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COSAFA Women's Cup

Cosafa Women's Cup: Science of football - Bridging the gap between football and academics

5:12 PM EDT 8/14/19
Cosafa women's cup testing at NMU
Goal caught up with sports scientist and lecturer Dr. Khatija Bahdur following the testing conducted during the Cosafa Women's Cup

While most of the focus of the Cosafa women’s u20 and the senior championship was on the field, Cosafa and the Human Movement Science department from Nelson Mandela University conducted workshops with several national teams including the refereeing team.

Sports scientist and lecturer Dr. Khatija Bahdur indicated the workshops were an opportunity to bridge the gap between the academic world and the football industry.

"In other countries, there is a strong relationship between academics and practice, with scientific and medical teams associated with federations and clubs often involved in research. These teams are responsible for identifying new and innovative training methods to stay ahead of their opponents. However, this is often not the case in Africa."

Football is football and the laws of the game remain the same regardless of the continent so why shouldn't we all just follow the models set by the world's top leagues?

Dr. Bahdur says, "There is value in seeing how people everywhere else are doing things, but often people will only start sharing their 'secrets' when they find newer trends.

“It's also important to remember that solutions that fit in other places might not be feasible within an African context and we need to move away from abstract ideas and start creating an evidence-base for solutions (whether scientific, or management) that can be practically implemented in African football, particularly as the region tries to grow the Women’s game."

The workshops introduced the teams to some newer trends related to sports science.

According to Dr. Bahdur the aim was to "highlight the importance of a multidisciplinary approach and show people that sports science is not limited to fitness tests, warm-ups and asking players run."

Interactive sessions addressing concerns around team culture, feasibility and low-cost solutions to player monitoring, sport psychology, and integrated training methods were discussed with the teams.

Teams also highlighted some of the challenges they face and limitations that they are required to work within.

There were practical exercises and advice for players and referees to use when working on their game alone. Goalkeepers were exposed to some innovative goalkeeper testing together with some low-cost reactive goalkeeper training and the outfield players to some perceptual-cognitive training.

A once-off workshop is all well and good and it was probably a nice break for the players to break the monotony of tournament living but many players from all countries at all levels can say there was once that coaching clinic.

Do these actually have any long-term effect?

Dr. Bahdur states the aim is not just to leave the teams with some memories and Instagram pictures.

"Last year during the tournament we did a presentation with the coaches and medical personnel. This year we adjusted our approach and made it more interactive. We want to help the growth of women's football in the region and work together with the football stakeholders. The feedback that we received has been positive. These sessions were educational for all parties because we now have a greater understanding of the challenges and we want to find more formal initiatives to understand the status quo and try and work together on progression. Some of the problems are obvious, we know there is a lack of funding in women's football and players have limited opportunity for formal development or to participate in professional leagues. And, yes, solutions need to be found to these obstacles, but we also need to try and find creative ways that help grow the women's game in spite of the challenges.”