Invest in our future! Exploring the athletes’ perspectives and experiences of injury prevention practices in women playing elite Australian Football

      Background: Women playing in the national elite Australian Football League for Women (AFLW) have a ten times greater risk of serious knee injury than men. Efficacious injury prevention programs exist for team ball-sports, yet their implementation is generally poor. Little is known about how women playing elite team ball-sports perceive and experience injury prevention programs in practice. Understanding the end-user’s (athlete’s) perspective is essential to improve program uptake and adherence. In this study we explored the athletes’ perspectives and experiences of injury prevention practices in the AFLW.
      Methods: We recruited a convenience sample of 13 athletes from three Melbourne based AFLW clubs who had developed and embedded an injury prevention program. Semi-structured interviews were audio-recorded in 2018 (post-Season 2), transcribed verbatim, analysed with a thematic analysis approach, and classified within the Socio-Ecological Model (SEM).
      Results: Athletes were on average 25 years old (range 19–31), played a median of 2 AFLW seasons (range 1–2), and had a mean of 8.2 years (range 2-15) of Australian Football experience. Women playing elite Australian Football: 1) believe injury prevention programs can prevent injuries, enhance performance and prolong their football career, 2) perceive that injury prevention practices vary between and within AFLW clubs, 3) believe injury prevention program adoption and implementation is complex and multi-factorial, and 4) think implementing injury prevention programs in the AFLW could be enhanced through education and resource allocation. Barriers to program adoption included lack of knowledge and time, and competing demands. Holistic, gender-specific education, resources and a positive club culture facilitated program use. Athletes suggested that full-time professional contracts and improved resources might enhance implementation. Mapping our results onto the SEM highlighted that athletes perceive that individual, interpersonal, community, and organizational levels are important in sports injury prevention.
      Discussion: Women playing elite Australian Football have perspectives and experiences that add considerable value to injury prevention program development and implementation. Their beliefs provide insight into strategies that might enhance player program adherence. Varied experiences and knowledge reveal the need to customise program content and education for different skill and literacy levels. Our findings support engaging athletes as critical stakeholders who are well-positioned to inform injury prevention program development.
      Conflict of interest statement: My co-authors and I acknowledge that we have no conflict of interest of relevance to the submission of this abstract.