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Lindsay Keable of London Pulse.

London Pulse co-captain and former England international Lindsay Keable has spoken out on two major talking points in women’s sport after the announcement of two important London Pulse partnerships.

Pulse recently announced that London’s only Vitality Netball Superleague (VNSL) outfit had agreed two new partnerships with official period wear supplier Iceni Period Pants for Sports and official sports bra supplier Triumph.

These ground-breaking relationships means comfortable period wear and signature sports bras will be supplied to the entire Superleague squad going forward.

“Women feel they might be judged or that they are not trying as hard”

In sport, the matter of a woman’s menstrual cycle is unique to female athletes. From the elite level to grassroots, a sportswoman has to consider this a factor before stepping onto court.

In 2020, a BBC Elite British Sportswomen’s Survey found that 60 per cent of participants said their performance had been affected by their period, and they had missed training or competitions because of it.

An elite netballer for more than a decade and a teacher at a boarding school, Pulse defender Lindsay Keable is used to discussing the subject but feels there is a long way to go to make it less awkward.

“It’s quite taboo. Every woman can sympathise with another woman but your period is unique to you, and I think it’s really tough sometimes. I used to have teammates who just couldn’t get out of bed because they were in terrible pain. If that’s in the middle of a Netball World Cup, that’s catastrophic for a team when you’re working as a group,” she said.

“Women are expected to go to quite extreme lengths to try and train it by taking the pill, taking contraceptives. It is actually about how to manage your periods and how to ensure you are in a position where you can perform at the drop of a hat.

“We need to educate younger athletes so they aren’t ashamed or have it be something that they feel they can’t talk about. We are blessed to have a great S&C coach so we can look at the bigger picture and how it affects the female athlete. We are definitely getting there.

“There is still a lot to work on and there is still a lot we can do as athletes, Sky Sports and England Netball to break down these barriers. There is research being done and that is exciting.”

Furthermore, the same BBC survey found 40 per cent said they did not feel comfortable discussing their period with coaches and a number take the contraceptive pill to control their menstrual cycle.

Clare Jones of Celtic Dragons spoke in 2019 about being guilty of ‘not wanting to say to her coach that this is having an effect on her performance’.

Similarly, Vanessa Smith – co-founder of Pulse’s new partner Iceni – played international netball for England from U16 to U21 level from 1990-1996 alongside the likes of Tracey Neville and Olivia Murphy.

She knows exactly about how periods can affect the performance of an athlete, setting up her company because her daughter was dreading her own.

Keable said: “A lot of people can see it as a sign of weakness when you don’t see other women being affected in the same way. They could be on some form of contraception that is stopping it or they might be lucky and have really good periods.

“When I was involved with England, I went onto contraception to make sure that I could control my periods and have them at a particular time so they wouldn’t disrupt me at the World Youth Championships or a test series. It was all in my planning.

As my younger self, I was very conscious of it. I had numerous incidents where I would be embarrassed by something that happened or even the feeling of being watched. Twenty years later, and we have Iceni making period pants you wouldn’t even notice.

“Women might feel that they could be judged or it might be implied that they are not trying as hard when it does affect women in really different ways. You don’t have to worry about it anymore or feel self-conscious because you know that you’re supported now.”

Oestrogen, the hormone that repairs and thickens the uterus lining during menstruation, can increase the elasticity of joints in the days before ovulation. This can lead to ACL problems, which occur if a knee or lower leg is twisted.

Dr Emma Ross, co-head of physiology at the English Institute of Sport, said that more than 70 per cent of women have not received education about their menstrual cycle and exercise. 

Dr Ross is a co-founder of female health organisation The Well HQ, which has recently teamed up with England Netball to offer a series of webinars to the governing body’s 80,000 members.

According to Keable, it is therefore imperative that these issues are spoken about by all female athletes and she feels that Pulse’s partnerships can help create an open dialogue within the sport.

“It makes the difficulty of addressing it better. If you can come together as a team and talk about this stuff with your team then it does make a difference. It’s also nice to know that you aren’t on your own. When I was younger, it was always good to talk to people.

“Pulse have done a great job. We’re getting involved with Iceni and other areas. We’re getting there and making sure that we’re supporting our athletes and making sure that it’s not something that is going to stop you performing at your best.”

“It is something completely unique to females”

Another area that is unique to sportswomen is sports bras, something London Pulse are looking to make easier for their athletes through their recent partnership with Triumph.

Triumph, one of the most recognized underwear brands in the world, will supply the entire squad with sports bras from their Triaction sports range in their signature colours of black and pink.

Sports bras, according to Keable, are the most important piece of equipment a female athlete can own.

“It is probably the most personal equipment a female athlete will have. It’s not just for comfort but it’s for support, practicality, to avoid lasting damage. As a PE teacher, a well-fitting sports bra is one of the first things I mention. It is something completely unique to females.

“Boobs come in all shapes and sizes so you need a brand that knows the girls who are flatter-chested, biggest-chested, wide or slim. It’s so personal but it’s so important. It’s the one thing you can’t borrow in the changing room. You can borrow undershorts, you can borrow trainers but you can’t do the same with a sports bra.

“The classic line is ‘if you look good, you feel good and if you feel good, you play good’. It’s all connected. You have to feel confident in your bra. You don’t want to have an incident on court where the strap pings off so there has to be that longevity.

 “There needs to be barriers broken down so that the younger generations understand that these are all good things to talk about. We’re all out there trying to promote a positive message and, as long as we’re well-researched, then it can only help younger people.”

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