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The next time your favorite Washington Spirit players take the field, they will do so with the help of a revamped high performance department. This build-out is being led by Dawn Scott, the club’s new Vice President of Performance, Medical and Innovation, and the aim is to have an immediate impact on the development of players in 2023.
Dawn Scott comes to the Spirit with over two decades of experience with the U.S. and England women’s national teams, as well as a year with MLS team Inter Miami CF. One of the most well-known and respected performance professionals in the women’s game, Dawn Scott will bring an elevated and innovative training experience to Spirit players in 2023 and beyond.
Heading into the club’s 11th season of existence, the newly-expanded department will aim to empower, educate and develop women by providing bespoke high performance and medical support, creating a unique and inspiring world-class environment.
The department will include new staff such as a Performance Psychologist, Dietician, Data Science Manager and Sports Scientists as well as a Director of Performance and Innovation and an expanded number of medical staff. Working in collaboration, these staff members will monitor the day-to-day wellness of the players while also aiming to optimize player performance and recovery.
We sat down with Dawn Scott to share her vision for the build-out and get an inside look at the development of the Spirit’s cutting edge performance department.
How would you describe your vision for the Spirit’s new performance department?
We want to be innovative and we want to educate and empower the players to ultimately take ownership of their own performance. I’m a big fan of the aggregate of marginal gains in which we look at every single area that impacts a player’s performance and if we can make small gains in multiple areas, then we can accumulate a larger overall gain/improvement for each player. Every player is unique and individual and requires different support, so the key is to identify and support each player based on their own needs.
Another big driver of results is going to be training women as women. Women are physiologically, anatomically, hormonally and psychologically different from men. We’re going to focus on how to train the female athlete rather than just applying the data and research from the men’s side.
What were your feelings toward getting back to the women’s game after a year with the men?
I had an amazing year in Miami; Phil Neville, the staff and players were unbelievable, and it was a very hard decision to leave but, as soon as I heard Michele Kang’s vision and what she was trying to do here, I felt like it was an exciting opportunity that I couldn’t turn down. My heart is in the women’s game, I’ve been working in it for over 20 years. High performance and medical departments in women’s soccer are known to be suboptimal in terms of staffing, resources and funding when compared to professional men’s sport, and that is an area that Michele is keen and open to changing. Michele’s vision to raise the bar on a global scale was a big driving factor drawing me to be part of the Spirit. When I presented a vision to her, she was like ‘I love it, let’s go with it.’ For me, that sold it. I’m really excited to get back into the women’s game and just help to support and continue to raise the standard and knowledge worldwide.
As you build out the performance department, what positions are you most excited about adding specifically?
All of them if I’m being honest. I think all aspects of a high performance department are kind of niche and bring their own immense value. We’re going through a very stringent, thorough and transparent recruitment process right now to fill these great positions. We want to make sure we’re bringing in the right people, people who are innovative, brave to challenge the norm and do it differently, with different backgrounds and experiences, as well as a good amount of experience in women’s sport. We want people that will contribute to a positive culture, be inspiring and create a diverse environment within the Spirit. Diverse thinking and research has been shown to cultivate the most successful organizations, in business and sport.
Roles we have been hiring which didn’t previously have full-time support here at the club are those within the psychology/well-being, nutrition and data science sub-departments. We’re going to aim to be more objective and data-driven in our processes, and maximize the depth of analysis to ensure our ability to optimally prepare our athletes. We’re also going to support both the players’ performance psychology and well-being recovery through an individualized approach in which we give the players tools and strategies to optimize their own performances.
NWSL clubs faced recovery and injury issues with sometimes having three matches in a calendar week last year. How huge is the removal of midweek regular season matches going into next season?
Having to deal with the travel and midweek matches is certainly demanding and I think it’s probably more demanding in the U.S. than in other leagues around the world because of the environmental variations like heat and humidity, field surface, travel schedule and time zones. I think, in the global women’s game, the demands are even higher as the density of matches the top players play combining club and international are higher than ever. That’s why I think focusing on the ‘female’ player and providing support around a player in those 22 hours off the pitch is vital to accelerating their recovery and maximizing their subsequent intensity in both training and matchplay.
The elimination of those midweek regular season matches is going to be massive in terms of being able to consistently train and prepare the players but we do also still have a good 12-week block to prepare our players during offseason planning. There’s a lot of planning going on with [Head Coach] Mark Parsons, [President of Soccer Operations] Mark Krikorian and the rest of the technical staff. We feel like we’re going to optimize that support to make sure the players are ready once game one comes.
Where do you want to see the players and the club’s performance, medical and innovation department as a whole one year from now?
How do you measure success? Ultimately, people from the outside measure success as a league or championship win. I think another measure is the success of our club’s national team players in international play. I think having players who get selected for the World Cup, are regular starters and are accumulating playing time would be a credit to the club and how well the club has prepared them.
I think every high performance department in the world also looks at consistent training and match availability as a measure of success. Our aim is to keep players healthy, to optimize their physical fitness and make sure that Mark Parsons and his technical team have their best players available for every match. I want to see positive results in a combination of these goals as well as players taking ownership for their own recovery, health status and performance. If we can do that for year one, we will definitely be able to consolidate and build on it for year two.
The 2023 edition of the Washington Spirit will get underway when players report to training camp on Monday, January 23. Following a two-month preseason, the NWSL’s tenth regular season will kick off on Saturday, March 25. Fans can secure their tickets to all 2023 Spirit home matches with a season membership. Available here, the season membership grants fans access to priority seating, an exclusive gift from the Spirit, access to special events throughout the season and more.