Select Page

Were you shocked by Simone Biles’ withdrawal from the women’s gymnastics team competition due to mental hWere you shocked by Simone Biles’ withdrawal from the women’s gymnastics team competition at the Olympics in Tokyo? It was due to “mental health issues”.

I was surprised but I believe that a world-class athlete like Simone does not succumb to stress easily, so if she felt it was best to withdraw, I trust that was best – both for herself and her team.  

Some reporters and fans accused Simone of being weak and letting her teammates down, but I  point out: “You do know that in addition to performing poorly, you can kill yourself or really get hurt gymnastics?”

Just because gymnasts make their routines look easy doesn’t mean that what they do isn’t dangerous.

Incidents like these are bringing athletes’ mental health to the forefront of everyone’s attention, as even Michael Phelps said during an interview. Naturally, this gives us parents who are raising student-athletes a lot to think about.

Does my child feel too much pressure?
What exactly is “too much pressure”?
Is he doing this for the right reasons?
Are we properly weighing the pros and cons of competitive sports?
What would he do all day if he wasn’t in gymnastics/football/ soccer /swimming/track?   (fill in with your sport).

These and many more questions might be creeping around in your mind. I often hear parents tell a tale about how their kid didn’t perform well at a meet, explaining the reasons why such as we went on vacation and interrupted her training, she sat out six weeks due to a stress fracture, etc. And often they’ll end the story with “Oh well, it’s not like it’s the Olympics”. The problem is that, even if it isn’t the Olympics, the child might still feel a lot of pressure.

So what are ways you can detect if your athlete is under too much pressure?

1st Constant complaining about training and being tired or stressed.

Constant complaining could be a signal; however, I’d be cautious and not jump to the conclusion that frequent comments about feeling stressed from training translate into unhealthy levels of stress. Some people are very expressive about their feelings and others are reserved; some people have a cheerful nature and others tend to whine about everything; some recognize that hard work is required in any area where you want to master something, others seem to think that things should come easily. This is where knowing your child well comes in very handy! 

I see many parents who are high achievers and believe in instilling a strong work ethic in their kids, and I applaud that. However, be wary of brushing off your child’s comments with a “just suck it up” attitude. Keep a close watch on their words and behavior to see if they might be under too much pressure and need your support.

2nd Withdrawing noticeably

Once again, you are the expert on your child and have a good idea of whether he is shy or an open book, so being withdrawn might or might not be “normal”. What you want to look out for is changes in his usual way of behaving and communicating, since these could represent a red flag.

3rd Being a natural people-pleaser

I remember wanting to be the best athlete I could be for myself, but also really wanting to please my coach and make my parents proud. 

Your child may enjoy certain aspects of his sport (usually hanging out with his friends is at the very top), but in the end, the intrinsic rewards should be driving this baby. 

  • How awesome does it feel to do a back handspring layout on beam and stick it? You are literally flying, you know! 
  • How does a tennis player feel when his serves are coming out like bullets? 
  • How amazing does it feel to steal the ball and run down the field swiftly, then pass it to your teammate, who scores a beautiful goal? 
  • And how does your child see himself when he persists despite going through a difficult time and then comes out on the other side, stronger and more confident than before? 

If he is just doing it because he’s expected to, or for the recognition or the scholarship, at some point, the pressure is going to outweigh his inner drive and ability to manage.

So, continue being the supportive parent you are! I know you probably have a solid family policy on skipping practice, finishing out the season, and everything else, but keep your eyes and ears open for signs of pressure and stress and how it’s affecting your child. Everybody, even Olympians, should learn to identify when the pressure is becoming harmful and be able to take action.