Puberty, Periods and Sport

Be Their First Coach
Last updated: 5 July 2021
Sports, Girls & Puberty

Puberty and Girls in Sport

Puberty, Periods and Sport

Let’s face it, puberty is pretty confusing. A normal part of growing up, it’s a time of emotional and physical change that can leave many feeling vulnerable and insecure. Not least of all young girls. We've partnered with Women in Sport — a UK charity dedicated to giving every woman and girl the opportunity to experience sport — who believe puberty is a critical time for shaping teenage girls' perception of exercise as fun, rewarding and healthy. Founded in 1984, and with extensive research in the field, they have proven time and time again that, “Girls are missing out on the lifelong benefits of sport.” Together, it’s our mission to change this.

Puberty and periods shouldn’t be the reason girls lack an active life, but with all that’s going on—from periods and breast development to body odour and hair growth—puberty can be a lot to come to terms with. All of this can affect girls’ self-esteem, motivation and even enjoyment of sport.

Women in Sport research shows exactly that. Of the 2.1 million girls aged 11-16 in the UK(1), a large majority are missing out on the benefits of sport. 34% of girls said they don’t take part in P.E because they dislike being watched, while 35% don’t take part at all because of lack of confidence.(2) The good news: change is underway. Keep reading for ways to help our generation of young girls.

Nike’s Made to Play encourages girls to take the lead in sports. With a focus on empowering kids at every level, its sport-based programs offer opportunities to move to 17 million kids, so they can lead healthier, happier, more successful lives.

On school grounds, sweating, body hair and fear of leakage, as well as a perceived lack of capabilities can lead to teasing from other students. And it’s this anxiety over criticism and competition that can deeply affect young girls’ self-esteem, and negatively impacts their ability to be active.

Women in Sport highlight that girls are much less likely to take part in team sports with 48% of girls aged 13-16 taking part in team sports at least once a week, compared to 68% of boys.(3) In fact, more girls drop out of sport and exercise during their teenage years than at any other time. Of girls aged 12-14, 42% said they avoid exercise when they have their period.(4) It’s this sort of behaviour that sets up habits difficult to reverse in their later years

Sports, Girls & Puberty

The Benefit of Sport for Young Girls

There’s no doubt that sport empowers girls. Better still, an active lifestyle early on can positively and powerfully shape how girls transition into adulthood. Women in Sport research suggests that if they start exercising at a young age, they are less likely to drop out in later life. It’s one of many reasons why we should encourage young girls to stay active even when they have their period.

“Exercise is a really good way of reducing symptoms and helping girls to feel better,” says sports scientist Georgie Bruinvels, PhD. It’s all thanks to the release of endorphins, which “can boost mood and help with relaxation.” Doing sports together is a great way to ease kids into those early years of fitness. For inspiration on how to start, you can check out the Nike Run App to pick from guided runs to training tips suitable for every level. Once you’ve chosen your favourite training, why not make it a family activity you do together?

Sport and movement are also great for the mind. No matter age or interests, physical activity shows teens what their minds are capable of, and what their bodies can do. Sport creates friendships and memories that girls can be proud of. It teaches them how to stay calm under pressure and to manage stress; how to be gracious in defeat and humble in victory. All invaluable traits for their future success.

From discipline and focus, to the ability to be a team player, it’s a healthy mindset that eases the transition from school days to work life. A win for energy levels, exercise also helps clear the mind and improve sleep and mood. Women in Sport have shown that 42% of working women agreed that being active helps them stay calm during stressful work periods.(5)

Positive role models and coaches can help make play and sport more accessible and approachable for girls. Motivating, empowering and inspiring girls can help build their confidence – on and off the court – and boost their chances of staying in the game and seeing big benefits later in life.

Make sport fun for girls now and in the future by checking out our Made to Play Coaching Girls Guide. It’s part of Nike’s Made to Play commitment to get kids moving so they can lead healthier, happier and more successful lives.

Sports, Girls & Puberty

What Parents Can Do to Help

Parents can help ensure their daughters have the chance to enjoy sport and its endless benefits, during puberty and into their adult lives. Let’s look at some simple steps that can prepare them for play and exercise.

1. Start conversations early

You don’t have to wait until your child has started puberty to talk about it. Georgie Bruinvels, PhD, the expert in female sports science says: “We need to break the taboos around periods, and change girls and boys attitudes towards menstruation.” The more you explore the facts of adolescence together - from naming body parts to the physical changes like spots to hair, the more normalised periods and puberty will be. Reminding girls that they’re not alone, try talking about your own experience with puberty, can help build their self-confidence and body confidence, as they come to terms with their new appearance.

2. Work up a sweat together

Women in Sport data reveals that an active mum is more likely to raise an active daughter. In fact, girls with mums who are physically active, are twice as likely to pick up sport. While children with two parents involved in fitness are nearly six times more likely. By starting movement early, and together, your daughter can see you expressing your own body confidence at every point in your menstrual cycle. This will not only help normalise periods, but also calm the anxieties attached to the early years of puberty. To start, why not team up for a fun partner workout in the Nike Training Club app? A way to hit goals and create memories, this time together may also spotlight any issues your daughter is dealing with. Why not give our family workout collection a go? It has something for everyone – no matter your experience or level.

3. Kick competition to the curb

At a time when teenage girls feel the pressure to look a certain way and be the best, fresh and fun opportunities can make sport fun again. From rock climbing with friends to a run on the beach, a new perspective on physical activity can minimise the sense of competition young girls feel. Doing sports together is a great way to ease kids into those early years of fitness. For inspiration on how to start, you can check out the Nike Run App to pick from guided runs to training tips suitable for every level. Once you’ve chosen your favourite training, why not make it a family activity you do together? Remember, there’s no right way to get active. If it gets your heart rate up, it counts.

4. Understand that playing sport eases period symptoms

While periods and premenstrual syndrome (PMS) symptoms are common reasons girls skip sport, the truth is physical activity can actually help ease cramps. It’s all thanks to mood boosting hormones known as endorphins, which act as a natural pain reliever.“

There is no reason why girls should not exercise when on their period, in fact it can help them feel a lot better, they just need the right education and encouragement to do so,” adds sports scientist Georgie Bruinvels, PhD.

5. Prepare them for P.E

Sport on your period is a big cause of anxiety for girls. Women in Sport recommend helping girls pre-plan. Having strategies in place to better manage taking part in sport and exercise can help girls feel more confident and more likely to take part.

Women in Sport found that 42% of girls aged 12-14, said they avoid exercise when they have their period(6), while 36% of 13-16 year olds aren’t meeting their recommended 60 minute daily activity(7). To ease their concerns, try things like packing their sports bag with pads and toiletries, preemptively, and discussing the importance of changing their pads immediately before and after exercise; it can make a world of difference to their confidence. Other essentials include, deodorant and the right clothing, including the right sports bra and spare pants.

While periods, and puberty can be a tricky time for everyone, gaining an understanding of your body can be a huge asset. For women, tracking their menstrual cycle not only let them feel in control of their body, but on top of their physical activity. Suggesting girls track their hormonal shifts may improve their relationship with their body, and physical activity, while at the same time reassuring them that everything they are experiencing is normal.

If you want to learn more on how workouts can be adapted to the three phases of a woman’s cycle, check out the Nike Cycle Sync collection available via the Nike Training Club app.

This article was written in collaboration with Women in Sport. Want to know more? They have a wealth of information over on their website.

(1) Women in Sport extrapolated from the Active Lives CYP survey Sport England data 2018-19
(2) Joint – WiS & YST 2017
(3) Active Lives CYP survey
(4) Our joint research – WiS & YST 2017
(5) Primary WiS research
(6) Youth Sport Trust and Women in Sport, Girls Active Survey 2017
(7) Sport England Active Lives Children and Young people Survey 2018