Dawn Scott: the sports scientist who is shaking up the performance of women’s football | Women’s football

MEgan Rapinoe cried when she learned that sports scientist Dawn Scott was leaving the United States Women’s National Team. For nearly a decade, Scott led sports science innovation for the USWNT, which won trophy after trophy. The Englishman left the world champions at the end of 2019, with another American player describing her as “the secret of everything”.

In a weird way, it’s a testament to the growth of women’s football that Scott isn’t at the 2023 Women’s World Cup. When the tournament started last week, she was halfway around the world, working as a vice- president of performance, medicine and innovation at the Washington Spirit club of the National Women’s Soccer League. The demand for Scott and her absence from the World Cup testifies to the incredible progression of women’s football over the past decade, with increased sophistication at club level and new figures driving innovation within national teams.

“I’m probably a little envious that I’m not here,” Scott said, speaking to Guardian Australia earlier this month. “You see the growth – the number of teams, the venues, the games sold out, the tickets sold, the broadcast. And then where is the game – the intensity of the games is increasing, the athleticism of the players, just the visual of the female game is incredible.

Focusing on the American club scene, Scott remains in Washington DC until the final week of the tournament, when she travels to Sydney for a number of events and the final (she is also a consultant to Fifa) . That means late night and early morning monitoring from home for weeks to come. “It’s not as bad as I thought,” she said. “There’s a game at 1 or 2 a.m., but there are a few at 5 or 6 a.m. I’m an early riser anyway.

But Scott, who was part of the USWNT setup when they won Olympic gold in 2012 and lifted the Women’s World Cup in 2015 and 2019, admits part of her wish was that she was in Australia or New Zealand to help a team achieve tournament glory. “There’s just all this buzz,” she says. “It misses you.”

Megan Rapinoe lifts the trophy surrounded by her USA teammates after winning the Women's World Cup final in 2019
The United States are chasing a third consecutive World Cup trophy, but this time without Dawn Scott. Photograph: Alessandra Tarantino/AP

After Scott’s hugely successful stint in the United States, she was poached by England to help the Lionesses at the Tokyo Olympics. It did not work. “I probably didn’t enjoy it as much as the first time I went,” she says.

So when then-England manager Phil Neville joined Major League soccer club Inter Miami, Scott joined as performance director – his first major role in the male soccer. It was going well, but she got an intriguing offer from elsewhere.

“During the year, Michele Kang, owner of the Washington Spirit, and [the club’s general manger] Mark Krikorian, who I had always crossed paths with, contacted me and told me about his vision of wanting to raise the bar in terms of supporting women’s teams, women athletes,” she said.

Scott presented his own vision to Kang: taking performance innovation to the next level. “It’s a very expensive department, we have 13 full-time employees and three doctoral students,” she says. But Kang was all in.

“I went back and forth [about whether to accept the job]”, says Scott. But in November 2022 she joined the Spirit and now leads one of the most advanced sports science and performance departments in women’s football.

“We now have the opportunity to prepare and support players around nutrition, individual training, medical screening,” she says. “And then the whole element of women’s health – let’s be tailored and support the individual athlete based on what exactly she needs.”

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