By Jake Smith
IMMAF’s celebration of fantastic women within mixed martial arts is not limited to just IMMAF competitors and staff; reaching further afield in order to celebrate individuals making strides in promoting women in the sport.
Molly ‘Shieldmaiden’ Lindsay is one of the most talked-about female mixed martial artists on the domestic UK MMA scene. In March of 2020, Molly gave birth to her first child, Odin. Between giving birth and the COVID-19 pandemic, the mother of one has not competed since March of 2019. That has not stopped her from shining a celebratory light on mothers in mixed martial arts whilst simultaneously educating on how the sport can develop to bridge the gap between male and female athletes.
Molly’s life is now entirely different to what it was the last time she competed. Ahead of her highly anticipated return to the cage, she openly discussed the challenges faced since giving birth & what she believes will help bring women onto a level playing field in MMA.
“Balancing training and Mum life, I don’t think it’s the pretty balance people want to see. It’s not balanced. It’s chaotic and different things take different priorities at different times. You sort of have to accept that it’s not a swift role you just step in and out of at certain times of the day. Sometimes when my little boy is ill, training has to go on the back burner and I have to make up the time when I can or make up the sessions. Things like that depending on how much pressure there is having a fight booked or not.”
Prioritising and finding balance is an important factor. Between sleeping, eating, exercising along with everything else that is needed. Recognising when to rest and when to push is one of the hardest battles for Molly.
“Preventing burnout as a mum and athlete is just my hardest daily battle, to be honest.”
Naturally, there would be challenges trying to juggle both motherhood and being an athlete. Molly admitted some things caught her off guard.
“The challenge I didn’t expect to face was the lack of sleep. I know babies aren’t designed to sleep at a young age, but I didn’t think that my little boy would wake for so long, so often. It’s not unusual for him to wake every 45 minutes to one hour throughout the night. It kind of got hold of training and obviously sleep deprivation is a form of torture. Then being on top form with your reaction, timing and being on the ball with training can be a little much sometimes but as I said before, getting the rest in when I can.”
“That’s been hard because society tells you that you need to be on top form in every other aspect of life. You need to have your washing done, need to be prepped with your food to make it easier for you, need to be out doing your extra training sessions and all of that sort of thing but sleep is the number one thing.”
“The other challenge I didn’t expect was how my body would feel after having a baby. In terms of being an athlete, I expected not to feel the same but I did not expect it to take this long to feel like I had a decent amount of strength again.”
“Following birth, I suffered from a pelvic organ prolapse, which is super, super common in female athletes and it is not spoken about. It comes from overly tense pelvic floor muscles because it is all part of your core and muscles. We tend to not have a great ability to relax them or relax and contract them in a full range of movement. Those muscles are muscles that need to relax to let a baby through so this was not something I prepared for. I did a lot of research but this one caught me off guard. It was quite a long rehabilitation process after having Odin and restrengthening and figuring out what movements I could and couldn’t do. What would not cause more strain or damage or discomfort and just building things back up slowly.”
Motherhood has had a monumentally positive impact on Molly’s life. She is intrigued to see how her personal development will transfer to her return to competition.
“Becoming a Mum has made me grow the most compared to any other thing in life. I’m excited to see how this will translate in training because I am a completely different version of myself. Your child is like a mirror to you so anything you struggle to deal with in your child is a reflection of what you need to work on in yourself. So my rate of growth since having my little boy has been incredible as it has been a really good direction of where I need to work on”
Athletes such as Leah McCourt, Amanda Nunes & Julianna Pena to name but a few, have been at the forefront of showing the success of mothers in MMA as of late.
“They are big role models to me and I look up to them. It’s incredible to see other mothers competing at a high level. I think that’s important. As an athlete, you have moments of doubt, especially as a Mum trying to fight. There are so many moments where you question if it is possible to balance and if you can do both well, so just seeing other women do it, it’s just a bit of reassurance that it can be done.”
MMA has come on leaps and bounds in offering a level playing field for men and women. However, there is still more to be done. Molly believes that the approach to training and recognising the differences in needs between men and women would help further close the gap.
She said: “I think the biggest thing that sticks out to me right now is that women are being treated the same as men in the gym. That has gone from women not being allowed to be in the gym or not being made to feel comfortable in the gym or not being able to fight in a career to now. We are being treated the same as the guys but we are not just small men. We do require a different approach to coaching and training. We do require a different structure to the boys.”
“Even things like training around your period. I hate training when I am due and the first few days I’m on my period. I’m uncomfortable, my energy levels are lower, my hormones are different, my dietary requirements are different. Not a lot of coaches take the time to educate themselves about this so then it is our responsibility to tell them and it’s up to them if they listen. There is definitely a big difference in the way I need to approach training and the way I need to be coached. Even the way my emotions work compared to guys is different. I think the approach in coaching and how the facilities need to be adapted to suit (everyone, are factors that need to be addressed).”
“There are a lot of things that can be done to make a difference. I think even having my little playpen up with some toys for Odin that I have at the gym so he can come if I have sessions and being made to feel comfortable about that if childcare is not an option. My career is as important as any of the males in the gym so not being made to feel uncomfortable having to bring my child.”
“There are some courses for coaches to go on, on how to approach women training and educate them on the menstrual cycle and how it affects training and safeguarding for women training with men.”
She went on to add other ways that women can be made feel comfortable in the gym too.
“Even around the language being used to teach certain techniques, ladies only open mat, encouraging more people to get involved, even the sense of humour, if it’s along the lines of sexism it’s just not necessary. It can deter a lot of women from getting stuck into training.”
Molly gave the example of how she is having conversations with her coaches about her needs. With it common for coaches to be male, she explained the courage it takes to be honest and say it. She believes that the coaches should be open to these conversations so it comes naturally and all the women in the gym can feel comfortable.
As Molly continues to spread positivity, inevitably, her dedication and knowledge will ultimately play a huge part in ensuring the continual development of mixed martial arts in establishing equal conditions for all.