Jazmin Sawyers, an accomplished athlete from Great Britain, recently secured her first major long jump title at the European indoors in March. She will be sharing her insights in a series of columns for Sport Newes Center leading up to the World Athletics Championships in Budapest in August.
In her latest piece, Sawyers emphasizes the crucial need for more research in women-specific sport science, as it has the potential to be transformative for elite athletes and prevent young girls from abandoning sports altogether.
Although women’s sports are gaining popularity rapidly, scientific research in this field lags behind. Astonishingly, only around 6% of sports science research focuses exclusively on female athletes.
As athletes, when we underperform, our immediate reaction is often self-doubt, assuming we are not good enough, without considering the internal factors affecting our performance. This tendency is also prevalent among the general public. The prevailing narrative tends to focus on an athlete’s inability to handle the pressure, ignoring the possibility of physiological issues.
Managing our bodies is particularly challenging for female athletes, but this is a topic that concerns everyone. Dina Asher-Smith, the 2019 200m world champion, called for more research into the impact of menstrual cycles on performance after experiencing cramps during the previous year’s European Championships. Gaining more knowledge in this area would be a game-changer for sportswomen.
I strongly advocate for further research on the effects of the menstrual cycle. Such research can inform our training, help us prevent avoidable injuries, and optimize our performance during major championships. Women can track their symptoms, monitor their well-being, and predict when they can push themselves or need to hold back. However, it is disheartening that female athletes in professional sports are still left to figure these things out on their own.
While we may not have direct control over the research being conducted, we can contribute by openly discussing this topic and normalizing the conversation. By doing so, we aim to alleviate the pain and panic that often accompanies crucial sporting moments.
Allow me to share a personal experience. In 2017, I had to withdraw from a competition in Boston due to severe period pain. I briefly spoke about it, and to my surprise, it became a news story. This incident made me realize that this conversation should no longer be taboo. It was an essential puzzle piece in understanding my own body, and I believe that at that stage in my professional career, I should have possessed more knowledge about my cycle. With better education, I could have been better prepared for such situations.
A year earlier, just four hours before the qualifying round at my first Olympic Games, I found myself in excruciating pain, screaming in the doctor’s room. I had struggled with period pain prior to qualifying for the 2016 Olympics in Rio. Despite implementing a plan and testing medication throughout the year to delay my period, it started at the worst possible time. Immobilized by pain, I believed my Olympic debut was over. Eventually, after consuming numerous painkillers, I managed to make it to the final. But relying on painkillers should never be the solution.
Now, after seven years since that incident, I have developed better strategies to handle the challenges posed by my menstrual cycle. It is vital to have these conversations with young athletes, ensuring they understand their cycles and feel comfortable speaking with coaches and sports doctors. By doing so, we hope to reduce the frequency of incidents like the one I experienced in elite sports.
Another disheartening statistic reveals that 64% of schoolgirls drop out of sports due to period pain and the associated shame. During my teenage years, I would never have dared to discuss my period with my male coaches due to the sense of shame attached to it. This lack of communication hindered my progress, and it was entirely preventable. We must encourage open conversations about periods. If more than half of young girls are leaving sports due to period-related issues, it is undoubtedly a significant problem. We need to reach a point where discussing periods is as normal as talking about injuries.
Sport has immense potential for positive impact, and if something like periods becomes a barrier to young women’s involvement in sports, we must treat it as a serious issue. We should normalize discussing periods and how they affect training, both within families and coaching environments. Women of my generation must also make an effort to educate ourselves about our own cycles. Without understanding ourselves, there is only so much we can contribute to this conversation.
A little more education can go a long way. Even at recreational levels, we can prevent individuals from becoming disheartened when they struggle to achieve certain goals during their menstrual cycles. The fact that periods have an impact on training and our lives is a normal aspect that we should openly discuss.
Why? Because it is normal.
These thoughts were shared by Jazmin Sawyers during an interview with Harry Poole from Sport Newes Center.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) about women-specific sport science research
What is the main topic discussed in this text?
The main topic discussed in this text is the need for more women-specific sport science research and its potential impact on elite athletes and the participation of young girls in sports.
Why is women-specific sport science research important?
Women-specific sport science research is important because it addresses the unique physiological aspects and needs of female athletes. It can provide valuable insights into how the menstrual cycle affects training, performance, and injury prevention. By understanding these factors, athletes can optimize their training and compete at their best.
How much sports science research is conducted exclusively on female athletes?
Only about 6% of sports science research is conducted exclusively on female athletes, highlighting the significant gap in understanding and knowledge specific to women in sports. This lack of research limits the availability of tailored strategies and support for female athletes.
How can women benefit from more research on the menstrual cycle and sports performance?
More research on the menstrual cycle and its impact on sports performance can provide women with a deeper understanding of their bodies. It can help them track their symptoms, anticipate performance fluctuations, prevent injuries, and optimize their training and performance during important competitions.
What are the consequences of period-related issues in sports?
Period-related issues, such as severe pain and the associated shame, can have negative consequences in sports. They can lead to young girls dropping out of sports altogether, affecting their long-term participation and development. By addressing these issues openly and providing support, we can create a more inclusive and supportive environment for female athletes.
How can the conversation about women’s health in sports be normalized?
The conversation about women’s health in sports can be normalized by openly discussing topics like the menstrual cycle, its effects on training, and the specific needs of female athletes. This includes educating athletes, coaches, and sports professionals about these matters, encouraging open dialogue, and treating them as normal aspects of athletic performance and well-being.