Coaches, what do you need to know to support the young women you coach to be safe, healthy and to reach their potential (in sport and life)?
Yes – irrespective of gender, there are some universal truths to what makes a great youth sport coach. However, with many ‘default coaching practices and assumptions’ derived from coaching males, it’s important that coaches of women, particularly young women, take the time to check their own coaching practice and assumptions. To provide the best support for, and bring out the best in young women, great coaches have a grasp on unique women factors and understand how to account for these factors in their coaching.
In this webinar, Charissa Barham and Luciana Garcia host physio Kylie Cox. They discuss some of the key biophysical considerations coaches need to know when coaching young females.
What will you learn?
- How physical and physiological changes for females during maturation impact movement, fitness, and sport; and what this means for coaches.
- What knowledge do coaches and parents need and what roles do they play in monitoring the health and wellbeing of young females going through puberty and playing sport.
- What coaches need to know about optimal athlete health and its relationship to the menstrual cycle and sport.
- Fuelling for health and sport – An introduction to RED-S and what key messages coaches and parents need to be relaying to young female athletes about nutrition, athlete load and rest.
Key takeaways from the Webinar
Puberty is a complex time for children and adolescents and in particular young females. Understanding the female body and how females progress through adolescence is important for coaches (and other adults who support young people in sport) to know, so you can best meet their needs as young sportswomen.
1.a. | Physiological Development
Puberty is stimulated by the hypothalamus in the brain. The hypothalamus initiates the release of key hormones – luteinising hormone (LH) and follicle stimulating hormone (FSH) – which in turn increase the circulation of oestrogen. As levels of oestrogen rise, the pubertal cascade begins.
- Breast budding 8-12 (average 10 years)
- Menarche – the onset of menstruation (average 11-14 years)
- Pubic and Axillary (underarm) hair
- Changes in body odour and sweating
- Mood changes
The Menstrual Cycle
The menstrual cycle is a key barometer of female health with the main event of the menstrual cycle being ovulation. Ovulation produces the female sex hormones oestrogen and progesterone, both needed for optimal female health.
1.b. | Physical Development
During the early stages of puberty, there is a period of rapid upward growth (Peak Height Velocity) which occurs earlier in females than males. During this rapid growth phase, it is important not to overload the musculoskeletal system by adopting a “less is more” approach.
During this period, there are changes in movement capability due to the “awkward teenage body” followed by challenges in controlling movement.
- Females grow taller; however, bones strengthen later
- Muscles and tendons do not lengthen at the same rate
- Females widen at the hips, develop a bust and may attain excess body fat
- Females lack the testosterone of males to gain muscle strength and gender strength differences become apparent
A blip in the system
Adolescents should be assured that these changes are temporary and normal. Coaches and parents need to support pubertal changes, encouraging the development of sport specific skills and maintain engagement in sport whilst they grow into their “new” bodies.
2 | Puberty and the impact on sport
Puberty affects every child and female at different rates. Timelines and expectations of coaches and parents should focus on physiological stage, not just chronological age.
Considerations for females going through puberty and sport:
Effects of early and late maturation
- Late developers – Encourage safety within sport and harness enjoyment
- Early developers – Be aware of the pressure which may come with early success
- Begin to occur through puberty due to differences in testosterone between sexes
- Changes to the musculoskeletal system and total load impacts injury risk
- Females have major changes to hip and pelvis control and landing mechanics
- Levels of circulating hormones affect mood, confidence, and self-esteem
- Females drop out at rates greater than males, especially during and around pubertal change
3 | Puberty – Coaching and parent considerations
The goal is to help adolescents have a life-long love of sport and exercise. During puberty, we encourage the following:
Instil confidence & joy
- Create a positive and safe environment to experience exercise
- Measure success on children / adolescents staying in sport
- Consider individualities
- Be Inclusive
- Foster positive relationships
Skill acquisition & Movement control
- Focus on movement competency alongside cognitive and physical development
- Avoid overload as the skeletal system matures
Avoid fear & fatigue
- Balance training and recovery
- Maintain fun in training and games
Support athletes through all changes
- Promote positive messaging as the body changes
4 | Energy demands in adolescent females
Puberty and adolescence are a huge energy cost to the human body. Alongside the requirements for growth and development, daily energy (from food) is required for:
- Exercise – training and competition
- Sleep and recovery
- Brain development and cognitive function
- School and Work
- Social interactions
- Physiological functioning of our body systems (cardiovascular, metabolic, endocrine, gastrointestinal, reproductive system etc.)
Low Energy Availability – the potential health issues
Low energy availability (LEA) occurs when the calories available after exercise is accounted for is less than the energy cost of physiological and psychological processes (human functioning).
Low Energy Availability is important as it is the underlying cause of many negative health and performance consequences and may result in a syndrome called Relative Energy Deficiency in Sport (RED-S). In females, LEA can lead to changes in the menstrual cycle e.g., irregular cycles (oligomenorrhea) or the absence of menstruation (amenorrhea).
- Encourage adolescents to fuel in and around training
- Pack more food for school to support life and training
- Have extra food at training if required / feasible
- Support healthy eating practices
- Positive messaging and role modelling around food as fuel
RED-S is a syndrome in which one or more body systems is altered or shuts down in attempts to preserve energy.
It is important to note that sporting performance is not always the first sign of RED-S and care must be taken to identify other systems which may be affected (see diagram in webinar). As health is impacted, so too will be performance.
5 | Screening tool – Female Athlete
This is a guideline of questions you could ask to gauge athlete health and may identify areas for concern.
Do you get your period?
Is it regular?
Have you ever missed your period?
Do you take hormonal contraception?
Tell me about your daily fuelling.
Do you avoid / restrict any food groups?
Do you have concerns regarding your weight?
How many hours per night do you sleep?
Do you wake feeling refreshed?
Injury / Illness
Do you have any current or past injuries?
Have you ever suffered a stress fracture?
Do you get ill often?
What does your current training week/ schedule look like?
Any recent changes?
Do you recover between sessions?
How motivated are you to train?
Is sport enjoyable?
Puberty is a huge time for growth and development and young female athletes should be supported through changes to support a lifetime love of and engagement in sport. We hope that you have found some useful tips from this webinar.