The 2023 Women’s World Cup has seen many records broken for the sport. The viewing figures have nearly doubled in the 4 years since the 2019 edition of the tournament and from start to finish it showcased breathtaking displays of football for people to feast on.
In the end the whole of England and Spain, nations with rich footballing histories, were left hooked hoping their teams would prevail to win the greatest prize available.
Behind the scenes there has been a growing involvement of technology to improve the experience for fans and the output of players. It has been a speedy process but there has been an increasing integration of technology within women’s football.
As new technology is integrated within women’s football and data providers continue to provide increasingly improving data this technology and analysis has helped make this the best Women’s World Cup yet. It also shows you what is able to be achieved if there is a concentrated effort to close the data gap that is present between men and women.
This has been the most data driven Women’s World Cup to date, but there is also a legacy in mind too. Long term the tournament will allow for a natural growth of analysis and progress in women’s football.
Throughout the tournament avid fans have had the opportunity to chart team’s successes through the Opta and FB Ref websites. Journalists have produced fantastic, data driven insights into the positive and negative performances of the World Cup which has helped give a better understanding of the sport. After each game the stats were updated and lots of fascinating analysis and visuals were made from this free information.
However, one company has gone ever further to champion the cause for women’s football through data. Statsbomb. The company has gone above others with a free release of all the tournament’s data.
This Statsbomb release is a continuation of their work to make data accessible for women’s football matches as they have been offering free access to their industry leading StatsBomb IQ analytics platform statistics for the top five European leagues and the NWSL for many years now. With the World Cup 2023 they have made it easy for anyone to access their data.
The Statsbomb website has made an easy to use guide of working with their data in the programming language “R” and are offering free installations of StatsbombR and StatsbombPy.
it allows aspiring analysts to work with top quality data and train, plus it spreads information of the women’s game to a much wider audience. It is an incredibly inclusive learning tool that will help many areas in and around sport for years to come.
Womens football has also added conundrums for data companies and they have had to adapt their data in order to facilitate the best analysis possible. One of the issues that has come to the fore is how to analyse and quantify in game events in comparison to men’s football. Should data sets be gender specific or grouped together?
This is something that Statsbomb have grappled with and have invested a lot of time into researching. Their answer for the expected goals metric is are so called “gender-aware” models. The company identified that there was three ways they could analyse the expected goals (xG) metric. The first would be a “gender unaware model” which would be a single model that assumes no gender differences. The other extreme was a “gender specific model” that would create two separate models for men and women. However, Statsbomb settled on a middle ground that they found to work best. The “gender aware model” was trained statistics of from men’s and women’s games, but included was a feature to make the AI aware of whether the shot is taken in a men’s game or a women’s game. Customers can then filter this.
All data companies will have to grapple with these scenarios, and each methodology has its pros and cons. But going forward it is fascinating how companies will adapt to the growth of data in both the mens and Womens game.
The English Lionesses have become arguably the best team in International Women’s football in recent years. After some time having difficulty progressing in tournaments the team finally made the breakthrough with the win of the European Championship and their first World Cup Final. This is testament to the hard work and skill of the players plus all the backroom staff. But also one organisation has helped spearhead the progress of the team.
Orreco are one of the most fascinating AI data companies in modern football. They have amazing stories of how their systems have helped vastly improve the output of teams or individual players through their extensive scientific approaches to player management. Since 2020 the company has helped track the health of the Lionesses and it is no coincidence that we have seen the team move up to the next level of on pitch quality.
It is not an overstatement to say that players are tracked in every area of life; from the moment they wake, through to bedtime and even whilst they sleep. Orreco has broken the mould with their in depth analysis allowing for teams to suggest marginal gains for players, such as tweaks in their diets or sleep cycles, but then also whole squad managements. No detail is overlooked as even individualised training plans are created.
Adding to this, one of the most elusive areas of female sports has been revolutionised by Orreco. That is how menstrual cycles affect athletes. The FitrWoman App allows the Lionesses to monitor their cycles so that they can better manage their loads and work around what suits them best. Lioness Millie Bright has spoken about how the technology has helped improve her life and wellbeing by understanding her body even more. During her ovulation in the third week of her cycle she normally gets menstrual back pain. With her information so well tracked by Orreco she now knows how to schedule for this and also she now has a special diet in order to help remedy issues caused.
In this way previously overlooked women’s issues are now being taken care of. There are the obvious sporting improvements, but the work of Orreco also means that research is being done that can help women anywhere to improve areas previously overlooked by science.
It seems odd to say but football boots have been letting women down forever. You would not believe that their options are limited as we have hundreds, if not thousands, of different types of boots made by an array of companies. But all these boots have been designed for men. This is where the 2023 Women’s World Cup helped showcase new female boots that are specifically designed for them.
For far too long women have had to use men’s boots. But this causes severe discomfort and sports scientist have even postulated as to whether this is putting women at a higher risk of injury. The most recent study run by the European Clubs association found that 82% of women footballers at top European clubs find their shoes uncomfortable and that this also affects their ability to perform. The problems is that women and men have very different foot shapes. The lack of variety up until now has unfairly punished women’s bodies.
However the success of recent women’s tournaments has changed the situation. Big sportswear companies are now producing female footwear. The first to break the mould was IDA sports. Laura Youngson founded the company after having enough with the lack of women’s sportswear. Now the brand is leading the way with specialised products. Nike, Adidas and Puma have recently followed suit with their own lines of womenswear, but demand from the public is the main thing that is shifting opinions.
The boots are now being researched and made, but there is now pressure from consumers and politicians to make these products easily available. Nike faced huge backlash after not selling Mary Earps goalkeeper shirts but eventually bowed to public pressure.
In Parliamentary Select Committees sportswear brands have attested to the fact that they have invested in women’s only products but retailers were sometimes reluctant to stock them due to a perceived lack of consumer demand. Yet after Nike finally released the Mary Earps goalkeeper shirt despite no formal announcement the supply of shirts quickly sold out.
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