Simone Biles, Naomi Osaka, and Michael Phelps; Sports Heros and Mental Health Advocates

#parentalliance #tokyo2020 #olympics #simonebiles #naomiosaka #michaelphelps#mentalhealthisphysicalhealth

People around the world have been drawn to their TV screens to watch the Olympics. After the past two years that everyone has been through many were excited to be united and watch incredible feats of athleticism on the biggest stage possible. Arguably one of the Olympians with the most name recognition, fans, and ultimately expectations is Simone Biles. She has been coined “the greatest of all times” and has transformed USA gymnastics and gymnastics as a whole. I, along with everyone on earth, thought that Tokyo would further solidify Bile’s icon status as she continued to wow us with newer and more difficult tricks, and of course even more gold medals. However, these Olympics proved to be a much different experience for Biles, as she has struggled with her mental health and has dropped out of both the team events and the individual all-around event.

Two mothers discuss their admiration for Biles

It is more clear than ever just how iconic, strong, and admirable Biles is. Children around the globe are watching a black woman prioritize her mental health above everything else. Someone who is at the top of her sport, at the biggest competition possible showed us that her mental health and physical ability go hand and hand. Biles has brought the topic of mental health to a global conversation and by speaking on her own mental health struggles she is showing others that it is okay to not be okay, and it is okay to ask for help. After Biles had pulled out and the US team still won the silver medal she sat down with the press to double down on the idea that her mental health comes first, and that when it is suffering you aren’t a better athlete because you “battle through it.”

We asked a Parent Alliance team member and mother how she felt about Biles and she put it perfectly by saying: “If Simone would have broken her leg then it would be obvious that she would not be able to continue. We have to stop allowing people to believe that our minds are a separate part from the rest of our bodies. When it starts affecting us physically then we feel like it is ok to start dealing with it. Good mental health is just as important as physical health. Simone is like so many other people out there struggling to maintain and sometimes what is going on is too much and that is ok.” Below is a tweet that Biles tweeted on Wednesday where she says that because of the outpouring of support she realizes that she is more than the medals and the gymnastics. We always want our children to know that they are so much more than their accomplishments and we are so happy Biles is now realizing this about herself.

Simone’s tweet about being more than a gymnast.

These past two years have caused a collective trauma on everyone, and people’s mental health is really suffering right now. Biles is not the first athlete this year to have to take a step back from her sport to prioritize her mental health. Naomi Osaka, an outstanding tennis player, dropped out of both the French Open and Wimbledon just a couple of weeks ago in order to protect her own mental health from the press conferences that caused her a lot of anxiety. Originally she had wanted to compete without having to go through press conferences because she said they made her second guess herself and caused her an immense amount of anxiety — she just wanted to play the sport she loved. She was then ridiculed and people were saying that was just a part of her job and she needed to suck it up. Below is her statement from Twitter about why it was important for her to make the decision to ultimately drop out of the matches.

Naomi Osaka’s Twitter statement part 1
Naomi Osaka’s Twitter statement part 2

By having this world-renowned sports hero say words like “depression,” “anxiety,” and “social anxiety” she is showing kids that look up to her that it is okay to make their mental health a priority. She is actively advocating for herself and instead of just “pushing through” she decided to pull back and focus on herself and what she needed at that moment.

Someone who has been a long proponent of the connection between mental and physical health, and who has been an advocate for Olympian mental health is Michael Phelps. Not only is he the Olympian with the most ever gold medals, but out of the pool, he has turned his focus to sharing his mantra “it’s okay to not be okay.” The Michael Phelps Foundation not only focuses on water safety but also the interconnectivity of physical and mental health and has created a curriculum of emotional wellness courses that have been taught to Boys & Girls Club chapters and Special Olympic participants. The foundation recently partnered with HBO to help create the documentary The Weight of Gold (available on Hulu) which explored the mental health challenges that Olympians face due to the immense pressure they are under. He is in Tokyo this year as a commentator and his response below is what he had to say about Bile’s decision.

In this interview, Phelps discusses just how important support systems are for Olympians. We at the Parent Alliance know that the need for a support system is not unique to Olympians. Our children need to know that we are here for them and that we support them in prioritizing their mental health. This is a wonderful time to bring up mental health with your children. More than ever before it is a global conversation and we couldn’t agree more with Phelps that it is okay to not be okay. If you are hesitant to bring it up right away be mindful of how you speak about people like Biles or Osaka. In front of your children say things like “Wow they are so strong,” or “Talking about your mental health is so important, Simone Biles makes me proud to be an American.”

From the Parent Alliance, we want to extend a huge thank you to Biles, Osaka, and Phelps. Thank you for putting yourself first and showing children around the world that it is okay to need help. Thank you for being the kind of role models that we want our children to look up to and admire. And above all thank you for using your platforms to further the conversation on mental health.

If you do want to start the conversation with your child but don’t know where to start, let us help. You could download and print out a copy of our Emotional Safety Plan and sit down with your child so that you can both create one. If your child is experiencing some Pandemic Burnout, or Reentry Anxiety take a look at our tip sheets on both of those topics to give you some talking points/advice to give them. As always if you want to speak with someone who gets it reach out to one of our Family Support Partners here.

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