Periods, players and performance

Living

PROUD MOMENT Colette Collins, a 2022 graduate of the ATU BSc (Hons) in Sport and Exercise Science receiving her award at the annual SURE Network conference in TU Dublin on 14 October. The award was presented by Dr Ciarán O’Leary, Head of Learning Development, Faculty of Computing, Digital and Data, TU Dublin.

Lacken student’s research earns top prize at national conference

Ciara Moynihan

Women’s health and the lack of much-needed supportive policy in a myriad of social arenas has been the focus of much public debate recently. In Mayo 2021 a phone in on Joe Duffy’s Liveline turned into an epic week-long devotion of the programme to women’s heartbreaking stories of misunderstanding, misdiagnosis and mistreatment.
Programmes on the topic by Grainne Seoige and others aired soon after, and it was recently announced that six specialist menopause clinics around the country will be open by the end of this year.
Writing in The Mayo News, columnist Anne-Marie Flynn has been an outspoken supporter of health-care and work-place gender-based policies, highlighting the impact on women of government inaction in ensuring appropriate medical and workplace supports.
Now a Third-Level student from Lacken has entered the arena, and her research is already making waves.
Colette Collins, who graduated from ATU earlier this year, has won a prestigious national award – the 2022 SURE Network Award for Best Oral Presentation at this year’s Science Undergraduate Research Experience (SURE) Network Conference. Her presentation, centering on her research findings, was entitled ‘Exploring the relationship between the menstrual cycle and markers of physical performance in intercounty Ladies Gaelic Football player’. And those findings are fascinating.

Significant impacts
For her study, Collette recruited 20 inter-county players during the pre-season training phase.
All players completed a detailed online survey. Two distinct phases of the menstrual cycle were subsequently identified, the early follicular phase (day 1-5 of the menstrual cycle, when a menstruating woman typically bleeds) and the mid-luteal phase (days 20-25).
Over the next month, the participants were tested during these two phases, via a 20-metre sprint test and a jump height test. Overall, the participants had a significantly slower sprint time in the early follicular phase in comparison to the mid-luteal phase, while no difference in jump height was seen. 
“All players reported experiencing menstrual cycle symptoms and 50 percent believed that these symptoms affected their playing performance,” says Colette. She explains that her survey findings highlight ‘the lack of player awareness or understanding of the potential impact of the menstrual cycle on sport’. “Furthermore,” she adds “despite the prevalence of symptoms, only 15 percent of players had previously discussed this issue with their coach.”
Collette found that players also declined to highlight their recurrent concerns regarding sufficient changing and sanitary facilities at matches.
As far as learnings from her research go, Collete believes that it demonstrates how women’s health should be considered during formal reviews of athlete performance, and how strategies should be implemented to encourage more open communication between coaches and their athletes.
“It is clear that both coaches and players would benefit from educational training on the potential physiological impact of the menstrual cycle phases on athlete performance,” she says.

‘Eye opener’
Colette, who hails from Carrowmore, Lacken, completed her final year BSc (Hons) in Sport and Exercise Science in June 2022 and graduated last month. She was one of 61 students from six different higher-education institutes around Ireland to present their research projects to a national audience of over 400 final-year undergraduate students. 
“Completing this research was an eye opener from start to finish,” she says. “The taboo surrounding the menstrual cycle is still evidently present in today’s society at all levels in sport. It has sparked a major passion within me for menstrual cycle specific research in sport and I hope to continue to progress the literature in this area.”
Collete also had a special word for her supervisor, Dr Siobhán Leahy, ATU Galway-Mayo Department of Sport, Exercise and Nutrition, whose help and guidance throughout the research process was invaluable, she said.
Dr Leahy had no doubt in her student’s ability. “Collette’s achievement in winning this award is just reward for a huge amount of work that went into the planning and conduct of her project,” she said. “This is a hugely important area of the research with the potential to inform planning of training programs and phases for female athletes competing at all levels.”
Collette will now go on to present her research at the World Conference of Undergraduate Research place in the UK in April 2022. Her trip is being sponsored by the Department of Sport, Exercise and Nutrition in ATU Galway-Mayo ‘in further recognition of Collette’s significant achievement’.
Dr Lisa Ryan, Head of the Department of Sport, Exercise and Nutrition at ATU Galway-Mayo, who recently organised a Women in Sport event as part of the Galway Science and Technology Festival, is also full of praise for Collette’s work. “We are proud of Colette’s achievement not only in winning this prestigious award but also for shining a light on some of the unique needs of females in sport.”
Let’s hope Collette’s findings will go on to inform the policies and programmes that underpin not only the GAA but also all other forms of sport. Doing so would undoubtedly be another step towards further normalising society’s approach to women’s health and natural cycles. (Things that are, after all, completely normal.)