FFW 2021: Westfield Matildas physiotherapist Jaclyn Benz

During Female Football Week 2021, Football Australia will celebrate the remarkable achievements of women throughout our football community while recognising the far-reaching benefits the game has to offer.

This profile provides an insight into the duties and experiences of Westfield Matildas physiotherapist Jaclyn Benz. 

Behind every successful sporting team, there is a hard-working set of backroom staff. 

Jaclyn Benz is one of those who work behind the scenes to ensure our Matildas are in top condition when they pull on the Green and Gold. 

As part of her role as the Matildas' assistant physiotherapist, Jaclyn's day-to-day duties while in camp see her work alongside the Head Physiotherapist, Team Doctor and Strength & Conditioning coach to ensure athlete wellbeing.  

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It has been a long road to where she is today; Jaclyn has spent countless hours pursuing her dream role as a sports physiotherapist, immersing herself within football at all levels. 

"Even though I hadn't set out to work in football, I've gained such an appreciation for the game and since working with the girls," she says. 

"While I was doing my physio degree, I worked with local NPL clubs in Newcastle and then through that, one of the coaches that I worked with was then starting to work with the New South Wales Institute of Sport.

"From there a coach that I had met then got the role with the Newcastle Jets W-League, so I became their physiotherapist, where I worked for five or six seasons.

"It was through that I ended up developing a really good relationship with the Matildas staff and eventually an opportunity came up with one of the Junior Matildas.

"My first tour was to Vietnam and from there I worked with the Young Matildas and then came in to observe one of the senior Matildas camps, went away as a third physio to get a bit of experience before got the assistant role, which has been amazing - I really love it."

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The Newcastle-based physiotherapist is primarily involved in football in a working capacity.

She tells the amusing story of why she was forced to abandon her playing aspirations many years ago. 

"I had played football in primary school and then didn't get much further than that," Jaclyn recalls.

"If you ask any of the girls in the team that I've had to kick a ball with through rehab, I think they can probably tell you why my football career didn't go any further than that!"

Day in the Life

When in camp with the Westfield Matildas, days for the support staff follow a familiar pattern. 

"Each day we wake up early and we check on each one of the players before they go to breakfast," Jaclyn explains.  

"That includes a series of wellness questions, some physical measures and checking in on any injuries or issues that may have occurred from the training yesterday.

"We then usually will have a quick breakfast and then depending on the day's schedule, if we have a morning training session, we'll then go back to the physio or medical room, we'll strap the girls prepare them for training, and then head off to training.

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Benz with the players and staff at the FIFA Women's World Cup 2019 in France

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"Once we get to the field, we have to set up sort of some prehab, or some pre activation work that the girls will do before the warm up.

"If we have anyone who's in rehab or is not training, we'll do a concurrent session with them. So that might be bike, might be boxing, it might be a modified running session or some modified football skills.

"Then after training, we supervise recovery, which again can vary depending on what sort of session we've had. Following that we then have a little medical meeting between the three or four of us and then we'll have a meeting with the technical staff to let them know the availability of the players for the next day so that they can plan the session."

Since joining the Westfield Matildas in 2017, there are no shortage of memorable moments that stand out for Jaclyn.

"When we beat the USA in the US for the first time, that was amazing, and the buzz around the team was incredible," she reflects. 

"Then I would say qualifying for the France World Cup was another real highlight and of course being at the France World Cup was great."

A second family

With over a year having passed since the national team secured Olympic qualification, Benz is eagerly anticipating an eventual return to camp. 

"I look forward to anything that I get to do with the Matildas," she says. 

"It's such a great job and such a great bunch of people that we get to work with. It's actually been really hard the last 12 months with COVID, not actually being able to see everyone because you're used to living together for weeks on end, traveling and that sort of thing. You probably end up having more meals with the Matildas staff than you do with your own family.

Staff in Vietnam
Benz (last row) with the team following Tokyo Olympics Qualification in 2020

"So it's quite strange not seeing anyone and I'm just looking forward to actually being able to get back into a camp at any point in the future."

Despite the lengthy hiatus, Benz believes the Westfield Matildas are well poised for a successful few years ahead. 

"There's been such a growth in the team since I've been involved and I think there's so much potential and exciting things that could happen in the future," she says. 

"I just think the World Cup is going to be amazing - the girls and the staff are all so excited about that.

"We have such a good chance of doing really well there and that's really exciting - the idea the girls could win a World Cup on home soil.  I would love to be involved in any way for that." 

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Benz has experienced first-hand the growth of the women's game throughout Australia. 

She believes the FIFA Women's World Cup 2023 provides a golden opportunity for further progress both on and off the pitch. 

"I think it's a huge step forward for women's football in Australia," she reflects.

"Since I've been working with the team, I've noticed such a big increase in people knowing who the Matildas are, knowing individual players, knowing when they play and different things about them as a group.

When I first started, people would say, 'Who are you working with? Who's that?' Whereas now if you say 'the Matildas', I would say, 99% of people know who they're talking about and can name at least a couple of girls in the team.

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Tameka Yallop at Westfield Matildas Fan Day in Newcastle

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"The broader awareness in society over the Matildas has really grown and the girls are such inspirations to women and men all around Australia. Seeing that increase in profile has been really great and that has obviously come with additional stresses and extra pressure but the girls have handled that really well. 

"They're all really great role models and I think having the World Cup in Australia will just mean that football just grows and grows in this country."