Simone Biles, an American gymnast, stood up for her mental health this week when she withdrew from the individual all-around competition at the Tokyo Olympics. Her decision to not compete showed true bravery and incredible courage as she is undoubtedly regarded to be one of the greatest gymnasts of all time.
Upon hearing of Bile’s decision to not compete, it didn’t take long for social media to flood with praise but also criticism. As for myself, an advocate for mental health, I sit back and applaud Biles for her brave decision and believe this is a turning point for athletes everywhere.
The pressures that athletes experience are foreign to the ones who merely sit back and admire the outward appearance of those strong and capable of achieving the unthinkable. Surely, these super-humans are unbreakable, cannot bend when strained, and can continue to pour out what needs to be. Right? Because they are looked up to as heroes. Because they are supposed to keep going on. Because they don’t want to disappoint anyone.
A day before Simone declared she would not compete, her social media post stated that she felt like she “had the weight of the world on her shoulders.” Big whoa. Can you even begin to imagine how that must feel?
As a mom with children now in little league, Simone’s brave testimony to her mental health has taught me one pure thing: If you push, they might break.
Expectations and pressures are put on children from such a young age — I have seen parents in 5-year-old T-Ball throw down with the coach. Yell at their kid from the sideline. Publicly humiliate because they didn’t catch the ball or would rather twirl around, chasing butterflies in the outfield.
These kids are kids. Their impressionable minds are fragile, leaving cracks for mental health problems stemming from an early age. Sports are meant to be fun, to teach lifelong lessons that can be applied in adulthood. It’s also not supposed to be easy, because anything worth earning in life should be difficult. But when the pressure to perfectly perform begins to bog down the fun in what was originally an enjoyable sport, that is when it becomes detrimental. That is when we can break our children.
My lesson from Simone is to check in with my children about their sports. Do they want to do it? Are they having fun? Do they need a break for a season? All important questions to work into open communication with the little people you love most because, at the end of the day, those babies are going to strive to make YOU proud. Make sure they know that sometimes, knowing when to take a step back, is just enough cause to celebrate their greatness.