Should female professional footballers play on a smaller pitch than men?

This question originally came to me during the Women’s World Cup. I pondered it for weeks, letting its peculiar variables bounce around in my skull until this S&C blog post finally gave me a reason to organise them into a stream of expressible thoughts.

Why do I think that elite-level women’s football and possibly all its lower level derivatives should be played on a pitch with reduced dimensions? Well, it boils down to the fact that I believe the technical quality of the game would improve. In order to explain my rational for this statement let’s begin at the ideas inception.

During all the England matches I observed at the World Cup, I couldn’t help but notice just how many long distance passes (crosses included) and shots (which for the sake of clarity let’s define as beyond 30yrds) were off target – especially in comparison to men’s professional football. Now my first thought in trying to explain this was that it was nothing more than just the unavoidable fact that the women’s game is much younger than the men’s and, therefore, is still significantly behind their male counterparts technically. However, the seed of curiosity would not be satisfied with such minimal nourishment, and its roots delved deeper into my subconscious. At some point later on during the tournament, I recalled my belief that the technical standard of the elite women’s game was, give or take the odd under/overachieving individual, similar to that of men’s semi professional football. This in turn made me think that at that level (a level I’m very familiar with, both as spectator and player), their male players still don’t display that level of ‘poor’ long pass and shooting accuracy. Of course this is very subjective and I have not done any quantifiable tests to prove any of the above, but as stated in the title of this website section, these are just thoughts I want to share with you – and hope you find insightful and thought-provoking. And so, once I had that recollection I began looking for a different answer for this technical discrepancy I believed to exist between the sexes when playing on an 11-a-side pitch.

This is the answer I came up with. Within football (and many other sports), it is a well understood concept that when you go for power you sacrifice accuracy. Therefore, actions that require more power, like long distance passes or shots, will be less accurate than their shorter counterparts. And so one of the things that sets the very best players at all levels apart from the rest, is how accurate they can be at or near to maximal effort during (but not exclusively so) passing and shooting skills. Now consider the well-known scientific fact that female athletes are physiologically weaker then men (at the same weight or performance category) in terms of strength & power, and then ask this female athlete to pass/shoot the ball over the same distance as a male athlete (over 30yrds). One can reasonably assume that they will strike the ball at a force closer to their maximum capacity than the male, therefore, more frequently sacrificing accuracy for the required power, and thus reducing their technical efficiency of those actions. So I ask again… Should female professional footballers play on a smaller pitch than men? Personally I am convinced the answer is yes, so much so that I may very well try to answer this question scientifically in my dissertation next academic year.

However, to increase the validity of my mindset, I asked several female football players of amateur and semi-professional level their opinion on the matter. Interestingly, they all disagreed, stating similar answers of it possibly being helpful at lower levels of the game but not making a difference at the elite level. I wonder if after reading my rational they would change their mind, not to mention what the opinion of a professional player would be? I had also asked a fellow S&C coach who works with professional female footballers for his view, and he claimed fascinatingly to have never considered it – but, that after doing so, could see its potential merits, while also adding the anecdotal statement that, some of the female players would ask him how come he seemed to be able to pass the ball over the same distance with less effort? Could it be that like my colleague and female players have just never looked at the technical aspects of their game in this way? Does this lack of foresight when standardising the women’s game reach the highest authorities in football? After all, there is precedent for such action. In golf, they scale down the women’s game, and in baseball the women use bats designed to generate more power. And thinking about it now, it seems very intuitive and surprising that I did not come to this conclusion sooner.

As an aside, this thought process did lead me to another idea… Should women’s football use goals that are the same size as the men’s? Watching matches, I noticed that perhaps the goalkeepers were unable to get across the goal as well as was needed? However this could be an irrelevant thought, as you could say that the reduced shot power that female players produce automatically scales down the goal keeper’s job, thus making the goal size a non issue. Plus, you also see many pre-teen male players at prestigious academies playing matches in full-sized goal, something I find very peculiar and counter-intuitive. This is highlighted when a player scores a free kick in the ‘top corner’ and the poor 5ft goal keeper is left helpless to stop it. What could that pre-teen goalkeeper be gaining from such an experience? Not much would be my answer, but that’s a discussion for another day.

In conclusion, this idea, though something I am passionate about because of my love for the female athlete (in particular the female the footballer), and my dream to see the women’s game become as prominent as the men’s, is still in its infancy. And as such is still some way off answering the multitude of questions that will spawn from it. For example; how much smaller should it be? How will that affect participation, spectatorship and sponsorship? All of the above will require much more thought, peer discussion and empirical research before any kind of true answer is found. I just hope that this piece has gotten your cerebral cogs turning and that my uniquely inquisitive brain was the catalyst for the finding of said answer. I eagerly await that warm fuzzy feeling called satisfaction.

By Alpha Maurice Cidade Cauwenbergh

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