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Three ways to break the big red taboo
Tired, bloated, diarrhoea, pain, headaches, anxiety, depression. These issues and more can be experienced by women on or around their period. Yet, menstruation is considered a taboo subject.
At all levels of the game, grassroots to international rugby, female players can experience periods and related symptoms in a variety of extremes. It can affect performance and attendance in matches and training.
The best way to check in with the health of players and to make a subject not taboo is to have a conversation.
Together Caoimhe Morris and Kat Whelan share their knowledge on periods and how coaches can navigate a conversation with players.
IT AFFECTS ALL LEVELS OF SPORT
69% of women surveyed in recent research said they changed their sporting activity in response to their cycle.
70% of women said they have received 0 education about activity and menstruation.
WHY CONVERSATION IS IMPORTANT
81% of women with a coach have never spoken about how their period affects training.
78% of women surveyed said some exercise relives some discomfort caused by periods.
St Mary’s University/FitrWoman/Strava
EDUCATION CAN ENACT CHANGE
Whether you’re male or female, a little bit of knowledge can go a long way. Whether you’re giving yourself more information about your own cycle or it’s to break the ice in a coach-athlete conversation.
Kat: “A lot of women don’t really know their cycle and I include myself in that! I’ve only understood it recently through reading and understanding when the hormones are high and low. There’s a lot of research that suggests women go on the contraceptive pill so they don’t have to be on their period when they’re playing sport.”
Caoimhe: “We need to educate around periods and what a ‘normal’ cycle is so that girls are more aware of what their cycle should be like. The menstrual cycle can affect each person differently. Coaches need education as well so that they feel comfortable to have that conversation with their athletes. It’s letting the players know that they can approach the coach if their period is making them feel awful or tired.”
IT CAN AFFECT PLAYERS IN DIFFERENT WAYS
As well as making players feel tired, in pain, susceptible to migraines and affecting their mental health, a period can also have lesser-known effects especially if it’s not managed well within a sporting environment.
Caoimhe: “The Red-S syndrome, or Relative Energy Deficiency in Sport, affects the regular cycle for women. Women might have a low-calorie intake which would have a knock-on effect on how frequent their period is: whether it starts on time or whether they get it at all.
“The condition also affects bone mineral density, so it can result in a lot of stress fractures. It’s a big issue, there’s an awful lot of female athletes who participate in sport that have an irregular cycle. There’s a lot of conversation around what a regular cycle is, but they’re not getting it every 28-45 days, they could be having it twice a year, some girls don’t get their period until they’re 19-20.”
BREAKING THE ICE IS KEY
If players are feeling tired, drained or worse potentially experiencing Red-S, how do coaches have conversations with their players around periods?
Kat: “I do think it’s important to have those conversations, especially if you’re a female S&C coach, you’re in a really good position to have that talk. I think it’s our duty to have those conversations, but men should also have that conversation as well.
“If there is some support where people can get that education, once the ice is broken it will be fine. That initial conversation or sentence makes it ok to talk about.”
Caoimhe: “Talking about periods is not something that coaches would necessarily consider. The fact that a lot of S&C coaches are male and working with female athletes, makes it a very uncomfortable thing to talk about.
“Women find it difficult as well, not just men. There’s a societal issue there, as periods are still seen as a taboo subject. You just have to ask that initial question. If you’re a male coach working in female rugby, you might not be comfortable talking about it. You think they probably already know all about it, the players probably don’t!”
Caoimhe recommends: @periodoftheperiod
Kat recommends: Podcast ‘We Do Science’ – Ep 106 with Kirsty Elliott-Sale – The Female Athlete