Skip to main content

A Win for Mental Health


Simone Biles was expected to lead the United States women’s gymnastics team to an Olympic gold medal in Tokyo, Japan. But not long into the competition on July 27, Biles withdrew withdraw TOM MERTON—GETTY IMAGES to remove oneself (verb) Mark's injury forced him to withdraw from the race. from the team event.

Biles told reporters that stress had taken its toll. She was not injured, she said. But “once I came out here, I was like, ‘No, [the] mental [element] is not there. So I just need to let [my teammates] do it and focus on myself.’”

GREAT HEIGHTS Simone Biles performs on the balance beam at the Tokyo Olympics, on August 3.


Biles isn’t the first athlete to speak out about the pressure of competitive sports. In May, tennis star Naomi Osaka withdrew from the French Open. She was concerned about her mental health. Swimmer Michael Phelps has long spoken about his struggles. “We’re human beings,” he says. “It is okay not to be okay.”

Athletes are usually taught to focus on winning. They work through pain and injury. But now, sports stars are pushing back against that thinking. They say winning should not take priority over their health. “It’s okay sometimes to even sit out the big competitions to focus on yourself,” Biles said. “It shows how strong of a competitor and person that you really are.”

Are You Okay?

Jill Emanuele is a director at the Child Mind Institute. The organization is in New York City. It specializes in children’s mental health. Emanuele says star athletes are setting a positive example. “The message now is that being tough means paying attention to yourself and making sure you’re okay,” she says.

In sports, mind and body must work together. “You can have an incredible athlete, but if they’re not in the right [head]space to perform, they’ll choke choke SIMONKR—GETTY IMAGES to suddenly lose confidence and fail to perform well (verb) The pressure caused the tennis star to choke and lose the match. ,” Emanuele says.

That could lead to injuries. It’s why Biles did not continue in the team event. Her mid-air twists are dangerous to perform. They require complete focus.

COMEBACK On August 3, Biles displays the bronze medal she won for her balance-beam performance.


Emanuele advises young athletes to “[talk] to people when you have trouble.” That’s what Biles did. And with the support of her team, she was able to return to competition. She finished the Olympic Games with a bronze medal in the women’s balance-beam final.