How sportswomen manage their menses

Some have their periods monitored by technical bench, others learn to deal with cramps just not to miss out on a game
How sportswomen manage their menses

What you need to know:

  • Despite being a serious issue, menstruation is little discussed in the sports circles.
  • Training is very tense, stimulates flow that pads get soaked up and you cannot get out of the training to go change.
  • We have clubs without sponsors, players don’t earn any allowances; so getting sanitary towels is a problem.
  • Studies have shown that menses negatively affect the performance of sportswomen. 
  • For the team manager of the national women’s rugby team, menstrual cycle of each player is unforgettable information.
  • CEO at Football Kenya Federation says discussions about menstruation lie “at the level of the coach and technical bench.”
  • Kenya Volleyball Federation Vice-President says they've demystified the idea of menstruation and senior players freely talk about it.

Menstruation may pass as a one-time monthly occurrence for a woman but for those in sports, this biological function has a bearing on their career and livelihood.

Ms Teresa Ouko is synonymous with pushing oneself despite the pains or soiling the sports gear.

“I have irregular periods and sometimes they come during the game and I realise I have soiled my shorts,” says Ms Ouko who played for women’s national football team - Harambee Starlets between 2009 and 2016.

Ms Ouko, who in January started a menstrual hygiene initiative for women and girls in sports, argues that menstruation is little discussed in the sports circles despite it being a serious issue.

SOAKED PADS

“Training is very tense and it stimulates the flow that pads get soaked up and you cannot get out of the training to go change,” says Ms Ouko now with Makolanders Ladies FC.

“The fear of being dropped out pushes you to continue training to the end. If you excuse yourself, they may feel like you are tired or you don’t want to train.”

Ms Ouko says she is capitalising on her initiative to raise awareness on the importance of menstrual hygiene among the sports women and girls.

Before Covid-19 struck Kenya in mid-March, Ms Ouko says she had plans of collecting sanitary towels for distribution to women and girls in the grassroots clubs in Nairobi, Kilifi and Eldoret.

“We assume Sh50 is little money, but there are women and girls in the grassroots clubs who cannot afford that,” she says.

“We have clubs without sponsors. The players don’t earn any allowances. So getting sanitary towels is a problem.”

NEGATIVE IMPACT

Studies have shown that menses negatively affect the performance of sportswomen.

A study The Prevalence and Impact of Heavy Menstrual Bleeding (Menorrhagia) in Elite and Non-Elite Athletes, published in Plos One journal indicates that Heavy Menstrual Bleeding (HMB) is highly prevalent in exercising females.

That HMB also has a perceived negative impact on performance of sportswomen.

However, a study published in the International Journal of Neuroscience argues to the contrary.
The analysis of Effects of Menstrual Cycle on Sports Performance concluded that menstrual period did not affect sportswomen’s physical performance.

For the team manager of the national women’s rugby team, menstrual cycle of each player is unforgettable information.

The information helps the Kenya Lionesses’ coach design the training mode for each player.

CRAMPS

 “The team manager takes data for each player,” explains the team captain Philadelphia Olando. 
“So when you are almost due and you know cramps affect you, they take it easy on you during the training.”

The pains do not, however, prevent them from playing when competing for championships.

“You will have players struggling with cramps but they push themselves,” she says.

Chief Executive Officer at Football Kenya Federation (FKF) Barry Otieno says discussions about menstruation lie “at the level of the coach and technical bench.”

The technical bench ensures the players are monitored so that the menses do not interfere with the training or match.

In football, the technical bench includes the head coach, deputy coach, goalkeepers, team manager, team doctor and fitness trainer.

SENIOR PLAYERS

“If a player feels like they cannot take to the field because of one reason or natural causes, that is considered when designing training schedule,” he says.

Kenya Volleyball Federation Vice-President Charles Nyaberi says they have demystified the idea of menstruation in volleyball that senior players freely talk about it.

“Except the young ones, the seniors can freely say ‘I am in this condition and it will affect me this way, or I am in this and my performance may not be optimum,” he says.

He notes that whenever a team is selected, they assign the players a professional and experienced female manager.

Besides the medical history they also record information on menstrual cycle as it informs the training loads for each.

VOLLEYBALL TEAM

“Some are affected the whole cycle and some, on the first day. These are unique attributes that are recorded so that when they are allocated training loads, they know exactly how it will affect them,” he says.

“You can miss the training but you cannot miss the competition,” says Mercy Moim, former captain for National Women Volleyball team, Malkia Strikers.

“Some can take five days (off) because they cannot train but during competition, they take pain killers to relieve their pain and boost performance. The painkillers are prescribed by (team) doctor,” she says.

Harambee Starlets coach David Ouma says working with the female players has taught him that they “don’t like being disappointed or being exposed to situations that will diminish her dignity”.

TEAM MANAGER

With this in mind, Mr Ouma says his all women team of two deputies and team manager help in collating information on the players’ menstrual cycle.

“As head of technical bench, I make decisions based on the information provided and mental status of the players,” he says.

Based on the information provided, he decides what food and drinks to be provided in plenty during training. It also helps him know which players the coaches should be lenient with while in the field.
He applies three rules in managing the women - proper nutrition, high level of hygiene and communication.

“I ensure they have enough fruits and isotonic drinks to supplement their electrolytes,” explains Mr Ouma who started coaching the team in 2015.

CLEANLINESS

“We are keen on hygiene. We usually tell them how to maintain cleanliness in the camp so that if any finds herself in that situation (menstruation) she is able to inform the team managers and the two deputies to get help.”

The rest of the players are informed of the whereabouts of their teammates in case they are excused from training or matches, to avoid destabilising the team psychologically, he notes.

Since 2015, Mr Ouma, says he has experienced only one case where a player had to get off the field during the second half of the match to change.

“The team manager carries enough pads for the players and we provide them with undergarments. We have an allocation for that (buying sanitary towels) from FKF,” he says.
 

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