Periods and the Impact on Female Athletes
Change is required, period.
It literally amazes me how something as natural and widely spread as a period is so underplayed by scientists, by sports coaches and yes, by women - including myself! I’m one of those who found out about periods on the back of the school bus when I thought my friend was joking when she told me we were going to bleed every month. I was 10 then, I’m 50 now and I still rarely talk about them, even with my five daughters. We’ve all adopted that ‘just get on with it’ sort of attitude and so we do. However, as I’ve got older, periods have made me angrier and not just when I’m on!
I’m angry because we don’t talk about them. I’m angry that they are used as ammunition for putting women down. I’m angry at the lack of research that’s been done on female hormones and cycles. I’m angry that female athletes have to face challenges because of them that aren’t faced by men and I’m angry that change is only recently starting to happen.
Photo Credit: BBC Sport
Where was my voice when I was managing my period and competing for my country in Taekwon-do? It may have been chatting with my female teammates, but it definitely wasn’t with my male coaches, who never once mentioned periods in any way other than a put down. It seems a strange thing to say, but periods were not taken seriously and so we just got on with it. Like the time my teammate was on the way to the toilet as she’d just come on, and our names were called to perform our pattern, so she dumped her tampax in the bin and got on the mat. Or the time a junior competitor came on while we were waiting ringside for the next round and asked me, the coach, if I could help. There are many, many times that female athletes have been faced with highly embarrassing situations due to the unpredictability of our cycles and guess what? This makes me angry! Who decides that white sports kits are a good idea? The first thing I did when I ran my own Taekwon-do club, was to introduce a black club outfit. The relief I feel when I’m wearing that when I’ve got my period is huge! I remember watching a gym display at school and a girl was wearing a leotard and her pad was visible. It was at that moment I knew that juggling sports and periods was going to be hard and was going to require some serious planning and resilience. But the planning bit is hard and however organised you are and discreet you try to be, the pitfalls are many. When I look back at the lengths I have gone over the years I’ve been training and competing to deal effectively with my period, it shocks me and I’m even one of the lucky ones. I haven’t had to deal with some of the symptoms and problems that other sportswomen have to endure. In fact, when my periods stopped due to weight loss when I was having to make a weight category one year, I was elated! Yet, no-one warned me that this could happen. No-one told me this was bad. No-one spoke about periods. Period.
Progress has been made, no thanks to me and my silence. More research is being done on the female cycle and how it affects performance. Sports coaches are more clued-up and female athletes’ cycles are being tracked. It is being talked about and thank goodness it is, because we now know that ligament and tendon tissues are weaker mid-way through and at the end of our cycle, so training should be adapted to reflect this. During the first half of the cycle oestrogen levels rise which can increase levels of motivation. Research shows that women can greatly improve strength gains during this phase, whereas in the second half of the cycle steady endurance sessions may be better.
Knowledge is power and considering we have absolutely no power to change what happens to us each month, knowledge is all we’ve got. Before you shout about the contraceptive pill and other forms of hormonal controls, I can tell you it is not so simple. I had a World Championships coming-up and I wanted to make sure I wasn’t on my period during the competition, so I went to the doctor and got put on the pill that best suited me and my needs. I think that my body got mad at me for messing with the natural rhythm of things and it went crazy. I’ve never had so little control over my body at a time when I was pleading with it to play ball. It even dumped my period on me the morning we flew out to the competition. Yes, I was angry.
One in three girls drop out of sport during puberty. There are many reasons for this, but one of them is most certainly periods. They make everything so much harder, messier and more painful so you’ve really got to want to do something to put-up with the added stress. Further research surrounding periods will improve things. More conversation will certainly help. I’m talking now, in my angry voice, which is far more likely to be heard and others are doing the same.
Author: Alison Hadlow
#thisgirlkicks #womeninsport #taekwondo #sportequality #sportequal #martialarts #fitness #mentalhealthmatters #sport #choosetochallenge #periods #womenshealth
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