Physical performance manager Dawn Scott explains the surprising ways National Lottery players have helped Team GB’s meticulous preparation for success
When guessing how National Lottery funding has helped Team GB’s women’s football players in their quest for glory, personalised cooling pillows, equipment that determines how much sodium players sweat, and dozens of bottles of ginger shots might not be the first things that come to mind.
But these are some of the more surprising examples of how Hege Riise’s squad has been supported. It is in these tiny details, and tailoring preparation and nutrition to individual players, where the all-important marginal gains are achieved, according to Dawn Scott, the FA’s physical performance manager for England Women who is operating in the same role for Team GB this summer.
“When you go into a major tournament, it’s those little bits and being prepared for every single outcome that can make the difference,” she says. “The National Lottery’s support is a game-changer. It has enabled the work the High Performance team have done around the physical and medical preparation, buying extra bits of equipment, shipping out additional nutrition, and more.
“If you add all those things together, when you have to play six matches in 17 days if you do reach the final, it gives you a better chance of success. So it’s amazing to have that support, and we all owe huge thanks to The National Lottery and the players who, through buying tickets, have helped us.”
The South Shields-born sports scientist, who jumped at the chance to be involved with Team GB, knows what it takes to reign supreme. She moved from US Soccer to the English FA shortly after playing a pivotal role in the USA’s World Cup win in 2019, four years after she had a hand in the country’s previous triumph.
Scott has experienced eight major tournaments but considering that this summer Team GB players were gathered from across the Home Nations and met at Loughborough University for two intense, 10-day camps, with just three days in between, before flying out to Japan – plus the fact that the one pre-competition match against Zambia was cancelled because of coronavirus worries – it is fair to say that preparation has not been typical.
It is why she is incredibly grateful for The National Lottery’s support, which helped buy the squad a customised gym – “with brand-new equipment” – in a Covid-secure marquee, replete with “individual plastic greenhouses” at the Loughborough camp. And, away from the weights and machines, an acclimatisation zone was installed at the other end of the marquee.
With temperatures at the Games expected to reach 35°C and humidity hitting 95%, Scott says the heat chamber was essential for the players. “It was the first thing I asked for,” she grins. “The players had one hour in there a day and, by using a Wattbike, we raised and then maintained their core temperature above 38°C.
“Again thanks to The National Lottery’s support, we were able to do sweat analysis and use precision hydration. We identified players who were more comfortable in the heat, and could refine their hydration strategies. For example, those who are salty sweaters, with high sodium levels, need more electrolyte drinks, plus a more detailed cooling strategy.”
Coronavirus restrictions have added a sweat-inducing layer of complication for Scott and her team. For instance, where an ice bath might have been sufficient as a cooling strategy, now every player has a “cooling vest” that is kept chilled between practices and matches thanks to “an army of small igloos” – all made possible by The National Lottery. “The logistics and planning are harder than implementing the training,” she jokes.
Cuisine also plays a vital role for the team, and has to cater for the players’ menstrual cycles. “The players need antioxidant, anti-inflammatory foods – oily fish, berries, smoothies – at certain times,” says Scott, who reveals she travelled to Japan with 70 bottles of ginger shots so the players can have their daily doses.
Disrupted sleep caused by discomfort and inflammation around the joints can impact performance, making “sleep hygiene” important. Hence, the need for blackout blinds, a cool bedroom environment, and National Lottery-funded pillows.
“We trialled six pillows in Loughborough and bought every player one with a cooling cover,” explains Scott. “They have wearables so we can track their sleep and core temperature.”
Team GB’s women’s football has seemingly left no pillow unturned in their pursuit of glory in Japan. Scott is very much focused on taking one game at a time, but admits winning would “equal everything” in her glittering career. Win, lose or draw, National Lottery players will have provided the squad with the best preparation, down to the very smallest detail.