Playing in Pain

Injuries and illnesses are all part of being a professional athlete and the severity of an injury varies from sport to sport. You need to learn what is a niggle and what needs attention and rest. Tennis players nearly always have some pain in their body when they are competing, from blisters to a pulled muscle, but as long as they know how to deal with it there is no need to panic. Of course if an injury is causing too much discomfort or getting worse, you will do more damage by continuing to compete so you must reluctantly rest and re hab. You learn more and more about your own unique body as you mature and actually you learn from each injury you recover from.

Girls have an extra guaranteed dose of pain and illness every month. Yep, we do and it makes you feel a million miles away from a professional athlete. Every girl reacts differently on their period and could experience stomach pains, headaches, bloating, high temperature, dehydration, nausea, backache, mood swings and weight gain. This all makes you feel like crap wanting to curl up on the sofa with a hot water bottle, pain killers and a cup of tea. In the world of professional tennis there isn’t really room for taking one week out of every 4 off to indulge in feeling like this, and we can’t schedule around it nor can we schedule our cycle around the tournaments. You could change the timing of your cycle but that is only useful if you are building up to a big event like the Olympics and need it as a one off, it doesn’t work when you are competing week in week out. Also I should point out that many girls don’t have regular periods which means they have no idea when they will start, and that can lead to a bit of a panic if you are caught off guard on match day and you are wearing a white skirt!

So what is it like to compete at a high level when you are in this situation? Well it really is different for everyone. I have seen friends experience any number of symptoms… from dizziness to snapping a bat in the first game, it can make for a bit of drama. One of my favourites was a girl ranked around 300 or so who lost a significant amount of her coordination each month. She would be shanking all over the place and fresh air at least 5 shots in a match… impressive at that ranking! I have also been sharing a room with a player that I had to drive to a petrol station at 1 am as she was craving chocolate so badly and couldn’t sleep However I think these examples might be a little extreme!

From what I can make out the norm is once you have dosed up on pain killers you just feel like shit. Annoyingly that really is the only way to describe it! One thing I have also learned is that it doesn’t necessarily stay the same year on year. I went through a patch where each month on the first day I would pass out, then wake to be violently sick before sleeping it off for an hour and getting on with my training or match. Brutal. Fortunately that all got sorted but only after it caused a rather big issue the morning of my match at Roland Garros. Now I just have to deal with putting on a fair bit of water weight, running a bit of a high temperature, wrenching stomach pains, dehydration, dizziness and fatigue. All of which makes me rather irritable.

I have had coaches ask me several times “but you just get used to it don’t you?”. Well you learn to deal with it better but it is always crap, and by that logic every time you get a cold it shouldn’t be as bad as the last. Some months are bad and some are good, some times it affects how you play some times it doesn’t. Its not easy, but you deal with the situation and go out on court and fight as hard as you can like any other day. I wonder if it will ever be a legitimate reason for losing a match… “I was on my period and I felt dizzy, It was all a bit too much for me this time”. Heather Watson said something similar in Australia earlier this year and it is great she could be so honest as I am sure the extreme heat only made it worse. It is a private thing and I get why people don’t want to talk about it, but sometimes it is the reason you didn’t perform well so being pushed in to coming up with another reason isn’t really fair.

I don’t really have a big point to make today. I just wanted to talk about it so maybe others feel they can. I have seen so many teenage girls taking a bollocking from their coach as they stand there not feeling comfortable or confident enough to tell him they are on their period and feel like shit. So if that is you then definitely tell them! It will give them a better understanding of you and you will be treated less like a robot and more like a human being.

7 thoughts on “Playing in Pain

  1. It is a totally legitimate reason for not playing your best. I lose all my coordination when I’m on my period and can’t take the simplest catches at cricket.
    It’s not something people like to talk about so well done for putting it out there.

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  2. I’m a guy and I have no idea what it’s like. Just wanted to say that.
    I did also want to say that I admire you pointing it out for the sake of letting other girls feel confident about telling their coaches the same thing. I’ve seen many times guy coaches kind of just shove it off or think that it doesn’t affect them but it does. I hope the word gets out though. Great post!

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  3. Good artic;e Naomi.

    Even the performances of great players can suffer in this way. I remember one year in the 90’s (I think it was 1993) when Steffi Graf made an uncharacteristically very bad (for her) start to a Wimbledon final – even Virginia Wade observed that she was “playing like a dog” – and my Mum speculated that it was probably her “time of the month”. I think she could have been right.

    Heather Watson raised this issue just before Wimbledon this year, and as I recall Petra Kvitova supported her comments.

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      1. You’re welcome Naomi, glad you appreciated it. I think it’s an issue that needs addressing, especially since players can be fined for not attending a press conference after they’ve lost a match (and that’s a subject in itself), and also because most sports journalists are male.

        Imagine an 18-year old player (as some at the AO now are) having to tell a roomful of men, some old enough to be her father, that she lost the match because it was “her time of the month” or else have to lie about it? It’s almost sick when you think about it.

        If post-match press conferences are to be compulsory, I think players should be allowed to refuse to go into detail about why they think they lost or say something like, personal reasons.”

        On a related point, Dani Hantuchova, who is an intelligent person, has said that often when she’s lost a match she doesn’t even know herself why she lost, and yet some journalists think they have the right to question her about it almost as soon as she’s walked off the court. I think there’s a case for making press conferences optional. Players shoukld be allowed some privacy. when they’ve just lost a big match.

        We didn’t really need to see Aga Radvanska cry in public when she lost to Belinda Bencic in the final at Eastbourne last June (great match though that was), for example.

        (Domi Cibulkova hid herself under a big towel when she lost to Aga by a double bagel (6-0 6-0) in the final of the Sydney in 2013; . She shouldn’t have had to.)

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