Coaches need resources to support athlete menstrual health, new TUS study reveals

Pictured, l-r,  Kellie Brennan, Athlone Town and TUS soccer team, Miriam O’Callaghan Sport Ireland Board member, Dr Niamh Ní Chéilleachair, senior lecturer TUS Athlone Campus, Eamonn Henry, co-ordinator, Offaly Sports Partnership and Laurie Ryan, Athlone Town and TUS lecturer

Pictured, l-r, Kellie Brennan, Athlone Town and TUS soccer team, Miriam O’Callaghan Sport Ireland Board member, Dr Niamh Ní Chéilleachair, senior lecturer TUS Athlone Campus, Eamonn Henry, co-ordinator, Offaly Sports Partnership and Laurie Ryan, Athlone Town and TUS lecturer

A study conducted by Technological University of the Shannon (TUS ) in partnership with Offaly Sports Partnership has revealed a significant gap in coaches’ understanding of how the menstrual cycle impacts female athlete performance.

The study, funded by Sport Ireland, investigated how coaches can provide better support to female athletes around the menstrual cycle.

The study, which involved interviews with 16 coaches from various sports backgrounds and levels, from club to elite, unearthed startling misconceptions among coaches regarding the menstrual cycle.

“We found there’s a real misunderstanding among coaches about what the menstrual cycle actually is, even among female coaches.

“So many misidentified the menstrual cycle as being just the bleeding itself, but the menstrual cycle encompasses a series of hormonal and physiological changes that occur roughly every 28 days,” Niamh Fogarty, PhD candidate in the SHE Research Group at TUS Athlone Campus and the lead on the study, said.

While some coaches identified period-related issues such as embarrassment, fears of leaking, period pain, cramps, and fatigue as potential challenges for female athletes, they felt they lacked knowledge on how to support female athletes with these issues.

However, approximately 50 percent of coaches recognised the importance of factors beyond menstruation, such as hormonal fluctuations, for female athlete health and performance, understanding, for example, the negative implication of period loss in female athletes.

The study also revealed varying levels of support provided by coaches, with some attempting to educate athletes on menstrual health, while others only offered sanitary products.

“The overall support offered by coaches was quite limited, especially concerning the implementation of evidence-based practices such as menstrual cycle tracking.

“There were also several oversights such as not including period products in sports kitbags alongside with the usual Lucozade and oranges for half time, which hadn’t occurred to some of the coaches.

“Many also weren’t aware of how the colour of shorts could affect female athletes worried about leaking. By encouraging small yet impactful changes coaches can contribute to creating more inclusive and supportive environments for all athletes,” she said.

Despite the challenges in implementing menstrual health support, the study did underscore coaches’ willingness to learn and adapt to better support female athletes.

“What’s clear is coaches do want to improve their knowledge and support for female athletes but have cited challenges translating the research in this emerging field in sports science into practice,” Niamh added.

Looking ahead, researchers plan to develop educational resources and practical guidelines tailored to coaches’ needs.

“The findings of this study mark a significant step towards raising awareness and fostering inclusivity in athletic environments, but the road to improved menstrual health support in sports is ongoing and there’s more to be done.

“Many coaches have struggled with practical guidelines for implementing menstrual health support, indicating a need for accessible and age-appropriate educational resources and our next step is to develop those,” Dr Niamh Ní Chéilleachair, an expert in performance physiology within SHE Research and study supervisor, commented.

SHE Research is a group of scientists based at Technological University of the Shannon, Athlone Campus, who are working to bridge the gender data gap by prioritising female-based research studies.

The full report of the study is available on the SHE Research Group website, www.sheresearch.ie

 

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