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Why Is High-Quality Pitch Maintenance Crucial for Advancing Women's Football?

Ekaterina Gulina

4 min read

Apr 4

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Introduction


Women’s football has recently garnered well-deserved recognition and attention, exemplified by a notable recent event where a crowd of 60,050 – the second-highest attendance in Women’s Super League history – filled the Emirates Stadium to capacity to witness a match between Arsenal Women and Tottenham Hotspur Women. This milestone underscores the tremendous success of women’s football.


However, such occasions remain exceptions rather than the rule. Notably, the aforementioned match took place at the Emirates Stadium, home to the men's team Arsenal FC. 



In reality, most official women’s games occur at training grounds, sometimes mere hours after the men’s team has finished training. Unfortunately, pitch conditions have not received the priority they merit, even at the elite level of women’s football. 


Why are high quality pitches so important for athletes?


Even big international tournaments like the World Cup fail to provide high quality pitches. In 2023, ahead of the Women’s World Cup, a significant 32 percent of players reported that match-day stadiums and pitches failed to meet "elite standard" criteria, as per a report by FIFPRO. This report also highlighted widespread discontent with pitch and stadium conditions, medical provisions, and a lack of universal standards.


Why does pitch condition matter? Because poor pitch quality can contribute to non-contact injuries. According to the studies, 24% of injuries can be correlated to playing surface (Ekstrand & Gillquist, 1983). Players are also of the same opinion, with international level players ranking substandard pitches and artificial turf as the second and third most significant injury risk factors, respectively, during the FIFA 2019 Women's World Cup. Of particular concern are ACL injuries, which disproportionately affect women. ACL injuries are "at least twice as common in elite female footballers compared to their male counterparts," according to Dr. Craig Rosenbloom. In the UK alone, between 25 and 30 players, enough to form an entire squad, missed the Women's World Cup last summer due to ACL tears. Football injuries account for nearly half of all ACL reconstructions in the UK and exact a significant psychological toll.



The correlation between poor pitch quality and increased injury risk underscores the urgent need for higher pitch standards and the incorporation of smart pitch management technologies. The importance of infrastructure investment is emphasized in reports such as “Raising the Bar - Reframing the Opportunity in Women's Football” in the UK.

Key measures include prioritising the preparation and maintenance of high-quality natural grass pitches, ensuring they are not overused by men’s games preceding women’s matches, and providing access to better quality natural pitches for elite fixtures. Arsenal’s Head Coach, Jonas Eidevall, underscored this necessity, stating: “With the current schedule and the condition of pitches like these, injuries among players are likely to persist. Improving the quality of our playing facilities is imperative to ensure player well-being and continuity on the field.”


With innovative technologies such as turfcoach's, not only is optimal pitch quality ensured to reduce injury risks, but valuable turf data is also provided. This empowers coaches and players with insightful information, enhancing their performance on the field.




Addressing Footwear Concerns


Another contributing factor to non-contact injuries lies in footwear, which is often not designed with women's feet in mind. A survey conducted by the European Clubs Association, representing top-tier clubs in Europe, involved 350 players from 16 teams. The survey revealed that 82% of these players experienced discomfort that could potentially impact their performance. Additionally, one-fifth of respondents admitted to customising their boots in an effort to enhance comfort.


It is crucial for players to have the right number, shape, length, and placement of studs under their boots to move effectively on the field, avoiding both slipping and getting stuck. Therefore, outsoles are tailored to different surface types such as soft, firm, or artificial grass. However, these standards are primarily based on the needs of male athletes and may not consider factors like women's body weight, muscle mass, movement patterns, and the higher risk of cruciate ligament injuries they face. Elite women's football has identified a common mechanism for ACL injuries, often occurring during non-contact situations where the foot is planted externally on the ground. This is linked to excessive shoe-surface traction, where the boot becomes stuck, potentially increasing the risk of ACL injury.


Evolving Mindsets towards the Women's game - Where turfcoach steps in


Unfortunately, issues surrounding turf conditions in women’s football represent just one facet of the challenges faced. When discussing the advancement of the women’s game, investments in infrastructure become paramount. Despite the increasing attention, recognition, and exposure women's football receives, there remains ample room for improvement – to put it lightly. Elevating the standard of the game necessitates, at the very least, providing access to elite-standard pitches. How can we strive for higher standards when athletes in top leagues are playing on pitches worn out from men’s games the day prior, or when pitch quality complaints arise at prestigious tournaments like the World Cup?


Undoubtedly, initiating improvements at the grassroots level is crucial and should form the foundation of any development strategy. However, it is imperative that elite female players receive the treatment and facilities befitting their status as top-tier athletes without delay.



pitch management software

At turfcoach, safeguarding footballers from injuries by granting them access to top-notch pitches is our primary goal. Our mission is to assist Clubs in collecting and providing turf data through us to take informed decisions on pitch management that influence gameplay strategies, movement and workload. We believe that all football players at any level desereve to have high quality pitches that allow them to be healthy and in their best shape. Leveraging cutting-edge technologies for optimal pitch maintenance, we strive to uphold impeccable standards on the field, thereby raising the bar for the game as a whole.


turfcoach is constantly developing its technology based on the feedback from the professionals in the industry and, therefore, conducting different research projects. If you would like to know more about our current R&D projects and help our product develop further, please, contact us!