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Breaking barriers with adidas

The Foundation and adidas have come together to break down gender barriers in sport and promote equality and inclusion in a workshop for young athletes.

| by Rebecca Mee

Manchester United Foundation and adidas have come together to break down gender barriers in sport and promote equality and inclusion in a workshop for Foundation participants.

The adidas Breaking Barriers Project is a commitment to breaking down barriers for women and girls across Europe by working directly with non-profit sports organisations, empowering local leaders and coaches, and providing the sports industry with the necessary tools to lead change.

One of the tools includes the adidas Breaking Barriers Academy, an online gender equity training programme designed to make sport equal for women and girls. The Academy provides access to an extensive toolkit of interactive activities, theoretical frameworks and exclusive insights from professional athletes and coaches on a variety of topics to support an inclusive sports world.

Throughout a day of insightful delivery at Old Trafford, students from the Foundation’s partner high schools and Manchester United’s Girls Academy and Under-21 teams accessed Breaking Barriers Academy workshops led by women’s health experts from Well HQ in collaboration with adidas, to discover the importance of menstrual cycle education and awareness in sports. Over 100 young athletes and their coaches learned about the benefits of cycle-tracking, fostering inclusion in a physical and emotional sports environment, navigating sensitive conversations and more.

Professional athletes and coaches joined each session for a Q&A on the topic. Siobhan Chamberlain, Manchester United Women’s Phallon Tullis-Joyce and adidas Breaking Barriers Champion Leanne Bates joined the groups to share their own experiences within the game.

Siobhan, a former England international goalkeeper who ended her club career with the Reds, shared her enthusiasm for joining the session. She said: “It’s great to see that young girls get the opportunity to learn about menstrual cycles and see that’s it’s okay to talk about it, and it’s not a taboo subject. Everyone goes through it; every female goes through it. It’s good that these girls now know a little more about how their bodies work, what they can use to help them and how they can manage it in sport – and more importantly, who they can talk to.”

She added, “It was also brilliant to see that the coaches were there as well because they need to know who they can go to. It’s breaking down those barriers so that they’re happy and well-equipped to have those conversations.”

High School Partnership Officer at the Foundation, Ryan Kessebeh, echoed the importance of coaches – especially men who coach – becoming more aware of the topic across women’s sports. He said: “It’s very important that we’re making an environment for the girls – the athletes, where they feel that they can express themselves and that they feel confident that they can approach us [coaches].

He also emphasised the importance of learning and educating ourselves.  “We want the students to know we are there to support them, such as by making sure we have the correct products on-site, and that they feel safe and comfortable to come to us if they need anything.”  

Over 30 students from the Foundation’s partner high schools were invited to the event from different sporting backgrounds across Greater Manchester. Fourteen-year-old, Isla from Middleton Technology School, felt empowered by the topics discussed at the event.

Isla believes that menstruation is not a weakness; rather, it’s something that she wants to use as “momentum and fuel.”  She emphasized that “as a woman, I feel like I have got this, and I can achieve anything. Many people usually think that periods are something people don’t want to talk about, but I think you understand your cycle to help you keep you going, keep the adrenaline, and let it improve your game.” Isla's positive attitude towards periods challenges the stereotype that they are a taboo subject and shows that they can be a powerful force for motivation and growth.

Menstruation should never be a barrier to sport. It’s time to talk. Period.

Sign up for the latest adidas Breaking Barriers Academy course and see how you can join us to make sport equal.