La Trobe sheds light on the impact of women's sport

An esteemed panel discussed the rampant rise of women’s sport and the impact on its athletes at a breakfast symposium presented by La Trobe University and the AFL Players' Association last Tuesday morning.

The though-provoking industry event, hosted by La Trobe alumni Ben Waterworth, provided an insight into the demands of women’s sport, injuries, prevention methods and support plans in front of an engaged crowd at the Melbourne Cricket Ground.

A panel consisting of Richmond AFLW football operations manager Kate Sheahan, AFLW premiership player Libby Birch, and Melbourne Football Club AFLW footballer and La Trobe PhD student Brooke Patterson spoke openly about one of the game’s hottest topics.

Patterson, a physiotherapist and La Trobe Elite Athlete Program member who is researching anterior cruciate ligament injuries and injury prevention strategies in Australian football, shared her expertise on the rise of knee injuries.

“There’s obviously been media attention and research … recent studies by Griffith University and Federation University show that the rates are increasing,” Patterson said.

“The exposure is increasing and it’s great that young girls are participating for those physical and mental benefits, but injuries are going up and as a sports medicine field we need to keep up.”


Libby Birch, a La Trobe physiotherapy student and former Victorian netball representative, is one of many to make the transition between two elite sports.

“I studied at Maribyrnong College, who have an excellent program for injury prevention, so as a netballer I went through that program at a very young age,” she said.

“Coming across to football I had that advantage, so I think for me that elite base has really put me in good stead for the game.”

For former professional tennis coach Kate Sheahan, the transition AFLW ended in heartbreak after rupturing her ACL shortly into her debut for the Collingwood Magpies.

Despite her injury the 36-year-old said she was pleased to see an elite pathway developed for aspiring female footballers like Birch to follow.

“I was just mad on football, it was my number one sport but my mum wouldn’t let me play,” Sheahan said.

“I used to catch the train home from footy at 6:30 at night [just to play], and if you fast forward to now, parents are encouraging their daughters to play football.”

Professor Kay Crossley, Director of the La Trobe Sport and Exercise Medicine Research Centre, closed the event highlighting the importance of the symposium.

“This is the right time and the right place to have this conversation,” she said.

“Women are in a unique position and it is a very challenging time now for them but we’ll learn a lot hearing their stories today.”

Sudden Impact was presented by La Trobe University and The AFL Players’ Association as part of their ongoing tertiary education partnership.

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