Is the Menstrual Cycle a Barrier to Effective Coaching?

Featured Research by Dr Paul Rimmer & Lee Bell MSc:

Having coached and delivered seminars and workshops based around training the female athlete, we became aware of some of the barriers that female athletes had previously encountered with male coaches when it comes to discussing their menstrual cycle. This appeared to impact on the female athletes’ attitudes and openness about their own physical and mental state, and this, it seemed, had a profound impact on their relationship with the coach and their ability to communicate. This of course has the potential to impact on both training and performance.

As a pair of academic practitioners, we wanted to dig a little deeper into the topic and are currently on the road to publishing a review on the topic in the next few months.

Unfortunately, (and not without a sense of irony) there is very limited literature on the topic of attitudes towards menstruation in coaching; this is generally limited to the psychological and physiological impacts on performance, mood and eating behaviour. Wider, general population-based literature suggests that a significant number of males have difficulty discussing these matters and have a limited understanding of the menstrual cycle whilst females still often perceive menstruation in a negative manner, which effects their ability to talk openly on the subject.

A lack of understanding from male coaches regarding the potential impacts of the menstrual cycle on performance, mood state and attitudes to food in female athletes all have the potential to impact on their attitude towards female athletes and approaches to coaching. This can be made worse by an unwillingness (potentially due to certain stigmas associated with the menstrual cycle) for female athletes to communicate effectively with coaches about their mood, physical state and how each phase of the cycle impact on their performance.

Considering these issues, it becomes more and more evident that for coaches to be able to understand the physiological and emotional impacts of the menstrual cycle, better communicate with the female athletes is needed, so that barriers to communication are removed and that the individual needs of the female athlete are met.

When we consider evidenced-based coaching as well as the underpinning knowledge of the science of a sport and effective strategies to improve performance, there needs to be data collected on individual athletes that are fed back into the ‘system’ to optimise performance. Effective coaches collect data, not just on training and performance outcomes, but also in female athletes. This should also include details on the menstrual cycle specific to the individual athlete (not all female athletes experience the same cycle duration for example).

Despite the perceived difficulties in discussing the menstrual cycle, we believe that all coaches want to get the best out of their athletes, and to do this they need to find appropriate ways to approach the subject of menstruation. They need to do this with an awareness that female athletes may also feel uneasy discussing their menstrual cycle too.

Dr Paul Rimmer and Lee Bell MSc – TRA Performance Education



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