It was a pleasure to attend and present our Indian Sports Project at the recent Menstruation Research Network at Stirling University in Scotland. This conference gathered together both current sport practitioners and key university researchers together to look at the importance of menstruation and sports for girls. I expected to learn more about the challenges that girls face in sports during their monthly period; an understanding of the critical body changes and reactions occurring for a certain period every month. What I learned at the conference greatly exceeded these expectations and is leading to a whole new field of female sports development; looking at women’s full monthly cycle!
There has always been the temptation to compare men and women when it comes to sports. However, early on, many people understood and realised that the physiology of men and women are so different that it does not make sense to compare their sports abilities. But, strangely this understanding rarely seemed to permeate the main systems of sport training and sport development programs for women; until now!
One of the main speakers at the conference, Dr. Georgie Bruinvers at Orreco is one of the sports experts leading the charge to change the game for women’s sports. Working alongside a number of elite Women’s Football teams, including the US National Football Team, she suggested that her role in this change is to “to educate women to understand their own body.” The menstrual cycle must be seen as a whole cycle and not just your period and could hold a key to both improved women’s sports performance and improved health of female athletes. She suggests that throughout the menstrual cycle of women, their body can respond very differently to injury, strength, energy; hampering or enhancing their performance. Her sentiments have been recently echoed in the media, as both the English Women's National Football Team and The Chelsea Football Club begin looking closely at the menstrual cycles of the athletes to help better develop their football potential.
Where does that leave our Indian girls sports program?
In June this year, we will begin a sports curriculum for 150 000 underprivileged girls, aged 6-15, of the Nanhi Kali program in India. It is our intention to include menstruation information in this sports curriculum. However, following the learning from Stirling University, we will not only focus on the period of the girls but include their overall monthly cycle. Although the focus on much of the research cited above is focused on high performance sports, sports for development projects for girls can also benefit from these findings.
We would like to communicate this learning directly through our sports curriculum and programs. We can begin talking to our athletes about times throughout the month where energy levels and appetite may differ or where they may feel more sore. As Dr. Georgie suggested for her elite athletes, for our Nanhi Kali girls it is also important for them to be “educated to know their own body.”