Team GB football preparation: ‘We trialled six pillows and bought every player one with a cooling cover’

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.

This article, sponsored by Camelot, operators of the National Lottery, was first published on http://www.Telegraph.co.uk in July 2021

How The National Lottery has inspired nearly three million women and girls to be more active

Oliver Pickup hears how The National Lottery has helped This Girl Can get almost three million women and girls in the UK more active already, and what’s next for the inspirational campaign

A faceless lady with a proudly untoned, unfiltered body strides towards a swimming pool. Nearing the water, she confidently twangs her bikini bottoms, springing to life Missy Elliot’s hit Get Ur Freak On. A few seconds later – during a montage depicting happy, sweaty, unknown women and girls boxing, running, playing football, among other sports – an on-screen caption reads: “I jiggle; therefore I am.” And so begins the first, iconic This Girl Can video from 2015, when Sport England’s National Lottery-funded, award-winning campaign designed to encourage more females to exercise was established. 

Since launching seven years ago, This Girl Can has persuaded almost three million women and girls in the UK (2.9m at the last count) to get more active, according to campaign lead Kate Dale. None of it would have been possible without the support of The National Lottery. 

“I’m hugely proud of what This Girl Can has achieved, in terms of celebrating active women who are doing their thing no matter how they do it, how they look, or how sweaty they get,” she says. 

“The original vision for This Girl Can was, having identified the gender gap, to help women get active – and not to use the word ‘sport’ in the title, because it carries negative memories from school days for some people. Maybe the shutters came down in their minds because they felt they weren’t good at sport, and didn’t feel invited to an exclusive club.

“We wanted to build something that women could be part of, and they could define what it meant for them. It’s not caring about how they look, how good they are – or aren’t – or understanding that it’s important to fit activity into their days no matter how many other priorities they have in the day. We found women with young children felt guilty spending time away from their little ones, but a) their lives are just as important as their children’s, and b) this activity helps them to be better parents as it makes them role models and recharges their batteries.”

Praising The National Lottery’s ongoing commitment, Dale continues: “I am often approached by women telling me how seeing that advert changed their lives, and it has encouraged them to go running or set up a football team, and so on. And it is all down to The National Lottery funding – it has been critical, especially for long-term planning and infrastructure investment. It has enabled us to make decisions for the next few years and not around shorter funding cycles.”

Dale joined Sport England in January 2004, the same year the Active Lives surveys began. The latest figures, published in April 2021, indicate that 61.5% of women in the UK did at least 150 minutes of exercise a week in November 2019 compared with 65.3% of men on the eve of the coronavirus crisis. 

She says confirmation in 2005 that London would host the Olympic Games in 2012 helped inspire women – and men – to be more active, and The National Lottery-funded campaigns like This Girl Can serve to build on that momentum. Indeed, the increased visibility of female pundits at the recent Euro 2020 serves as an example of how the gender gap has been narrowed in other ways, and it can be traced back to This Girl Can.

“Before the pandemic, the participation numbers for both genders had increased steadily over the last decade and more,” says Dale. “It is so important for people to be active for all sorts of reasons – and you don’t have to be sporty to be active. Team sport isn’t for everyone, and the funding has enabled Sport England to invest right across and understand, support and develop all sorts of physical activities. But our work is far from over.”

Looking at the post-pandemic world, she adds: “As we build back as a society, the role of The National Lottery in helping us recover from the last 18 months is going to be vital. Everyone’s lives have changed, but there is so much to do now to help women and girls get back into physical activity. We have a crucial couple of years coming up, and having The National Lottery’s support and investment is just what we need.”

This article, sponsored by Camelot, operators of the National Lottery, was first published on http://www.Telegraph.co.uk in July 2021