Electronic Thesis and Dissertation Repository

Thesis Format

Integrated Article


Master of Science




Thornton, Jane S.


Despite the recent increase in female sport participation, female athletes receive an inferior level of support compared to males. The objectives of this study were to (1) assess varsity female athletes’ lived experiences regarding the impact of their menstrual cycle (MC) on sport performance and (2) explore their perceptions and unmet needs regarding staff communication and education to optimize performance and maintain sport participation. Ten individual semi-structured interviews were conducted. Four themes emerged through thematic analysis: symptoms, perceived impact on sport performance, communication and support, and education and next steps. Results revealed that many athletes who experienced negative symptoms surrounding menstruation perceived a decrease in performance. Results were variable as some athletes felt no impact, highlighting the importance of an individual-based approach to coaching and training. All athletes felt that conversation with team staff was lacking and expressed a need for increased education and a decreased stigmatization of the MC.

Summary for Lay Audience

As the population of female athletes is continually increasing, it is crucial that they are supported to maintain optimal sport performance and participation. Previous research exploring perceptions and experiences regarding the menstrual cycle (MC) and performance frequently includes elite athletes who often work with highly experienced coaches. These athletes feel their MC negatively affects their sport performance and perceive coach communication and education to be lacking. It is proposed that this may be amplified in the varsity-level population, as the coaches and staff may not have the same experience or training. It is crucial that these athletes’ voices are heard to understand their experiences and implement changes to offer improved support. Our study looked at the perceptions and lived experiences of female varsity athletes regarding how their MC impacts their sport performance. We also explored athletes’ opinions regarding communication with their varsity staff, and what education they feel should be provided to support optimal health and sport performance. This study was performed through one-on-one interviews including a brief survey with varsity athletes at Western University. We explored their menstrual history, perceived differences in performance throughout their MC, their willingness to communicate with varsity staff, and their standpoint on staff education. We found that many athletes who experience negative symptoms during their MC, specifically before and during menstruation, feel a negative impact on their sport performance. It was also determined that sport participation may be influenced as some athletes feel a decline in their psychological state and a decreased willingness to participate. Few perceived there to be no influence of their MC on any aspect of their performance. We were able to highlight this variability between athletes and demonstrate that an individual-based approach to coaching should be implemented. All athletes felt that communication regarding the MC was lacking or non-existent and expressed the need for coaches and staff to acknowledge the influence that their MC may have on their performance. It is critical that these athletes are being properly supported to maintain good physical and psychological health and keep them participating in sport and physical activity for as long as possible.

Available for download on Friday, December 20, 2024