Women are taking up football-related sports at an unprecedented rate, with grassroots participation up by 20-50%.
But they are participating as players, not coaches.
In 2020, only 12.5% of elite women’s Australian football, soccer, rugby league and rugby union teams had female head coaches.
It is a salient point when it comes to tackling the relationship between the menstrual cycle and the health and performance of women athletes.
“Male coaches in traditionally male prevalent football codes may not understand the potential influence of the menstrual cycle on a female athlete’s performance and recovery,” says Dr Anthea Clarke. “They may perceive menstrual irregularity as less harmful to health and are less comfortable communicating with female athletes about their menstrual cycle.”
A research team led by Clarke interviewed 18 male coaches of Australian elite football codes about what they needed to know about the menstrual cycle to work more effectively with women athletes.
They identified five key areas of focus. “The group were primarily interested in how training needed to be managed during menstruation,” explains Clarke.
“Other issues included how physical performance is impacted, the medical and dietary considerations, communication challenges around the topic, and how athletes are affected psychologically and emotionally.”
Clarke and her team are now developing educational resources to optimise coaching practice when working with female athletes.
“This program and its associated community of practice will help empower coaches to be better equipped and more confident in working with female athletes and their menstrual cycle,” she says.
“We hope this will lead to the better management of health, wellbeing, and performance for female athletes.”