Current Environment:

Female Athlete Conference | Overview

The Female Athlete Conference is a global event promoting awareness of the physiology and best treatment practices of female athletes. Every two years, the conference brings together athletes, coaches, trainers, physicians, and researchers to share and advance research in the relatively new field of sports medicine for female athletes. This unique event emphasizes translating research into practice, disseminating information to athletes and those who work with them, and providing a forum for collaboration.

The fifth biennial Female Athlete Conference took place June 10-12, 2021. With more than 1,000 participants, it was one of the largest conferences ever hosted by Boston Children’s Hospital. Sessions covered a broad range of topics related to female athlete research, clinical care, sports nutrition, sports psychology, exercise physiology, coaching, and sport culture and community.

Logo: The Female Athlete Conference 2021: Strategies for health and performance

2021 Female Athlete Conference at a glance

  • 3 days
  • 1,000+ participants
  • 32 countries
  • 40 U.S. states and the District of Columbia
  • 70+ speakers
  • 35+ sessions

The virtual event attracted the largest, most diverse group of participants in the history of the conference, including:

  • physicians
  • researchers
  • physician assistants
  • athletes
  • coaches
  • athletic trainers
  • physical therapists
  • dietitians
  • psychologists
  • social workers
  • exercise physiologists
  • female athlete investors
  • students
  • members of the media
  • sports marketing professionals
  • athletic directors

2021 conference highlights

Panel: Research on performance nutrition for female athletes

Three presenters kicked off the conference by exploring representation of female athletes in performance nutrition research. Female athletes have long been overlooked in research for being “too complicated,” a euphemism used to marginalize women based on their physiology and hormonal cycles that set them apart from men.

Currently, much of the evidence-based practices in sports medicine are based on findings from studies on male athletes or studies on both male and female athletes that do not separate the data by gender or sex. This dilutes the understanding of the impact of sex-specific physiology on sports training and performance. It also puts female athletes at risk for injury and clinical care that may not be appropriate.

Drs. Stellingwerff, Burke, and Elliott-Sale set the tone for the conference and the importance of research specific to female athletes. Dr. Elliott-Sale closed the session by speaking about research methods that will improve research quality and advance understanding.

  • Trent Stellingwerff, PhD, Director of Performance Solutions, Canadian Sport Institute Pacific
  • Louise Burke, PhD, Chair in Sports Nutrition in the Mary MacKillop Institute of Health Research at Australian Catholic University
  • Kirsty Elliott-Sale, PhD, FHEA, Associate Professor of Female Physiology, head of the Musculoskeletal Physiology Research Group, Nottingham Trent University

Panel: Bridging the research-practice gap in women’s sport

Panelists discussed the research-practice gap and how “athlete support teams” can collaborate to creatively bridge the divide by translating what is in the literature into what is practiced on the field, track, or court.

“Even as researchers make progress in understanding the specific physiological and psychological needs of female athletes, this knowledge does not always make its way into practical application in ways that enhance female sport performance and participation broadly,” said Dr. Julie McCleery. “In fact, the last few years have brought many stories of outright abusive practice in women's high-performance athletics, suggesting there is a long way to go towards centering athlete health and wellness in coaching.”

  • Emily Kraus, MD, Clinical Assistant Professor, Stanford Children’s Orthopedic and Sports Medicine Center
  • Alicia Kendig Glass, MS, RD, CSSD, Dietitian, United States Olympic and Paralympic Committee
  • Valorie Kondos Field, “Miss Val,” Former head coach, UCLA Women’s Gymnastics
  • Elana Meyers Taylor, OLY, MBA, Two-time Olympic bobsled medalist
  • Julie McCleery, PhD (moderator), Researcher, Center for Leadership in Athletics, University of Washington

Performance and the menstrual cycle: Why laboratory and real-world exercise results are not congruent

The menstrual cycle and its impact on athletes is one of the major gaps in female athlete research. Dr. Hackney walked through the existing literature, limitations in applying current findings into practice, and suggested ways to conduct more relevant, precise, real-world studies.

  • Anthony C. Hackney, PhD, DSc, Professor, Department of Exercise & Sport Science, University of North Carolina Chapel Hill

In conversation with Layshia Clarendon

Clarendon and Dr. Ackerman explored the importance of inclusivity in sport and the opportunities it presents to elevate the voices of others. Clarendon also described using their platform as a professional basketball player to promote social justice initiatives. The two encouraged attendees to ask hard questions and be true to themselves, a message that echoed Kondos Field’s advice earlier in the conference.

  • Layshia Clarendon, point guard for the Minnesota Lynx; Vice President, Women’s National Basketball Players’ Association
  • Kathryn E. Ackerman, MD, MPH, Medical Director, Wu Tsai Female Athlete Program, Boston Children’s Hospital

Live Q&A with the Wu Tsai Female Athlete Program team

Members of Boston Children’s Hospital’s Wu Tsai Female Athlete Program answered questions related to the creation of a female athlete program. Among the many topics covered, they addressed how to build a collaborative team of providers from different backgrounds (medicine, nutrition, psychology), the importance of a skilled and compassionate scheduler who can anticipate the needs of patients and providers, and how to foster continual learning from within the team and other experts in the field.

Learn about the 2021 Virtual Conference.

The next Female Athlete Conference will be held in 2023. If you would like to receive updates on the upcoming conference sign up using the form below.