Soccer-Data could help solve ACL crisis in women's game, says software firm


FILE PHOTO: Soccer Football - UEFA Women's Nations League - Semi Final - Spain v Netherlands - Estadio de La Cartuja, Seville, Spain - February 23, 2024 Netherlands' Vivianne Miedema in action with Spain's Laia Aleixandri REUTERS/Marcelo Del Pozo/File Photo

(Reuters) - Vast amounts of data generated in professional sports will be used to try to stem the number of serious knee injuries suffered by female soccer players, Stephen Smith, CEO of sports software company Kitman Labs, has told Reuters.

The 2023 Women's World Cup in Australia and New Zealand was a huge success, but it was robbed of some of its star players after big names such as Dutch striker Vivianne Miedema, England attacker Beth Mead and a host of others missed out due to anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) injuries.

Smith's firm is partnering with a number of teams and leagues, among them reigning National Women's Soccer League champions NY/NJ Gotham FC, in an effort to find solutions to help players avoid such injuries.

"What we're really excited about is that we're now working alongside a couple of female-based leagues and teams globally to start collecting that data and understand what it means," Smith told Reuters.

"(We want to) couple the game information, alongside the healthcare information and the information in relation to things like menstrual cycle, so that we can better understand the cause and effect. Then we can help these clubs and leagues to learn about how to better manage the female athlete."

Working as a senior injury rehabilitation and conditioning coach with Leinster Rugby in his native Ireland, Smith noticed that the medical, strength and conditioning and performance departments all operated independently, generating vast amounts of data about players, but not sharing it effectively with one another.

"The idea was to be able to take all of this information, pull it into one place, and give teams the ability to create that 360-degree view of the reality of their athletes and to make way better decisions that were tailored to what the athletes actually needed," he explains.

That idea led to the formation of Kitman Labs, a platform described on the company website as a "centralised, advanced operating system that streamlines and automates workflows to help achieve specific performance outcomes."

'HUGE OPPORTUNITY'

Since founding the company in 2012, Smith has moved to California and partnered with a number of high-profile clients such as the English and Irish rugby football unions, England’s Premier League and NBA club Washington Wizards, as well as women's soccer clubs like Gotham.

Smith says that the wider hips of female athletes create a different "Q angle" – the angle of the femur bone in the thigh in relation to the knee – and this is a key factor in the preponderance of knee injuries in women's soccer.

"Most ACL injuries happen when landing or trying to decelerate and change direction, and they happen generally, when the knee gets flexed and it gets rotated. And then it has a shearing action that occurs, and that shearing action is more accentuated when somebody has a wider Q angle," he says.

"What we also know is that, during times of hormonal change, different hormones release different chemicals that change the structure and resilience of our ligaments, so at different points through the menstrual cycle for females, they are going to have changes that make their ligaments more relaxed.

"It's an area that's been ignored previously, because people don't want to talk about the menstrual cycle, but the reality is for women, they have to deal with it, and I think we see it as such a huge opportunity to improve the standard of healthcare that is provided to female athletes," he says.

Smith says that he does not expect to discover a "one-size-fits-all" solution, and that ultimately each athlete will have to be treated as an individual.

"We'll need a lot of data to be able to go on and identify those patterns and trends as they emerge, and then we're going to need to fine tune those for every person because no two humans are the same," he says.

(Reporting by Philip O'Connor; Editing by Toby Davis)

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