An introduction by Susie Elms, Head of Performance Lifestyle and Chair of the Female Athlete Performance Group
Our work with female athletes is a crucial area. One that requires dedication and an openness to continue to learn and understand how best to support our female athletes as they progress through the performance pathway. We’re also very aware that there is a need for learning and awareness, wider than the performance audience. All in the working group feel very strongly about that.
With that in mind, I’m delighted to share that we are launching full access for all to the Working with Female Athletes platform on sportscotland’s learning website. This will provide access for girls, women, parents, teachers, coaches, volunteers, staff, indeed anyone with an interest, to free resources. This also includes a link to the Working with Female Athletes e-learning module on Brightspace. Although a licence is required to access the e-learning, we’ve provided free licences for all.
About the Female Athlete Performance working group
The original working group was established in 2010, named Understanding the Female Athlete and was chaired by Dr Brian Walker. This brought together a group of inter-disciplinary specialists from a diversity of support services with the aim of developing our understanding of female athletes and the related support being delivered. After Dr Walker retired, I took on the role of chair, and we established the Female Athlete Performance Working Group.
The group is made up of professionals and practitioners across the SIS to provide a wider understanding of delivery from different perspectives. The current working group includes the following staff and we are always open to others joining.
- Abbie Hewitt, Regional Performance Manager
- Ben Pipes, Regional Performance Manager
- Catriona Munro, Senior Physical Preparation Coach
- Dr Michelle Jeffrey, Sport Medicine Doctor
- Irene Riach, Head of Performance Nutrition
- Maggie Hendry, Physiotherapist
- Nikki Gibson, Performance Physiologist
- Susie Elms, Head of Performance Lifestyle (Chair)
- Zoe Moffat, Sport Psychologist
The working group established a plan to enable us to focus on key areas of development. This incorporated three main strategies:
- Understanding: Evidence based practice and applied research.
- Implementing: Education and learning.
- Influencing: Our culture
Pilot study 1: Direct delivery to sports
Sitting under the Implementing Education and Learning strategy, in 2021 - 2022, we ran a pilot working remotely and directly with five sports (curling, cycling, hockey, netball, and judo), where we combined the Female Athlete Health Check questionnaire alongside a pathway of education and learning with each sport.
This incorporated the development of content and access to e-learning resources and remote workshops aligned to the roll out of the Female Athlete Health Check to athletes. Staff from the working group facilitated sessions with the sports, athletes and staff through different touch points using presentations plus questions and answer sessions.
From the pilot we collated the following data and findings:
- From the athletes who have been through the medical screening to date, we have found that 68% of athletes required a medical follow up.
- We found that 67% of athletes did have a monthly menstrual cycle, however, 32% did not. This doesn’t always require medical intervention as it may be a result of contraception, or even pregnancy, however, not having a regular monthly menstrual cycle could also be a red flag for an athlete’s overall health and wellbeing.
- We asked whether athletes were on hormonal contraceptives or not, and found that 49% of athletes were using contraceptives. This won’t necessarily have any implications for female athletes, but it may be important for coaches to know – especially if they are attempting to maximise a training adaption in line with rising and falling levels of sex hormones.
- We also asked about whether athletes had experienced changes in their menstrual cycle in the last year. Again, this could be a prompt for medical review. We found that nearly 23% of our athletes had experienced changes.
- Finally, we wanted to understand what premenstrual symptoms our athletes are experiencing. Cramping, fatigue and bloating were the most common physical symptoms, experienced by 68%, 66% and 51% respectively. 47% of athletes also experienced changes in their appetite, 41% felt more irritable and 40% noticed changes in their mood.
- Our overall conclusion is that there is no one size fits all model for female athletes, however, these statistics could help coaches, support staff and even athletes themselves understand the potential impact of PMS on different training phases.
Pilot study 2: Remote roadshow for all sports, athletes and staff
We are currently preparing to roll out a second pilot beginning in November 2022, which will still align the learning and education with the Female Athlete Health Check. In this pilot, we will be running a remote roadshow with a hosted presentation which will invite all athletes SGB staff and SIS into the learning opportunities. Our plan is to roll out the Female Athlete Health Check to all female athletes from 1 November 2022.
My ambition for the working group is that all athletes, coaches, and staff are comfortable having conversations about female athlete health and understand the approaches to take to positively impact on training/performance. Our forward plans will include topics such as breast health and bra fitting, pregnancy, post-partum support, RED-S, menopause etc. alongside the connection to research and the engagement of female athletes to listen to their experiences and recommendations for our future planning.
Feeling inspired to learn more?
- Get started with our Working with Female Athletes e-learning module
- Talk Track Manage fact sheet
- RED-S fact sheet