Many female athletes report their male coaches do not ‘get it’ when it comes to the menstrual cycle, however our research has shown female coaches may also provide limited menstrual cycle support related to own experience and more broadly due to society and perceptions of the menstrual cycle.
”There’s always an awkwardness, and when there’s a male dominated coaching that makes it more difficult because even the most understanding man, like they don’t get it really”Brown et al. (2020)
What did this research involve?
Individual interviews were completed with 14 female coaches and practitioners working in elite sport
What did we learn?
Coaches and practitioners knowledge and awareness affected the support provided to female athletes. Individual experiences and perceived secrecy relating to the menstrual cycle impacted on the informational and emotional support provided to female athletes. This included coaches sharing they had not experienced symptoms themselves which makes it harder to relate or use of hormonal contraceptives which had altered their experiences of not having to deal with any periods or symptoms for 10+ years. Despite personal experience having a large impact on support provided to female athletes, lack of awareness or knowledge regarding how the menstrual cycle might impact upon athletes was reported along with perceptions of the menstrual cycle within society associated with embarrassment and secrecy.
One coach outlined, “I would need to learn a bit more, I wouldn’t say I massively know how it would impact”Brown & Knight (2021)
Our research found a lack of informational support provided, especially for management of symptoms and periods at competition, whereas tangible support (providing menstrual products at training facilities and taking emergency supplies to competition) was much more common.
There was a recognition that there is a lot of secrecy about menstruating. With comments such as “you just hide it I think because we are told not to let it affect you” and “you feel like you’ve got to put this front on”. However, it was recognised that “we’re not helping future females coming into that environment” and reinforcing the perception that periods are ‘weak’…this myth we need to bust!
Important. This was not always the case! Some individuals had an awareness of the broad spectrum of symptoms and impact on sport performance, were proactive in providing support and adapted sessions if needed.
All coaches and practitioners, male and female, need to be proactive in providing support relating to the menstrual cycle, as well as encourage athletes to utilise the support that is available. Education is required to improve coaches knowledge and understanding to create a more open environment in sport, with individuals addressing their own discomfort regarding the menstrual cycle.