Bedene who is ranked 74 in the world and has held a British passport since March, having moved to Britain from Slovenia seven years ago to develop his tennis career.  It is the first time since the days of Henman and Rusedski that Britain has had two men in the world’s top 100. He has never won a grand slam match but is one to watch to see how he responds to the fervent support of the British public.

This summer may be quieter than others but hopefully along with the England women’s football team and England cricket teams there will be plenty of success to savour.

Preparing for Penalty Shootout Pressure at the Women’s World Cup

By Caroline Heaney

With the Women’s Football World Cup now into the knockout stages football fans will be preparing themselves for the prospect of a penalty shoot-out or two. Penalty shoot-outs are rarely missing from a major tournament and in fact the last Women’s World Cup was won by Japan on penalties.

England fans have a love-hate relationship with the penalty shoot-out. The excitement of a penalty shoot-out is unquestionable, but England teams are not renowned for their success in penalty shoot-outs. The men’s team have had several exits from major tournaments at the hands of a penalty shoot-out (e.g. 2006 World Cup, Euro 2012) and the women’s team exited the 2011 World Cup after losing to France on penalties in the quarter final stages. So what is it about the penalty shoot-out that makes it so intense?

The penalty shoot-out in a major tournament is probably one the most highly pressured situations in football; the stakes are high and the margins for error are small. Additionally, the personal accountability of individual players is probably higher than in any other situation in football, where normally responsibility is collectively shared. No-one wants to be the player responsible for their team exiting a major tournament, and history shows that unsuccessful penalty takers are often ‘scapegoated’ and ostracised by their national media. Interestingly it appears to be the penalty takers rather than the goal-keepers who tend to fall victim to this negative media attention, perhaps due to the expectations of a penalty shoot-out: penalty takers are expected to score and goal-keepers are expected not to stop them. Obviously when a goal-keeper makes a winning save they become a hero in the eyes of the media, but rarely are they subjected to the same media condemnation as a player who misses a penalty when they fail to save a penalty.

As a result of this teams often focus a significant amount of effort on preparing for the possibility of a penalty shoot-out, and the England women’s team have been reported to be doing just that. Psychology is certainly a significant factor in the penalty shoot-out. As a sport psychologist I like to watch a player prepare to take a penalty and predict whether they will be successful – there are certain psychological cues that are indicative of the outcome. Researchers have investigated these and have identified various factors that can influence the success of the penalty shoot-out. Some of these are explored in our penalty shoot-out game:

Penalty Shootout Game

Click here to play our penalty shoot-out game

As with most tasks, confidence is key. A player who is confident and believes that they will score is more likely to do so. There is no room for doubt in a penalty shoot-out. Confidence can be seen through visual cues such as eye contact. A player who lacks confidence may avoid making eye contact with the goal keeper. Good goal keepers recognise these signals and will draw strength from an opponent who won’t make eye contact. Additionally, a successful penalty taker will normally take their time and not rush. Rushing can be seen as a sign of panic, whereas someone who waits is giving themselves time to compose themselves before executing the skill, perhaps utilising psychological techniques like imagery and positive self-talk before taking the penalty kick. A player may use imagery to rehearse taking a successful penalty in their head before taking it and may use positive self-talk to enhance their confidence and focus.

Experience is obviously an important factor for penalty takers. Players who have previously successfully taken penalties and won penalty shoot-outs are more likely to be confident in their ability to take a successful penalty. The reverse of that however is that those who have had bad experiences are less likely to be confident, which goes some way to explaining the serial penalty shoot-out defeats seen in teams such as the England and Holland men’s teams – the culture of expecting to lose a penalty shoot-out perpetuates. Research by Jordet revealed  that success rates in penalty shoot-outs are considerably higher for teams who have won their last two penalty shoot-outs compared to those who have lost their last two shoot-outs (89% versus 57%), even if the team membership is changed. Interestingly ‘higher status’ players, whilst likely having more experience to draw on, are sometimes less successful in penalty shoot-out situations; perhaps because the pressure of expectation is far greater for them than for players of lower status.

This shows that the successful penalty taker is one who is highly confident and copes well with pressure. Next time you watch a penalty shoot-out, watch the players prepare and see if you can predict whether or not they will be successful.


Gains for women at European Games eclipsed by Azerbaijan’s appalling human rights record

By Helen Owton

With the Women’s Football World Cup kicking off this month and the recent Women in Sports week, the first European Games in Baku, Azerbaijan could have been another opportunity for women’s sporting success to be celebrated. But Azerbaijan’s atrocious record on human rights, and the ban on certain journalists from covering the event have meant any gains made by female athletes are close to meaningless. The billions spent on staging these games will be wasted – hardly anyone will be able to watch because of the tight media regulations; new rules make it possible for lawsuits to be brought against journalists whose work opposes national interest or “insults the honour of the state and the dignity of the Azerbaijan people”. So unlike the Women’s World Cup in Canada, in Baku few will see the great strides forward for women’s sport.

Out of sight, not out of action

So what have we missed? For a start, the European Games could have been a watershed moment for women’s boxing. Boxing, the archetypal male pursuit of controlled violence, has always been a tough arena for women. Often, they have to prove themselves over and above the levels of men to be accepted, not to mention facing multiple forms of discrimination and harassment. Women challenge existing gender norms by crossing gender boundaries and while the inclusion of women’s boxing at Baku and in the 2012 London Olympics (after and absence of 116 years) was a sign of progress, there is still much more work to be done. How many people have watched women’s boxing since the Olympics? Team GB star Nicola Adams became a household name in 2012 but coverage of her and other women boxers has been largely absent since then. London 2012 was called the “year of the woman”, but it increasingly seems to have been an exception rather than a norm.

Household name: Nicola Adams. Dennis M. Sabangan

Despite the lack of coverage, the GB women’s boxing squad is still fighting strong and achieving. Recent success came at the European Championships in Romania. The team returned with two medals. Natasha Jonas, who competed at London 2012 and the Commonwealth Games in Glasgow, won silver in the light-welterweight together with Stacey Copeland who also secured a silver medal in the welterweight final. Nicola Adams is a positive role model and an inspiring leader, so it is no surprise that she carried the flag for Team GB at the opening ceremony in Baku. She’s just won her opening round fight at Baku and is on course to make more boxing history. Nonetheless, she argues for more female role models given that many of her role models were men. This includes the need for more women in leadership roles in boxing. Meanwhile, today’s women boxers join the likes of other pioneering women boxers, Barbara Buttrick, Jane Couch, Cathy “The Bitch” Brown who could continue to inspire, but only if we hear about it.

Dodging human rights issues

And it’s very hard to inspire at an event so mired by controversy. While some argue that sport and politics should remain separate, sport does provide an opportunity to be an agent of social change and has been promoted as a force of good in the world. It would be naïve not to recognise how closely tied sport and politics are despite European Olympic Committee Chief Patrick Hickey insisting that sports remains divorced from politics. Sport presents us with an opportunity to demand change. In the early 1970s, ping-pong diplomacy was used to open up new diplomatic channels between the US and China. Nelson Mandela saw sport as a way to connect a nation; in 1995 he used the Rugby World Cup victory to symbolise the future unity of South Africa. But there are stories from the other side too. In 2008, the Beijing Olympics was a powerful example of human rights being ignored and the interconnections between Olympism, global sport and geopolitics. Similarly, the potential for transformation in Baku has been marginalised in favour of economic and corporate aims. Given this context and the bans on journalists entering the country, using the European Games as an opportunity for women to be seen as role models in sport could prove challenging and contentious. Nonetheless, these games do appear to have brought human rights issues into the limelight and the UN rights office is making attempts to get the Azerbaijan government to ensure freedom of expression assembly and association and fight for the release of jailed human rights defenders. If anything, the European Games in Baku are a reminder that the fight for women’s representation is a human rights issue. We cannot celebrate the gains made by women in male-dominated arenas as long as they take place in a country that does not support equality for all. 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.

The Dark Side of Sport: child sexual abuse

* The following blog includes material of a sensitive nature and may not be suitable for all readers

By Helen Owton & Lisa Lazard

2012 was a real breakthrough for victims who experienced child sexual abuse. Since the Jimmy Scandal in 2012, there has been a 71% increase in the number of reports of child sexual abuse. Nonetheless, it is disturbing to recognise the scale of the VIP sexual abuse inquiry which has highlighted a huge number of well-known, powerful people under investigation that includes 76 politicians, 135 TV film or radio figures, 43 from the music industry and 7 sports stars (and 9 sports venues). Whilst it seems shocking that many seemed to have been abused in settings where these vulnerable people should have been safe (e.g. schools, sports, religious institutions) perhaps it’s worth considering how these environments (e.g. sport) are conducive to such forms of abuse and exploitation as well.

The World of Sport

We only have to go as far as the recent FIFA arrests to recognise that sport is not the clean, fair, functional, happy, hyped up field it presents itself as so it’s becoming increasingly important to place these institutional structures under scrutiny. Indeed, a large body of research1-5 suggests that competitive sporting environments provide a unique socio-cultural context that offers possibilities for sexual abuse and exploitation to take place. In sport, the specific danger is the amount of power invested in the coach. Coaches (as perpetrators) can impose their version of reality on athletes (as victims) and isolate them from potential sources of support within that reality by controlling the psychological environment through direct emotional manipulation, psychological abuse, and the creation of a highly volatile, psychologically abusive training environment.6,7 Indeed, Brackenridge and Fasting (2005)8 comment on previous studies on what’s known as the ‘grooming process’ in sport:

The previous studies suggest that, for the abuser, grooming is a conscious strategy. The athlete, on the other hand, is usually an unwitting party to the gradual erosion of the interpersonal boundary between her and the coach. The power afforded to the coach in his position of authority offers an effective alibi or camouflage for grooming and abuse. Incremental shifts in the boundary between coach and athlete go unnoticed, unrecognized or unreported by the athlete until the point where she has become completely entrapped and is unable to resist his advances. (p. 37)

A recent paper9 presents a story about “Bella” and the dynamic relationships between three main types of coaches.4 These types were:

  1. The Flirting-Charming Coach characterised by always flirting, joking, trying to touch and so on
  2. The Seductive Coach went further and was characterised by trying to ‘hit on everyone’
  3. The Authoritarian Coach who was also powerful and used his power as well as being characterised as having psychological/psychic problems and often had a degrading and negative view of women in general.

Sometimes, stories in the news offer us some comfort that perpetrators of child sex abuse are ‘abnormal’ – ‘mad’, ‘bad’ and even monsters. However, this makes them harder to identify. This doesn’t sit very comfortably with the large scale pattern of child abuse. Whilst the moral panics sell newspapers, it does point to some difficulties of how we can make sense of child abuse. How can abuse be so widespread if perpetrated by an ‘abnormal’ minority? The idea of a cover up of widespread abuse by public figures and people we trust is certainly insidious but it is all too easy to talk of these events as committed by people who are ‘deviant’. The panic and fear this creates often results in a restriction of where young people can go and what they can do, particularly for girls and women.

To make sense of child abuse, perhaps we need to think through what allows young people to be treated as ‘vulnerable’. The answer is undoubtedly complicated but the unequal position they find themselves in relation to all adults is something that deserves some focus.10,11 This existing power between victim and perpetrator (e.g. athlete and coach) occurs in the context of structural power relations within institutions (e.g. sport) which often operates using top down hierarchical forms of authority. In this sense, children are subjected to overlapping forms of power that makes them vulnerable.

Britain has turned a blind eye to child sexual abuse for too long in previous years but so have structures that serve to protect institutions; these structures, rules, procedures and norms of violence towards women within institutions (e.g. sport) need to be subjected to scrutiny as well for things to really change.12

Video: Sexual abuse in sport pic


  1. Brackenridge C. (2001). Spoilsports: Understanding and Preventing Sexual Exploitation in Sport. Routledge: London.
  2. Bringer, J., Brackenridge, C. H., & Johnston, L. H. (2002). Defining appropriateness in coach-athlete sexual relationships: The voice of coaches. Journal of Sexual Aggression, 8, 83-98. DOI:10.1080/13552600208413341
  3. Burke, M. (2001). Obeying until it hurts: Coach-athlete relationships. Journal of the Philosophy of Sport, XXVIII, 227-240. DOI:10.1080/00948705.2001.9714616
  4. Fasting, K., & Brackenridge, C. (2009). Coaches, sexual harassment and education. Sport, Education and Society, 14, 21-35. DOI:10.1080/13573320802614950
  5. Parent, S. (2011). Disclosure of sexual abuse in sport organizations: A case study. Journal of Child Sexual Abuse, 20, 322-337. DOI:10.1080/10538712.2011.573459
  6. Leahy, T. (2010). Working with adult athlete survivors of sexual abuse. In S. Hanrahan and M. Andersen [Eds.]. Routledge handbook of applied sport psychology: A comprehensive guide for students and practitioners. London: Routledge, pp.303-312.
  7. Leahy, T. (2011). Safeguarding child athletes from abuse in elite sport systems: The role of the sport psychologist. In D. Gilbourne and M. Andersen [Eds.], Critical essays in applied sport psychology (pp.251–266). Champaign. IL: Human Kinetics.
  8. Brackenridge, C., & Fasting, K. (2005) The grooming process in sport. Auto/Biography: An International and Interdisciplinary Journal, 13, 33-52. DOI: 10.1191/0967550705ab016oa
  9. Owton, H. & Sparkes, A. Sexual Abuse and the Grooming Process in Sport: Learning from Bella’s Story. Society, Education & Sport (in press).
  10. Gavey, N. (2005). Just sex? The cultural scaffolding of rape. London: Routledge.
  11. Warner, S. (2005). Understanding the effects of child sex abuse. London: Routledge.
  12. McCray, K. (2014). Intercollegiate Athletes and Sexual Violence: A Review of literature and recommendations for future study. Trauma, Violence & Abuse, 1-6.

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.

‘This girl can…’ with the right balance of inspiration and support

By Jessica Pinchbeck

‘I used to love playing netball at school’ is the standard response I get when I happen to mention to a female friend or colleague that at the age of 34 I still play netball. This response is typically followed by a few minutes of reminiscing about their school experiences and what position they enjoyed playing. However when it is suggested that they join a local club or come to a training session, among the all too familiar barriers of time and family commitments, I have frequently observed a lack of confidence and even fear of taking the plunge to return to sport . For many women I talk to there appears to be something scary and intimidating about playing competitive sport and it is possible that this mind-set is contributing to the current figures and insight on female participation in sport. However, where does this ‘mind-set’ come from and what else might hinder a woman’s involvement?

It is quite well known that there are fewer women participating in sport in the UK. Indeed, the latest Sport England (2015) research shows that 40.9% of men play sport at least once a week, compared to 30.3% of women, but 75% of women would like to participate more, so what might the barriers be and how can we increase the number of women playing sport?

Campaigning and role models
Sport England are investing £10 million in national campaigns such as ‘This Girl Can’ and £2 million to extend local campaigns such as ‘I Will if You Will’ to attempt to close the gender gap that exists in sport participation. Close to my own heart is the ‘Back to Netball’ campaign where over 60,000 women have taken part since 2010. Netball has seen increases in participation in England each year in all age groups of the Sport England Active People Survey, showing a more positive outlook moving in the right direction. The weekly TV coverage of the Netball Superleague on Sky Sports has helped to raise the profile of our top netballers such as Pamela Cookey and sisters Kadeen and Sasha Corbin to provide positive role models for women, but its reach is limited to those who subscribe to Sky. With the growth of netball and England’s recent Europe Championship win more media attention needs to be given to women’s sport to promote these positive female role models more widely.

Not only do national campaigns and media coverage need more development and attention to raise the profile of women’s sport to inspire participation, there is also a need to address the logistical, financial and emotional support required for many women to play sport at any level. Family responsibilities can often take precedence because women are still typically regarded as the main caregivers.

The importance of family
Parents provide the early opportunities for children to be active and a child’s experiences of sport and their enjoyment of it are often shaped by the family influences which determine participation later in life. In a research project on 1507 pupils aged 8-16 years the influence of the family played a central role in the children’s attitudes towards sport and physical activity. There are also certain stages in life where participation is most vulnerable. For teenagers family support is essential to maintaining participation at what are termed ‘key transition phases’ with the transition from childhood to adulthood being a crucial risk time for dropout. In a study investigating girls and young women’s participation in physical activity the majority of participants who always played sport lived in households where parents and siblings also regularly participated in sport, with many examples of family members acting as role models. Therefore the importance of the family in encouraging and supporting girls to play sport is a key strategy to ensure the future generation of women continue to participate into adulthood.

Similarly at certain phases during adulthood participation is ‘at risk’ such as moving into full time work and having children. At times such as this encouragement and support from family to help balance work and life commitments is essential to being able to maintain participation. Playing competitive sport is less flexible than other fitness pursuits such as going to the gym and so an extra layer of organisation and commitment is often required. This is where a good support network is invaluable to maintaining participation.

So for me encouraging more women to play sport requires two key strategies in addition to the national campaigns and media hype. The first is to educate parents on the importance of providing opportunities and positive sports experiences for their daughters growing up to ensure continued participation later on in life. This will ensure that women’s sport plays a key part in future generations. The second is to inspire and empower women to seek much needed support to help overcome the barriers of work and life commitments that often prevent competitive sport participation. If we get both of these right then surely more women will feel inspired and supported to play competitive sport throughout all of life’s more difficult transitions.

England women’s football to make memories at FIFA15

More controversy surrounding FIFA include the responses about women being featured in the next EA Sports video game FIFA16. Whilst this is great news for women’s football, it’s amazing that this is another ‘first time’ event for women and it’s not as progressive as everyone might think. The EA Sports game was first released in 1993 and it is only now, over 20years later that women are going to be featured in the next edition. It’s about time women were included with 4.1 million women playing within organised structures worldwide.

A Sexist Backlash

However, there has been a huge sexist backlash towards this inclusion of the 12 new teams which is evident on twitter. Many of the sexist remarks were defended by them being ‘just jokes’ but that is not acceptable. There are fine lines between ‘banter’, bullying, harassment and abuse and in light of the history and the ongoing oppression that some women continue to experience all over the world – it’s not funny! These are yet more ways to trivialise the seriousness of derogatory jokes towards women and to trivialise women’s football. Amelia Butterly argued that not only are these remarks unfunny, they are inaccurate and addressed these comments. The twitter feeds included comments about female players having a bad game ‘because she’s on her period’, being unable to play for 9 months ‘because she’s pregnant’, blaming feminism for ‘ruining everything’ and one man asked ‘Why would you want to include them unless they’re going to exchange shirts on the pitch!’

It is good news that these ‘jokes’ are finally being reprimanded because these negative, sexualising, derogatory and out of date comments get splashed over twitter whenever women’s football is on TV and attitudes need to change. Evidently, whilst the inclusion of women in EA Sports is a positive move forward for women’s football, it is not enough to just include women in a new console game; attitudes need to be changed so that women are respected and valued not only in sport but in society. These attitudes are unlikely to just be evident in football; they are likely to leak into public working life which is why it is so important not to let these disrespectful comments pass without reprimand.

It is difficult to see how things will change as long as sexist reputations remain in football and whilst FIFA is under investigation for corruption whilst simultaneously withholding funds from investing in the women’s game. Whilst Heather Rabbatts’ resignation is the latest attempt to try and bring reform to Fifa, let’s also use this opportunity to put sexism alongside other priorities (e.g. kicking out racism, homophobia, and corruption) in football.

Whilst all this is going on though, the England Women’s Team don’t seem to have let these news stories affect their focus. After their 10-day training camp at St George’s Park, assistant coach, Marieanne Spacey, urged her team to ‘make some memories’. They’ve certainly made a start on that; they have had a warm-up game against Canada which gave them the opportunity to practice on the artificial turf. Despite England conceding one goal, Karen Bardsley had her work cut out and denied quite a few goals and Fara Williams with a phenomenal long shot which unfortunately hit the bar; an exciting game with great coverage. With England qualifying for the 2015 Women’s World Cup with 100% record that is worth supporting!