Coming Back To Sport After Having Kids Is More Challenging For Mothers Than Fathers, Says Athlete

At WH, we love to celebrate women in sport – those legends who thrive in the face of the challenges that come with being a woman in a male-dominated field. And what about mums in sport – for Mother’s Day, we’re cheering on #mothersinsport. We chat to one of those champs, netballer Sharelle McMahon, mum to two kids, Xavier, 4, and Ruby, 18 months. The ambassador for #ChangeOurGame, a VicHealth women in sport campaign, talks about the challenges of being an athlete and a parent, and about what can be done…

What are some of the major challenges that mum athletes tend to face?
As with a lot of mothers, the logistics of childcare and balancing the amount of time spent in each space is a challenge. The fact that many sportswomen either aren’t paid, or are paid little means they’re often working or studying as well, so the calendar is certainly full. Preparing for and competing in sport at the elite level can be quite a selfish pastime too! It can take over all aspects of your life. So to marry that with the selfless requirements of being a mum, can be quite challenging.

Sleepy cuddles in the winter sun. #familyadventure #minitrain

A post shared by Sharelle McMahon (@sharelle_mcmahon) on

What have been some of the challenges you’ve faced, in coming back to netball after having kids? 
I came back to playing netball when Xavier was 3 months old, so I found the time spent training and travelling challenging to fit in around his schedule. Timing the breastfeeds was interesting! Netball is a fast, explosive, dynamic sport. The physical side of coming back to play was tough. Regaining the strength and stability in my pelvis/back/legs was full on and all the jumping/sprinting was quite painful! I was very lucky that I had lot of support from my club to manage all these things.

Do you think sportsmen fathers face similar challenges?
If the athlete gives birth, it’s certainly different on a physical level! I think the major differences sit around the payment to the athletes. I’m generalising here, but often sportsmen are paid more than sportswomen, so that alleviates some financial pressures that ahtletes who are mothers face.

Have most of your sportswomen peers who’ve become mums retired from competing?
Most of my teammates waited until after they retired before starting a family. I definitely think some would’ve had babies earlier if it was easier to juggle sport and motherhood. I would have! Many have also found it difficult to get pregnant after their sporting careers, so I think the more we can support athletes in this area, the better.

What can be done to overcome these challenges?
Ensuring there’s strong parental support in place for athletes is crucial. Netball has recently introduced a parental policy that provides some job security and also assistance with care for the child at trainings and competition. What really helped me, though, was knowing I was completely supported by my teammates and club to play again as a mum. My coach used to cuddle Xavier before every training session!

Is there a sport that’s leading the way when it comes to helping their players manage sport and motherhood?
I think netball is really leading the way in this space and hopefully other sports are realising how important it is and are following suit.

Why do you think campaigns like VicHealth’s #ChangeOurGame and Women’s Health’s WinS (women in sport) are so important?
Being physically active and involved in sport brings so many health and wellbeing benefits. These campaigns help to encourage women and girls to participate more and be the best they can be by making women playing sport at all levels more visible and accessible.

What do you most love about being a mother?
It’s funny, I’m finding it easier to think of things I love least about being a mum: toys everywhere, dirty nappies, whinging, lack of sleep… haha! But seriously, what I love most is the love! It’s overwhelming. When Xavier and Ruby run up to me with squeals, a big smile and hugs it melts my heart. I’m incredibly proud to me their mum, especially when I see their wonder in seeing/doing/learning new things. It’s beautiful.

What would your perfect Mother’s Day look like?
I’d be on holiday. The day would start late in the morning after a sleep in. A walk in the sun along the beach, a swim in the ocean, an uninterrupted afternoon nap and lots of yummy food. Of course my beautiful kids and hubby would be by my side all day… or at least for most of it!

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