Athletes and mental health experts are rallying around Simone Biles following her withdrawal from competition to focus on her mental health.
“Gymnastics is a very mental sport,” said former gymnast Courtney Maestas. “You have to know how to push yourself in all situations: through pain, through injuries, through stress.”
Maestas owns Texas Dynamics Gymnastics in Plano.
She said she noticed Biles rocky performance and believes a change to her planned vault routine contributed to added stress.
“For somebody to throw a change that big, that fast, to adapt to is definitely going to change the mental perspective of where she was at,” said Maestas.
Dynamics’ manager Jeremy Crawford trains competitive gymnasts and also noticed a difference in Biles’ performances in Tokyo.
“You could definitely tell that it wasn’t her typical. It wasn’t Simone,” he said.
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Maestas and Crawford support the Olympian’s decision to bow out to focus on herself.
“She’s looked upon as probably the greatest gymnast that ever lived. That comes with pressure that most people in the world don’t have a clue what that’s like,” said Crawford.
During a press conference following the announcement, Biles had this to say to other athletes who may be struggling too:
“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,” she said. “It’s ok sometimes to sit out the big competitions to focus on yourself. It shows how strong a person and competitor you really are, rather than just battle through it.”
Josiah Igono is the former peak performance psychologist for the Texas Rangers, sort of a mental health coach.
“We need to remember that Simone Biles is the greatest athlete to ever conduct her sport. And she is also fully human,” said Igono. “The worst thing that we can do is try to dissect things: ‘Ah, she choked.’ ‘Ah, she quit on her team.’ No. No,” he said. “The best thing that we can do is say: we love you. That’s the best thing. We love you. We care for you and we are here.”
The coaches at Dynamics Gymnastics add, this could be a teachable moment for the sport sometimes known for pushing one beyond their breaking point.
“It’s ok to speak up, to communicate,” said Crawford. “Let your coaches know, your parents know, the people around you. Let them know what’s going on with your body and your mental state because it greatly affects what you’re going to do.”
Biles has also opened up in recent years about her past, surviving sexual abuse.
Igono emphasizes he has not spoken or treated Biles, but in general terms explains the impact sexual abuse can have on survivors.
“Some people bounce back and they’re very resilient with trauma, whereas others need more time,” he said. “Certain events trigger certain emotions, feelings that have happened in the past.”
Biles clarified that although the official reason for her withdrawal was for a ‘medical issue,’ she is physically ok.
“No injury thankfully,” she said. “And that’s why I took a step back because I didn’t want to do something silly out there and get injured… It’s been really stressful these Olympic games. I think just as a whole not having an audience, there are a lot of different variables going into it. It’s been a long week. It’s been a long Olympic process. It’s been a long year.”