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Periods - let’s be more proud of them.

I am particularly interested in coaching women and girls who want to work with their menstrual cycle to achieve their athletic performance goals. As someone who started competing in sports at a young age, I couldn't help but notice the number of girls who stopped participating in competitive sports in their early teens. Fewer and fewer girls at my swimming club would consistently attend sessions, stating that they 'didn't feel well'. When I was growing up, periods weren't openly mentioned or discussed, but you could read between the lines. By my late teens, the number of girls attending sessions had plummeted, and what remained was a predominantly male-dominated club.

I also overheard parents saying, 'Oh, she's more interested in boys than swimming now'. However, perhaps the real reason they didn't want to swim was the thought of being in front of boys in a swimming costume. Research suggests that children experience a significant drop in self-esteem as they reach early adolescence, and this drop is more pronounced in females than males (Robins et al., 2002). Furthermore, studies indicate that levels of self-esteem in women remain relatively constant from puberty to mid-40s, which, when compared to males, reveals a significant difference.

The past few years have witnessed a shift in the openness of elite female athletes discussing their periods and how it affects their performance. In a recent Diamond League event, British sprinter Dina Asha-Smith revealed that she didn't have a brilliant race due to period cramps. Anyone who has experienced these cycle-related symptoms can completely sympathize. In her post-race interview, she expressed the challenges of having to plan training, diet, and life around having a period, mentioning the Catch-22 of using medication to postpone periods with potential side effects. She called for more research on the topic, and I wholeheartedly agree, Dina!

Elite triathlete Emma Pallant-Browne faced an unpleasant comment regarding a picture she posted on Instagram showing her bleeding through her tri-suit. The picture went viral, and Pallant-Browne responded beautifully by addressing the reality of females in sport. She shared that her period comes irregularly, and there are days when it is particularly heavy, which occasionally coincides with race day. She expressed her determination to push through and not shy away from discussing the issue, highlighting the importance of open conversation among women who face similar challenges.

Both Asha-Smith and Pallant-Browne have called for more women to openly talk about their periods and have encouraged others to embrace and share their experiences. Pallant-Browne emphasised the significance of recognizing tough performances on challenging days and how they can eventually help others. The menstrual cycle is often considered one of the vital signs for women's health. Having a regular period indicates that the body is strong and properly fueled. It is essential that we take pride in our periods and celebrate them!

As coaches, it is our responsibility to provide support and guidance to female athletes, taking into account the unique challenges posed by the menstrual cycle. By fostering open dialogue and understanding, we can empower women to embrace their bodies, navigate their cycles, and optimise their performance. Together, let's break down barriers and create an inclusive environment where the menstrual cycle is seen as a normal and powerful aspect of women's athletic journeys.

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