I hope kids remember what Simone Biles did — and for more than the mental health benefits.
By pulling out of the women’s gymnastics team final the other night, Biles stood up for herself and her mental health. She’s another high-profile athlete who is talking openly about mental health, removing the stigma, and I applaud it. Mental health has been buried in the closet for far too long.
But my first reaction to Biles’s withdrawal had more to do with her physical wellbeing. She was not in the right headspace to perform well. And foundering confidence can lead to injury.
It reminded me of our friends’ daughter, a ski racer who tore her ACL several years ago in a race where conditions were questionable. The giant slalom course was deteriorating, and racers before her had fallen and injured themselves. It was not a situation that instills confidence.
But with pressure to score FIS points, pressure not to waste money (race fees! travel expenses!), pressure from coaches (perceived or not), pressure from family and peers (again, perceived or not), she pushed out of the starting gate. Then part way down the course, in poor visibility and rotting snow conditions, she crashed. It was her second ACL tear.
Had she said, “Nope, not doing it, not today,” she would have saved herself months of rehab and the mental anguish of being sidelined from a sport she loves. But as a kid, it’s difficult to make this call. They risk disappointing the people they so badly want to please.
But if kids can remember that Biles had the courage to say, “Nope, not doing it, not today” on the world’s biggest sports stage — with the weight of the world on her shoulders, and while carrying the expectations of her teammates and coaches — then maybe kids too can save themselves from potential injury. Not all the time, but sometimes.
Granted, there is a fine line between pre-competition nerves and crippling anxiety. And kids — heck, even most adults — can have a difficult time distinguishing between the two. Perhaps coaches and parents could come up with some questions to ask young athletes if they notice them looking out of sorts on competition days.
Or maybe kids could ask themselves, “What would Simone do?”