The issue of athletics and mental health gained international attention last summer when Olympic gold-medalist gymnast Simone Biles retired from competition at the Tokyo Olympics. She cited mental health issues that could have posed physical danger if she had tried to compete. Earlier this year, tennis star Naomi Osaka withdrew from Roland Garros and let Wimbledon pass due to her own mental health issues.
Now the ultra-male and hugely popular NFL has started to address the problem as well. Football league players are asking time off to deal with mental health issues. Philadelphia Eagles right tackle Lane Johnson, for example, recently missed three games due to depression and anxiety. Back in the lineup, he told Fox Sports he was “ashamed” at first to talk about his challenge. Today, he urges struggling players to confide in a close friend or family member. “There is always help around the corner,” he says. “You realize that you have a lot more in common with everyone around you than you think. “
Growing up male, “you’re always told to toughen up and suck and stuff like that,” New England Patriots linebacker Josh Uche says in a post on the team’s website. He founded the Josh Uche Foundation to help others cope with the type of mental health issues he faced. He is encouraged. “I feel like the tide is changing and the stigma is starting to ease a bit.”
Calvin Ridley, a star receiver for the Atlanta Falcons, has just announced that he will be stepping away from the NFL for a period to face his challenges. “I need to… focus on my mental well-being,” Mr. Ridley tweeted. “It will help me be the best version of myself now and in the future.”
Helping players be “the best version of themselves” is the mantra of fictional professional football coach Ted Lasso on the popular TV show of the same name. In the second season of the series, a star player develops “yips” and is unable to control his kicks following an accident in which he kills the team’s mascot, a dog. Conversations with a sports psychologist help him overcome his mental block and restore his love for the game – and his ability to play it.
Comparisons to yips have been made with Ms. Biles and her concerns about “twisties,” a mental state in which gymnasts lose the ability to control their movements in the air. Playing with twisties is considered dangerous.
Former NBA star Jeremy Lin, who has faced his own mental health issues, is now speaking to the public on the matter. The causes of mental health issues in athletes can be many, ranging from the pressure of trying to live up to the expectations of family, friends, and fans, to fear of getting hurt or dropping teammates. . Even at the height of his popularity, says Mr. Lin, he “was anxious because I wanted to be what everyone else wanted me to be – a mega star who came on the scene and just broke all those records,” a- he recently told an audience at the Aspen Institute.
In addition to seeking support, Mr. Lin realized that the best mental approach to a sport is to play “for the sake of the sport.” Love of people, love of your team, love of sport. Love will always be the most powerful driving force that you do anything, including sports.
It’s a powerful message for those who play sport at all levels, but especially for professionals who can be dazzled by fame and fortune – and crushed when lost. Professional athletes are wonders of physical well-being. Now the importance of their mental well-being is starting to be seen.