Gender Divided



Jocelyn Mara, a colleague at the University of Canberra, is receiving her PhD this week in a ceremony at New Parliament House, Canberra.
Jocelyn’s thesis is titled The Physical and Physiological Characteristics of Elite Female Soccer Players. Her abstract is:

Despite the growing popularity and professionalism of female soccer in recent years, a physical analysis of elite female players has not been thoroughly conducted. The activity profiles of male soccer players during matches and training have been well documented, and coaches of female teams often rely on data from men’s soccer to prescribe conditioning programs and develop training load monitoring benchmarks. Therefore, the aim of this thesis was to investigate the physical and physiological characteristics of elite female soccer players during training and competitive matches. The physical and physiological characteristics of elite female soccer players were analysed across a playing season (including a week of preseason training), during a sample of small-sided training games, as well as during competitive Australian national league (W-League) matches. The key findings of this research were: 1) sprint performance and training demands declined across the course of a playing season, 2) total and exercise energy expenditure was 11,692-12,242 kJ and 2,695-2,538 kJ, respectively, 3) smaller small-sided (training) games can be used to develop repeat acceleration ability and aerobic capacity while larger small-sided (training) games can be used to develop maximal speed, 4) the high-speed and sprint characteristics vary according to playing position and time period of the match, and 5) the acceleration and deceleration profiles vary according to playing position and intensity. The findings from this research thesis can be used to develop match-specific conditioning and change of speed programs, as well as develop training load monitoring benchmarks.

Jocelyn’s graduation ceremony comes at the end of a week when I have been thinking about the gender divide in the analysis of sport performance.

Thinking about a gender divide

In recent months, I have seen numerous pictures of meetings and workshops on the topics of performance analysis and analytics. I am struck by the absences in these pictures. These gatherings are predominantly overwhelmingly male.
An example from the 2016 Sloan Sports Analytics Conference:
Another example from the #tacticalinsights conference:

I had missed Allison McCann’s FiveThirtyEight post last year. In it, she wrote:

the beauty and breadth of sports data don’t yet extend to women. There are other ways to cover women’s sports intelligently, but the lack of accessible and complete data is incredibly limiting.

Allison concluded:

I just think that in addition to praising the virtues of men’s sports data, we need to acknowledge that good women’s sports data is severely lacking.

I would add that in order to do this we must work to change the ways in which performance narratives are constructed and shared in our epistemic culture.

Thinking globally, acting locally

Just as Jocelyn is getting ready for her graduation, one of her predecessors, Celia Brackenridge, has shared some of her notational analysis archive … from the 1980s. She provides a fascinating insight into her work at the dawn of the personal computer age.
I have included Celia’s work in a Godmother post on Clyde Street and news of her Brunel archive this week is a great example of the hidden history of performance analysis.
Helen Situ raises the absence of women in her post about virtual reality:

to whoever is reading this, I’m sure that wherever you work, it’s true that the majority of your coworkers are male. In the tech industry, women only represent less than 20% of the workforce. We need to change this.

She is part of SH//FT, an organisation that will partner with industry leaders in emerging technology “to sponsor and create opportunities for underrepresented groups”. A Women in VR Facebook community has 1400 members.
I wondered whether there might be a formal network in performance analysis and analytics too. Such a network might connect local practice and make explicit gendered status.


Laura Burton, among others, points out “sport is a gendered institution and that all processes in sport operate within a hegemonic masculine norm”.
The International Working Group on Women in Sport’s vision is for “A sustainable sporting culture based on gender equality that enables and values the full involvement of girls and women in every aspect of sport and physical activity”.
Around the world, remarkable women have been sufficiently resilient to challenge the hegemonic order and the machineries of an epistemic culture.
In Canberra, in the week of her graduation, Jocelyn is teaching a range of performance analysis courses at the University. I did ask her permission to write this post and I make it clear here that I am writing about my reflections on Jocelyn and her emergence into a culture that can be enriched immeasurably by an inclusive approach.
What we do as analysts has to address why there are not more women evident in our practice.

Photo Credits

Jocelyn Mara (Twitter)
MIT Sloan Sports Analytics Conference (Jared Lander)
Tactical Insights (Luke Pawsey, Twitter)
IWG 2014 Volunteers (Twitter)


  1. Very interesting; especially as I tend to look through the prism in the opposite direction as being a male coach in a female sport, but yes, there is very clearly a gender imbalance.
    It strikes me that Jocelyn has made the transition from player to Analyst via her academic career rather than becoming an Analyst from just being an academic.
    Clearly there are many barriers to be overcome. May be one that needs further research is the degree to which current participants believe that an ‘outsider’ can’t possibly understand what’s happening ‘out there on the field’ unless you’ve been there and done it yourself. I know, in my sport, that there is widespread belief that a male coach doesn’t quite understand what its like out there. May be the same might be true for a female Analyst looking to give feedback on a male sport?

    • I was thinking about your coaching roles when I wrote the post, Gordon.
      I have been involved in a variety of women’s sports and as a result, like you, have thought about my ‘other’ status.
      One of my hopes is that women’s sports create analysis opportunities. Another is that women are welcomed into male sports.
      Thank you for commenting.


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here