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Coaching girls through puberty and periods - YOUR experiences | Coaching Youth (age 13-18)

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Posted in: Coaching Youth (age 13-18), General Forum

Coaching girls through puberty and periods - YOUR experiences

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  • Hi everyone,

    I conduct research on behalf of a women's sports charity and I was directed to this forum by UK Coaching in the hope of gathering your expertise of coaching girls experiencing puberty and specifically, their menstrual cycle.

    I would be extremely grateful to anyone who would be willing to share their coaching knowledge/experience of this subject and I am particularly interested in your experiences of;

    - Whether girls openly discuss their menstrual cycles and periods with their coaches (both at grass roots and elite levels).

    - Whether you as a coach feel suitably trained and comfortable to talk to girls about their menstrual cycle in relation to their sport and/or exercise. For example, do you tailor their training to it or provide any advice to them?

    - Any physical and emotional changes you believe you have observed in girls whilst going through puberty and/or their menstrual cycle (I appreciate this is quite speculative!).

    - Girls attitudes towards their period and participating in sport and/or exercise (for example do they skip sessions, have less interest or participate more to alleviate any discomfort that comes with their period?).

    - Girls dropping out of sport and/or exercise due to their menstrual cycle/periods.

    - Any strategies and best practice used to support girls through their menstrual cycle to remain active in sport and/or exercise.

    Your expertise is invaluable and will contribute to an important piece of research in this area. Please be rest assured that NONE of your responses here will be used or published in my research. I am merely gathering insight into your experiences of coaching girls who are going through puberty and their menstrual cycle - this may then help us to shape the direction of the research.

    Thank you!

    Tanya

  • Hi Tanya

    Some great questions! Hopefully you get a few members willing to share their experiences.

    In the meantime you might find some of the replies in this Should coaches ask their athletes about their menstruation? thread useful, which includes contributions by Emma Tomlinson  Bob Challis & Barb Augustin

    Look forward to reading any replies you get

    Cheers

    Rob

     · Tanya Martin likes this.
     
  • I was about to say almost exactly what I said back then. Thanks  Rob Maaye for saving me the trouble!

    Anecdotal: when I was a teenager I'd use the "period" excuse with male sports teachers to get out of stuff I didn't want to do ;-) Girls only try that once with me! However, girls from other cultures require some persuading that it is safe (and practical) to train during their periods.

    Also, depending on the sport, the type of feminine hygiene product chosen can make a difference. Tampons are great generally and are non-negotiable for swimming and (I'd imagine) gymnastics.

     · Rob Maaye and Tanya Martin like this.
     
  • Thank you all for your input and links to other resources - it is very helpful and I greatly appreciate it.

    I look forward to seeing some more replies soon!

    Thanks,

    Tanya

     
  • As a woman, ex-athlete, parent and sometime coach of young women I have to say this is a bit of a loaded question.  If you are a young male coach your experience will be very different to mine - I have been through puberty as a girl and as a parent it was hard enough for me to develop a good conversation with my daughter about this - which I needed to do from around 10-11 years when changes were happening or to prepare her for changes. Happily she has carried on her engagement with sport into adulthood - but not without some issues with male coaches! I have doubts that many male coaches have the understanding and empathy for the developmental changes for girls from 12 onwards and I dont think its any co-incidence this is the key time for girls to decide if sport is not for them. We also hear about some pretty terrible bullying and controlling behaviours which make the climate for young female athletes very uncomfortable- I must say I was lucky not to have experienced this, but have seen it and heard about it from other women. If male coaches feel this is a concern to them, they should approach the conversation carefully and with the consent or approval of the parents (for any athletes under 16) and even if over 16, this is still a very personal and private issue for many girls and young women, so you need to know your athletes well and yet maintain their trust and confidence. As many girls drop out or cut their competitive involvement as they go through puberty I do think its important that coaches educate themselves on not just the physical changes but also emotional and psychological development of the females they are working with.

     · Tanya Martin likes this.
     
  • Thanks for your comments Barbara... your experiences are very insightful and you raise some really important points which I am keen to hear both male and female coaches' perspectives on. Thank you!

     
  • As a male I coached high school (14-18 years) and college age (18-22 years) women in the U.S in distance running and cross country skiing for over 20 years.  It was the college women who most often would tell me if there was a problem.  Some had debilitating effects while others had minor effects.  I suspect that due to their maturity and the establishment of a good, trusting relationship that they felt comfortable telling me.  All of them never wanted to use a menstrual period as an excuse for poor training or poor competitive performance.  They made that quite clear.  Some high school girls would let me know if they were affected, but the lack of coaching time with the high school girls versus the college women made it difficult to establish a solid relationship.  As others have said trust is key when discussing this topic.  

     · John Marshall and Tanya Martin like this.
     
  • Hi Tanya, As a coach of schoolgirl rowing (15years) and open Women's AFL (9 years) and an old man with grey hair, this is always a difficult but important conversation. I have also helped bring up two sport/dance oriented daughters which has given me some insights. From my daughter's experiences I have been able to understand, as much as mere male could, some of the issues. I have found that the open age players are generally more willing to talk about this and it has actually helped me direct two players to get checked out for Endometriosis. It is important to build relationships in any coach/athlete situation and this knowledge of your athletes can almost help you identify when they are feeling physically uncomfortable; you can often change the intensity or type of training to help them. and always carry a supply of hot-water bottles, wheat packs and analgesics in your car. For the Junior Schoolgirl rowers, 13,14, 15 I will often early on talk with their parents as a point of contact. It can give an insight as to how much they know or have discussed menstruation and cycles with their daughter, therefore how likely the athlete is to feel comfortable with the subject. Early on in the program with each group I will discuss the topic of their physical development/maturity and how careful they must be as their growth plates will not have fused and they are still growing, and other developmental aspects of maturing physically (puberty). This discussion is around being aware of their own bodies, everyone is different, and everyone changes at different times/rates. We discuss the importance of feedback, to the coach, about how their bodies are handling the level of training. Is it real pain? or just adaptation discomfort? and how it is important so the coach can adjust training intensity to manage this and prevent/manage injury. I try to get them consistently taking their rising heart rates as an indicator of their health/overtraining/etc. I always include one of the senior female rowers in this discussion and brief them about introducing the subject of menstrual cycles so they can bring up the topic and how they managed their own participation in training/racing. As an aside this can be a sneaky way of getting some of those senior girls to consider coaching in the future. All coaching is about relationships so get to really know your athletes, build trust and sometime even if they are clearly reluctant to discuss their menstruation, you can sometimes just show some empathy by offering them a heat pack or even get the coxswain to row for part of the session, when you pick up some indication that they may be uncomfortable or in pain from menstruating. Although their cycles are often quite random I also keep a detailed training/racing diary and that can sometimes give some insight as to when you might consider changing training type or intensity to suit without them even aware of the reason for that training focus change. I believe discussing this topic could also be important to raising awareness for those athletes progressing to elite levels and help them avoid/manage the "Female Trilogy". My sister was an olympic rower and now has some long term consequences in terms of bone density etc.
     · Tanya Martin likes this.
     
  • Thank you Tim and John! Through all your shared experiences it is clear that the athlete-coach relationship and education around the impact of puberty/menstruation are significant factors in supporting girls and women to remain active through such times.

    I greatly appreciate your open and honest responses and look forward to hearing some more!

    Tanya

     
  • Hi Tanya, 

    When you say research do you mean this is something you're looking into or something you plan to publish?

    Within the club environment I used to educate female athletes about starting strength training around the onset of menarche but now we tend to ignore this and just work progressively regardless. As a judo coach it is common to discuss periods because it is a weight category sport, I am fortunate that I have female coaches and experienced female athletes who normally discuss this with the younger athletes but even so it is not uncommon for young athletes or parents to discuss it with me directly. 

    I am supervising an MSc student at the moment who is looking into the managing an undulating periodised programme based upon the menstrual cycle. the control group and a male group will simply follow and weekly undulating plan in a specified order. A separate female group will decide the order themselves based upon their menstrual cycle. We're only at the start of the project but it should be interesting. 

     
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