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Six Nations: Wales using new menstrual cycle tracking technology to help manage period-related symptoms

Vodafone, who is a partner of Wales Women's and Girls rugby, has added menstrual cycle tracking to their platform, which aggregates data via wearable devices; recent research has found 67 per cent of female athletes believe period symptoms "severely impact" their performances

Cardiff, UK: Vodafone WRU PLAYER.Connect.05 April 2023.Picture By Mark Robinson..
Image: Wales are using the new technology during the 2023 Women's Six Nations

Wales Women are using new menstrual cycle tracking technology during the Six Nations in an attempt to advance the management of period-related symptoms for female athletes.

Vodafone, who is a founding principal partner of Wales Women's and Girls rugby, has added menstrual cycle tracking to their PLAYER.Connect platform, which aggregates data from athletes' wearable devices.

The project follows recent studies, which showed that 67 per cent of female rugby players believe menstrual cycle-related symptoms severely impact their performance.

"Despite 93 per cent of female rugby players reporting menstrual cycle-related symptoms and 67 per cent believing these severely impair their performances, there is limited guidance available on how players can best manage this," PLAYER.Connect head of performance Alex Skelton said.

"Being able to directly link each athletes' menstrual cycle stage to their performance data provides a massive advantage in how we can begin to tackle this issue, by allowing coaches and analysts to move away from 'catch-all' solutions."

The technology gathers data on players' performance, menstrual cycle phases and mental and physical wellbeing, by combining data from wearable devices such as GPS trackers in real-time.

Cardiff, UK: Vodafone WRU PLAYER.Connect.05 April 2023.Picture By Mark Robinson..
Image: The platform gathers data from athletes' wearable devices

Additional input is also provided from the players themselves, via daily 'morning monitoring' - a series of questions answered by the players on arrival at training.

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By directly linking athletes' performance data to their menstrual cycle, the platform lets coaches and analysts provide genuine tailoring of diet, training, and match preparation for each individual player.

The platform provides a major upgrade on existing menstrual cycle tracking technology, which doesn't allow for this personalisation or tailoring, and only provide generic, 'catch-all' solutions.

Wales prop Cerys Hale said: "The PLAYER.Connect technology has really improved my performance this season. It's given me a greater awareness of things I need to do away from the field, so for example, I can monitor any soreness, be more aware of how I'm recovering and then look at what I can do before training to help manage injury prevention.

"This includes tips on how I can change my nutrition during each of the phases of my cycle, how I can reduce my symptoms, and it's just given me more confidence that I'm putting my body in the right place to be able to perform."

Cunningham: Technology helping 'normalise' discussions around periods

Wales head coach Ioan Cunningham says embracing technology around menstrual cycles is helping to 'normalise' discussions around periods.

"I knew about [the menstrual cycle], but it wasn't something that was discussed amongst your mates or as you're growing up," Cunningham told the PA news agency.

"To be honest, when I first started coaching this team, it wasn't spoken about much, but over the last 12 months or maybe two years, there's definitely more normalising of that conversation, I'll have conversations with players about their periods, how they're feeling.

Cardiff, UK: Vodafone WRU PLAYER.Connect.05 April 2023.Picture By Mark Robinson..
Image: Wales players have praised the impact of the technology

"I had one last week where I went up to one of the players because I noticed she was a little bit slower getting off the floor, and she just said 'oh, I've got bad cramps.' So [I was] like, no problem, no worries, we'll work with you."

Wales captain Hannah Jones believes Cunningham has "adapted quite well to the chats", while her head coach agreed that the sort of hard data gleaned from the PLAYER.Connect technology makes facilitating dialogue easier, allowing the boss and his predominately male backroom staff to address athletes' periods in team meetings the same way they would any other health-related matters.

Cunningham emphasised it nonetheless takes time to create the safe space he believes is vital for conversations to flourish, encouraging other male coaches in particular "to be open to it, to embrace it, for sure, and grow relationships and trust within the players."

He added: "It's something that first and foremost that the players have to be comfortable in opening up and speaking about it, and if they're not, that's fine as well.

"It was a period of adjustment. If I'm honest, I'm comfortable to speak about it, but I just wanted to make sure the players were comfortable. It's growing that relationship with the players so that they know I'm coming from a care point of view, to be the best athlete that they can be in our environment."

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