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#womenswednesday -

Can female coaches help address “the last taboo” in sport?

This week we are discussing a topic which has recently made headlines after Heather Watson (Britain’s number 1 female tennis player) admitted she was suffering with “girl things” after she lost her Australian Open match. ?Since then, there has been a great deal of attention on the topic of female athletes suffering from their menstrual cycles and many athletes have shared their own personal stories of how they have been affected.

?It has been revealed that whilst many athletes have / are taking contraceptive pills to control when they have their monthly period, ?there are many athletes being given various drugs advised by male doctors and coaches which have not always been of benefit to performance:

Knowing Jessica Judd was due to be on her period on the day of the 800m heats at the World Championships in Moscow in 2013, doctors prescribed the then teenager with norethisterone, ?a hormonal tablet which delays menstruation. The 18-year-old finished a disappointing fifth and failed to qualify for the semi-finals. A distraught Judd could be seen crying on the track. The medics “screwed up” says Paula Radcliffe.

Here are some quotes from ex-athletes and female coaches on the topic:

Anne Keothavong?(retired British Tennis player)
“It does affect your co-ordination and every female athlete performing at a high level will be aware of that but it’s not spoken about because, I guess, men don’t want to hear about it and it’s quite a personal thing.”

Paula Radcliffe??(World Record Marathon holder)
“Doctors in sport are often men and they don’t understand. You need more women who understand to give more evidence”

Helen Potter?(British Gymnastics Coach)
Planning to conquer the sporting world requires more coaching nous than merely ensuring an athlete is physically ready to be faster, stronger and better than everyone else.
Helen Potter, coach of gymnast Claudia Fragapane who last summer became the most successful English gymnast at a Commonwealth Games for 84 years, believes a great coach is a communicator and empathiser, someone who can build an irrepressible mind. Only an athlete at ease with herself and her ‘invisible troubles’ has the bombast to flip and twist to glory.
“The mind is very important, people forget we’re still animals,” says Potter. “You do adapt your training depending on what part of the cycle your young gymnast is in, but they’ve got to learn to be able to cope with whatever time of the month it is.”

The questions we are asking for this weeks #womenswednesday are:

* Do your female athletes discuss their menstrual issues with you as a female coach?

* Do you know of any female athletes with male coaches who suffer in silence due to embarrassment?

* Can an increase in female coaches coaching women, improve the situation with female athletes and allow a greater understanding throughout the sporting world?

* Do female coaches need to educate their younger female athletes in dealing with the issues?

* How can we educate male coaches / male team staff in understanding the impact on their female athletes?

* How have you ?/ do you support your female athletes through this?

Here are a few of the discussion points made on our forum:

Louweazel

“* Do your female athletes discuss their menstrual issues with you as a female coach?

Yes, problems range from anything as simple as “Can I still train on my period?” to hormonal issues around joint laxity and making weight.

I work with a couple of female powerlifters that will also discuss these issues. ?They tend to go into more depth on any problems or concerns they have. ?I put this down to the fact that when I coach in powerlifting, it’s in smaller tighter knit groups or one to one.

Judo is a large mixed gender club and I think the girls sometimes feel self conscious.

* Do you know of any female athletes with male coaches who suffer in silence due to embarrassment?

It’s not something I often see talked about with other male coaches. ?I see a lot of female athletes discussing it behind closed doors and in the company of only other women.

I’ve been lucky enough to have male coaches that are sympathetic and understanding. ?However, all of these male coaches have had teenage daughters and just see periods as more matter of fact because of this.
I did have an awkward moment training for powerlifting. ?I did not know my period was due and began to spot during my last set of squats. ?One of my training partners at the time (a step dad to a girl almost the same age as me) explained it off to the spotters as a nose bleed and helped me get together what I needed to clean up and get back to training. ?I know that he made excuses on my behalf as some of the other guys present were of a maturity level that would have made their reaction unpredictable and possibly made me feel worse. ?The benefit of this situation was that I could then explain why I struggled with core tightness on some days without feeling awkward.

* Can an increase in female coaches coaching women, improve the situation with female athletes and allow a greater understanding throughout the sporting world?

Not on its own. ?More open discussion about women’s bodies needs to happen in society. ?There’s still a lot of things we’re taught to keep to ourselves. ?The more we openly talk about periods the better things will get.

* Do female coaches need to educate their younger female athletes in dealing with the issues?

Now that we are starting to get good female coaching infrastructure, yes. ?I know that when I was young I didn’t want to talk to any male about anything to do with how my body worked. ?You can imagine how difficult doctors visits were when the family doctor was male.

* How can we educate male coaches / male team staff in understanding the impact on their female athletes?

The big thing I found wasn’t understanding around cramps, crying or weight but understanding around issues such as joint laxity and nausea. ?It’s really only doctors which had brought up the joint laxity concern with me, the coaches didn’t know it could have been an issue.
* How have you ?/ do you support your female athletes through this?

I’ve given them advice on supplementation to help with cravings and support about water weight panics (yes you will lose it and make weight.)

I’m unlucky enough to have had major issues with my own periods and nasty reactions to hormonal contraception. ?I can give them help on how to deal with cramps, nausea and joint laxity. ?I can push them to see a doctor about things that sound a miss. “

CarmenP

“Wow, what a topic! I must admit this is completely off my radar because I coach small kids. I suppose when the girls I coach move up the ranks in ringette and hockey (and if I move with them), this will be something that will be discussed. It will definitely have to be on the coaches’ radar!

I think the Finnish school system (i.e. the school nurses) handle these issues, at least at the start and parents are expected to step in.

What a thought provoking question and the issues that surround “that time of the month.” I will have to investigate.”

Sharron

“I’ve have found that because I have built up a good relationship with my girls, I can usually tell when one of them is struggling with periods or they will just give me a little sign to let me know. ?As I have suffered with them myself, it means no more needs to be said and I just go easy on them. ?Luckily, I have never had a problem with any of them at a big competition, so haven’t had to get into the details of planning the periods around this.
I think because I am so understanding with them about it and of course because they will know I’ve been through it myself, they don’t seem to be too bothered about me knowing.”

utescholl

“Thank you very much for this Wednesdays topic.

Do your female athletes discuss their menstrual issues with you as a female coach? Yes, from ‘will I be able to train when I have my period’, over pain control to having to deal with wearing white breeches while having a period.

Do you know of any female athletes with male coaches who suffer in silence due to embarrassment? No, I do not.

Can an increase in female coaches coaching women, improve the situation with female athletes and allow a greater understanding throughout the sporting world? ?Yes, I would say definitely as a female coach will have some understanding about the effects of periods on performance and life generally. Additionally, the sporting world would benefit from having more information about how period can affect a female athlete and what could be offered to avoid a period during a major or very important competition.

Do female coaches need to educate their younger female athletes in dealing with the issues? Yes, as it is very often not done at home anymore. But a coach should also refer to a trained doctor if it would be the wish of the athlete.

How can we educate male coaches / male team staff in understanding the impact on their female athletes? ?A start would be to educate male coaches about the hormonal effects of a menstrual cycle on women (physiological and pschological).

How have you ?/ do you support your female athletes through this? Educating female athletes about the effects of hormones in different stages of the cycle, what protection is available, ways to deal with periods (physically and psychologically) and methods to prevent periods during the menstrual cycle. I am fortune that I am family planning trained. But use of contraception can cause side effects which can also be detrimental to performance, especially if methods are used which are non-reversible in the short term. And response to contraception is very individual and it can take some time to find the ideal method for the individual athlete.

Sometimes it is very difficult to deal and manage the demand of athletes. As long as your intervention works it is fine, but if an athlete demands an intervention and it does not work then you are in a difficult situation and loose credibility and trust very easily.”

Thank you to everyone who contributed! See you net week.

FCN & Project 500

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