February 21, 2024

HER SIDE OF THE COURT | Why does women-centered design matter in sports?

HER SIDE OF THE COURT | Why does women-centered design matter in sports?


Design is all around us in sports, whether we notice it or not. That shoe you wear at your weekend league? It took months, if not years, of development at your favorite sports brand. Every year, brands pour millions of dollars into developing fabric technology for sportswear. Even courts themselves—someone decided on their dimensions and how the game is played.

The thing is, most of our world—in sports and outside it—is designed for men first. Did you know that research has found that women on average suffer more injuries in car crashes, because car crash test dummies used since the 1970s have been based on men’s bodies?

The good news: More and more sectors are now implementing women-centered design, including sports. Women-centered design helps create products that respond to women’s needs, and hopefully make up for the ways in which women have been overlooked.

You might have even seen some products that are part of the women-centered design movement without realizing it! One example is the sports bra, which sounds like a simple item, but is actually a very difficult product to design. When the first sports bras came out, there wasn’t much variety available. No matter your sport or activity, athletes generally had the same thing. But now? Different sports bras for different sports, bras for training and bras for athleisure, bras designed for different fashion preferences as well. And sports brands today aren’t done—they’re still funding research into developing the future of sports bras. That development is thanks to women-centered design.

Women-centered design in sports starts with listening to concerns that are unique to women, and then designing for solutions. On my podcast “Go Hard Girls,” adidas senior product manager Kim Buerger talked about the design process for their period-proof leggings:

“I think one thing that really stuck with me was we talked to high school athletes in the US and they told us that before a game or a match, they’d sometimes sit in the mud or grass to get stains on their tights. Because they’d feel more confident and secure having stains on their tights so that nothing would be visible in case they would have, like, period leakage. And I thought it was so powerful. No one should have to feel that way or have to do that,” Buerger said.

She added: “We tested [our period-proof leggings] with over a hundred female athletes - making sure we optimized the shape and size so that she feels really secure and confident wearing it. Making sure the pad really is almost not there, you can’t feel it. Just from a fit and feel perspective that was the biggest challenge. You know, I think it’s so complex and specific in a way, the female anatomy is different. How you move, how your body moves, your body shape.”



So, what are the ways you can try implementing women-centered design in your own sports experience? If you’re a coach, team manager, or any decision-maker in a sports team, one simple way is securing uniforms designed specifically for women’s proportions, instead of just getting smaller sizes of men’s uniforms.

The next level would be to look at processes, systems, and culture. Talk to your female athletes, ask what their concerns are, and see what you can do to address it. For example, the USWNT takes their athletes’ menstrual cycles into consideration when planning personalized training schedules.

And if you’re a female athlete yourself? Speak up and be an active participant in designing your own experience. Ask for the support you need to succeed. Join organizations that share your interests and values. Be your own advocate. Your concerns are worth listening to, and your unique perspective should matter to those around you.