9 things Lioness player Nikita Parris wishes she'd known about her body before starting football

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The Women’s 2022 Euros officially kick off today, with Team England (a.k.a. The Lionesses) hosting the first game of the competition at Old Trafford against Austria. The Lionesses’ manager Sarina Wiegman reckons it’s the ‘biggest women’s event in Europe ever’ after FA’s head of women’s football Baroness Sue Campbell shared that they’ve sold over 500,000 tickets so far, with fans eager to support the 23 epic players including, case in point, Nikita Parris.

28-year-old Parris’ fixation on football began when she was ‘four or five’, when she’d play with her brothers at home in Toxteth. She was named the country’s top scorer of 2019’s World Cup, qualifying with six goals, and joined Arsenal in 2021. Since going professional, she’s learned more about her body than she ever imagined, and even though you’re probably not training to perform in front of millions of people (11.7 million people tuned in to watch the Lionesses take on the USA in the World Cup final in 2019 – NBD), the things she’s got to tell you are things that could help you all feel fitter and stronger for life. Take note.

1.Your body is more resilient than you think

‘As time goes on, you realise how strong your body is and how it can adjust to so many challenges - it just might take a little bit of time. My body’s coped with so much over the last 10-12 years as a professional sports player and it’s held out so well. I haven’t had any serious injuries, even with a seriously robust schedule.

People might say to you that it’s not possible for a woman to do that or that it’s not possible for you to do that at whatever age you are, but so many people defy the odds because the only restrictions you allow are the ones you put on yourself.’

2. Tracking your menstrual cycle can be game-changing

Photo credit: Pat Elmont - UEFA
Photo credit: Pat Elmont - UEFA

‘We’ve been tracking our menstrual cycle as an England team for two years. Before then, I probably wouldn’t have aligned what I was going through during menstruation to some of the problems or challenges I was having during sessions or just general fatigue and tiredness, but tracking helped me understand why I felt how I felt, and how to adapt my training to suit that. We work with an expert who gives us tips on what’s best to eat and drink, and how to exercise.

‘We used to do smoothies; there would be a stage 1, stage 2, stage 3, and stage 4 smoothie, with the best nutrition and macros to suit four different stages of menstruation. Obviously, everyone is at different stages at different times during the month, so you would always adapt your individual program to that. We tailor our training to our cycles now more than ever, to give us the best possible outcome as individuals.’

Check out the best period tracking apps, if you're new to tracking your menstrual cycle.

3. Napping can massively aid recovery

‘Rest and recovery is a very individual thing. I tend to go on spa days or take ice baths (I have one every day), but most of the time, it’s just about sleep. I feel like I live in Spain because I do a siesta every day for up to an hour and a half. At night, I’ll get at least eight hours sleep; I’m not a very nice person if I don’t!’

4. Sticking to a routine makes sleep easier

‘I try and start a wind-down routine between 10-10:15pm so that I’m asleep by at least 11pm. Then I’m up by 7am. I’ve never had to take supplements, but I do sometimes do sleep meditation on Headspace or YouTube. I sometimes listen to sounds of the ocean or rain for 45 minutes and fall asleep with that on. I have to make sure my phone is charging otherwise without my alarm I won’t be able to get up the next day.’

5. Breathwork can help you focus

Photo credit: Lynne Cameron - The FA
Photo credit: Lynne Cameron - The FA

‘When there are so many big games and matches, you have to allow your body to completely rest when it needs to. I use Headspace for breathing exercises to do this, too. It calms my body down completely, stops my mind from racing, and gets me into a completely relaxed zone – even when I’m about to take penalties and the pressure is on.’

6. Music is amazing for mindfulness

‘Before every game I will listen to music to calm me down. I’ll start off calm with songs from artists like Ed Sheeran or old school R&B when I’m at the hotel and on the bus, then as I come off the bus, I’ll start going to more upbeat music, to get me geared up for the game.’

7. Reflection can motivate you

‘After every match, I’ll take a moment to sit and relax. It’s important to calm your emotions, because after a match you can be so high or so low, so you have to get to an even ground to reflect and understand or process what’s happened. You have to give yourself a moment to move on, so I will just chill out, sit at my locker, maybe listen to some music depending on my mood, allow myself 10 minutes before I jump in the shower, and then go and speak to my family and friends.’

8. Going to the gym isn’t the only form of fitness

‘Sport is a place where you can really feel at home because you’ll find (and can make friends with) women who share likeminded ideas of what they want to achieve through that sport.

‘Sport isn’t usually as intense as a gym workout, either. There are so many different types of sport that you can tailor to what you want to achieve - there's not as much of a focus on body image as there sometimes is with gym workouts; sport means meeting new friends, going to a new environment, having a healthy mindset. Plus, if it’s not for you, you’re not stuck with a £30-40 a month gym membership – sport clubs are usually pay-as-you-go, for around £5 a session, so you don’t feel forced into going back, but you’ll always feel welcome.'

9. Don’t let fear deter your dreams

Parris’ unwavering determination is the reason Pandora, the official sponsor of the women’s Euros 2022, hit her up to front their campaign, aiming to encourage young women to achieve their dreams. Parris’ last point is about exactly that.

‘Hard work and determination is all you need to achieve your dreams. Don’t be afraid to take the first step, especially in male-dominated sports like football. Although times are changing, we’ve still got a long way to go and I want young women to see that this is an opportunity not just for them to make a hobby, but also a lifestyle and a job. There are great careers ahead if you take that first step.

‘To have a global brand like Pandora championing women’s football and helping to change the game for the next generation is so powerful. We need more brands like Pandora to show young girls the importance of championing sport.’

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