Last week, the world watched in shock as the world’s most decorated gymnast (over thirty championship medals in her career) took a few uncharacteristic missteps, stood still as tears gathered in her eyes, and perhaps made the most difficult decision of her life…the decision to NOT compete. The decision to prioritize her mental well being and physical safety over the massive expectations placed upon her to sweep the Olympics with gold medal finishes.
Simone Biles says, “I say put mental health first. Because if you don’t, then you’re not going to enjoy your sport and you’re not going to succeed as much as you want to. So it’s OK sometimes to even sit out the big competitions to focus on yourself, because it shows how strong of a competitor and person that you really are — rather than just battle through it”
In order to understand why this is so important, let’s recall a similar scenario that took place in 1996. Kerri Strug stood trembling after injuring herself on the landing of her first vault. Knowing that she was injured, but that the team needed a second vault from her to secure the first team gold medal in history for Team USA, her coach, Bela Karolyi, told her to complete her second vault. She did, and her magnificent effort earned her team their first gold medal in history. However, in the process, she sustained a career ending injury.
What do these two situations have in common? In one scenario, the adults in a young athlete’s life supported her decision and encouraged her to take care of herself, mentally and physically. In the other, the adult in that young athlete’s life let her down. Kerri Strug was encouraged to do something that would physically harm her in the name of glory for others. Where were the adults for young Kerri that would tell her she didn’t need to be the best in the world? That she was already enough?
What does the bravery that several Olympic athletes like Simone Biles and Naomi Osaka have displayed in speaking out about mental health mean in terms of conversations we need to be having with our children?
Our children need to hold the following beliefs to be unequivocally true in their hearts…
3 Things Every Child Needs to Understand About Self-Care
- You are enough, whether you win medals in the Olympics or never win a medal in your life.
Our children need to find acceptance in their true selves, leaning not on the accolades from the world, but rather in the quiet belief that their existence in the world makes it a better place.
- You get one body in this life. Take care of it.
The way you treat your body affects how well it functions throughout your life. Every choice you make, from the foods you eat to the environment you spend time in, affects your body in one way or another.
- Sometimes courage is not pushing through. Sometimes courage is stepping away.
Simone Biles had a choice. She could push through with the weight of the world’s expectations on her shoulders, knowing she was not in the right headspace to compete, and risk possibly injuring herself in a way that would alter her life goals past gymnastics and Olympic glory. OR, she could choose to prioritize her health and unsubscribe from the weight of other’s opinions, knowing that there is a life post gymnastics for her.
And perhaps the most important…
Simone Biles chose the latter, and the adults in her life fully supported her right to do so. This is the gift we need to give our children. We need to empower them to make the decision to step away when it is in the best interest of preserving mental or physical health.
Before the last few years, mental health discussions were not at the forefront of media coverage. I, for one, am proud of the way that public figures like Olympic athletes and entertainers are using their platforms to promote mental well being.
As parents, these messages are important to draw our children’s attention to. As much as we would like to think that our influence alone is enough for our children, they will undoubtedly be influenced by the media as well. The best we can do is point them in the direction of positive role models that demonstrate making mental and physical health a priority.
NPR. (2021). What Simone Biles Said After Her Olympic Finals Withdrawal. Retrieved from https://www.npr.org/sections/tokyo-olympics-live-updates/2021/07/28/1021683296/in-her-words-what-simone-biles-said-after-her-withdrawal/
This blog article is a part of The Lily-Jo Project’s International Weekend of Self-Care campaign which takes place in August. To learn more about this campaign and access additional self-care resources, visit www.thelilyjoproject.com/internationalweekendofselfcare.
Further Resources on Self-Care
If you found this article helpful, check out these other resources on depression provided by The Lily-Jo Project.
About the Author: Brandy Browne
Her education is in early and elementary education, and she also has a masters degree in parenting and child/adolescent development. Brandy is a wife to her high school sweetheart of fifteen years, and together they share three children, aged ten, seven, and five. In her free time, she enjoys reading, gardening, writing, and distance running.