EXPERIENCED footballer Melinda Sands says the biggest hurdle in keeping the women’s game safe is on-field spatial awareness.
Sands said the boom in the women’s game was opening up incredible opportunities for females to play the game they love at different levels. This also meant teaching many women how to play the game from scratch, and Sands said technical skills for protection were crucial.
“In five to 10 years’ time, as more juniors progress, there will be greater understanding because, much like the boys, they are learning the principles at an early age when they are learning the contest. By the time they’re playing women they’ll understand,” Sands says
We need to encourage women and girls how to protect not only themselves but their teammates out on field...It's going to take time.Lake Wendouree coach Melinda Sands
The Lake Wendouree playing-coach has been concussed in the game. Once was the result of a head-on collision with a rival, both with eyes on the ball, but no teammates to call warnings or offer the right block.
Sands, who has played state league, said this should not put women off trying the game. She said players should only play inside, highly contested roles if confident in their skills because there were plenty of outside roles for those learning the game.
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Sands said Ballarat clubs were particularly conscious of making the game safer for women who were new or returning to the sport.
There was a strong training focus on tackling technique, like how to lay and how to land a tackle, and how to avoid risks of pulling up in a contest.
“We really focus on teaching awareness, particularly when it comes to safety and protecting the head and knowing what situation you’re getting into,” Sands said. “Locally, we have teams with about half the girls having never played before. Because everyone’s trying to learn at once, player welfare is really up there.”
Sands said concussion symptoms were scary and, while football was a contact sport, it was vital to get techniques right to keep the play safer and fun as the women’s game evolved.
AFL Goldfields new protocol for head injuries in women’s ranks
AFL GOLDFIELDS will introduce a mandatory reporting system for head injuries and heavy knocks in its women’s ranks this season.
Trainers will be required to record any concussion-like symptoms in female competition, including sideline durations for players, in a bid to monitor and better understand impact in the game.
Goldfields league clubs, including those in Ballarat and Central Highlands competitions, are already encouraged to keep track and monitor concerns.
The move in the women’s ranks comes at the same time a growing body of research internationally suggests female athletes are more likely to suffer concussion from less brutal blows and report more symptoms than male athletes.
A spokesperson for the AFL told Fairfax Media in February the league was conducting research into the effects of concussion in both the women's and men's leagues, including the surveillance of concussion cases.
AFL Goldfields operations manager Aaron Nunn said while the region was lead by the AFL, including training resources, AFL Goldfields is constantly striving to improve different aspects of the game within its boundaries.
While clubs were not required to field doctors for every game, they ensured trainers had the right support and education for their roles in responding to sports injury.
“If a player has been concussed, they need medical clearance and a GP (general practitioner) assessment before they can return,” Mr Nunn said.
“Trainers are unable to diagnose concussion, but they are taught to recognise the symptoms and err on the side of caution...We need to try and educate people that the trainers have the say – not coaches and not players.”