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Duty to Care: University Coaching Team Tackles Period Taboos

Let’s talk about periods in sport: Swansea University are diving right into conversations about 'taboo' topics to better support their athletes

With more athletes gaining confidence and support to speak openly about their periods, and a commitment for educating those inside and outside of sport on the effect of the menstrual cycle on performance, Swansea University’s swim team are leading the way in establishing an inclusive and open sporting environment where no aspect of physical well-being is kept out of the discussion.

UK Coaching is proud to support the development of great coaches who prioritise the well-being of their participants. As part of the launch of the Duty to Care Hub this UK Coaching Week, UK Coaching have highlighted a treasure trove of resources to help coaches better understand the menstrual cycle and how it has an impact on training, physical loading, and physical well-being, as well as resources on nutrition, athlete burnout, and recovery – all indispensable when delivering the best care possible for participants.

Squad swimmer Laura Sharp, part of the team for two years at Swansea, has tracked her cycle since 2016. She is one of the many athletes that want to inspire more coaches to grow their knowledge and evolve their coaching through the Duty to Care Hub.

Laura’s swim coach duo Hayley Baker and Andy Horsfall-Turner have received praise for the high standards they have set. They work closely with Laura and others to manage fatigue levels, training loads, and above all, general well-being to ensure that they have the right support to manage their demanding swimming schedules.

Andy urges more people to take the steps to advance their understanding and dismantle the stigma around periods in sport, highlighting the fact that male coaches can play just as much of a role in this as female coaches.

Male figures often assume they do not, or cannot understand. But most people who coach have spent time around people who have their period, and ultimately listening to your athletes will help open up further communication, and support your training processes as a collaborative team. If you’re a coach and you’re not looking to develop yourself in various ways, particularly around your duty of care to your athletes, you are missing out."

Knowing about the impact of a menstrual cycle on a participant doesn’t just help coaches improve performance. Changes to an otherwise steady cycle can be an indicator of a change in health that a participant may need support with.

"Supporting participants to keep track of their cycles is something that can provide an early warning system if anything changes – our first priority is their safety and physical well-being. With Laura sharing the data her app gives her, we can feel confident as a team that we are supporting her to reach her best and managing her training in the right way."

Swansea are setting a clear example of the importance of self-education to further help and protect participants.

Leading the way on coach-athlete conversations to prioritise physical well-being, Swansea’s team is calling on coaches across the UK to test their knowledge of Duty to Care and learn more about they can evolve their coaching and deliver the best support for everyone they coach.

Andy reiterates the impact of both a simple conversation and building trust when it comes to tackling topics like menstruation.

"The advice I would give to other male coaches is simply to speak to your athletes, and understand what they feel comfortable with. The more you can work on your communication, the more female athletes will feel at ease to come to you with any issues they have."

Describing herself as “fortunate to be in an open environment where it’s easy to talk to all my coaches about menstruation”, Laura has reaped the benefits of coaches who are open, communicative, and willing to learn and is calling on all coaches – and more young males in sport – to educate themselves and open that all-important dialogue:

It’s so important to have support from your coaches, to understand as a team that sometimes there are mitigating factors and how they can support me to ensure my physical well-being is prioritised. I’m really lucky I have coaches who work hard to be open and fit my needs. I know not everyone will be in the same situation as me, and it can be hard to tackle the issue without coaches who are open to speaking about menstruation."

Despite considerable progress, the stigma around menstruation is still prevalent, and can frequently result in a lack of education and understanding. Coaches like Andy and Hayley are paving the way for more coaches to join them in demystifying menstruation and tackling the stigma head-on by establishing open, inclusive environments where participants feel comfortable enough to discuss their menstrual health.

"There is definitely a stigma around male coaches knowing less about these kinds of topics than female coaches, but I believe coaches absolutely prioritise the best interests of their athletes, and in my personal experience I’d feel as comfortable speaking to Andy as I would Hayley around menstruation impacting my training," Laura says.

With knowledge being the key tool in fighting stigma around menstruation, Laura suggests that it would be valuable for everyone in sport to have opportunities to learn about the menstrual cycle, irrespective of their gender.

I believe there is a big need for younger generations to be educated on periods in sport, it’s mandatory for us as women to hear about it so it would be great to see the boys enhancing their understanding. There is no doubt a taboo around periods, as a topic people want to just brush over it and avoid it – but I’m so pleased to see coaches leading the way in many cases."

The principles within the pillars of Duty to Care (Diversity, Inclusion, Mental Health and Well-being, Physical Well-being, Safeguarding, and Safe to Practice) can provide a powerful roadmap to not only tackle deep-rooted social issues such as the lingering stigma around the menstrual cycle but also to a greater understanding of the range of factors that contribute to physical well-being, from sleep and recovery through to nutrition. This, in turn, will equip and empower more coaches to champion and establish safe, supportive and welcoming environments in which everyone can perform at their best.

Duty to Care: Physical Well-being

Monitor, manage and maintain healthy habits and help prevent illness and injury by learning how feelings and performance are driven by lifestyle factors that affect your physiology


Related Resources

  • Nutrition and Hydration for Physical Activity

  • Key Movement Cue Cards

  • Understanding Movement Competency


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