Simone Biles, mental health, & what’s next…

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coaches corner

Hi there, Dr. J, here. Because I work in sport and performance psychology and traditional therapy settings, and in response to Simone Biles pulling out of the Olympics, A friend of mine texted and said,

“I bet you’re going to be getting a lot more calls, now.”

My response:

“I doubt it.”

I don’t NEED Help

In both the traditional therapy side of my practice and the sport and performance psychology side that people are seldom proactive with mental health treatment or performance building mental skill training.

Most folks show up in my office in response to a crisis. They want me to fix something that’s broken, then I don’t hear from them again until something else breaks. Those that never reach a crisis point or have their crisis go noticed often have to white-knuckle their problems, or they fall by the wayside, and drop out of sports.

One reason is that people minimize their need for therapy and mental skills training because other people have REAL problems. A high school or college athlete (or their parent or coach) sees Simone Biles and the pressure she is under, and it’s doesn’t seem comparable.

Another reason is that people don’t feel like they “need” it. Parents of athletes I meet will tell me,

“We will give you a call if we ever need you.”

Or

“He or she is doing ok right now, they don’t need any help.”

That’s off-base. Both therapy and mental skills training improve functioning, contentment, and performance, whether a person is in crisis or doing great. In fact, being proactive in training mental skills promotes less crisis and more greatness.

Attending to mental health and mental skills trainings is necessary maintenance for thriving in sports and in life.

I work with a college volleyball team as a mental skills coach.

When I started working with them, they didn’t know what sport psychology was, and none of them had ever had mental skills training. This is a big school and a Division I program, and they had never had any mental skills training! In getting to know them through teaching how to build the mental game, mental health issues presented themselves. Individual athletes would email me, text me, or pull me aside after practice to talk. The stress of college sports and life, family issues, issues with teammates, and long-standing problems with anxiety and depression were common themes. What we call “small-t” traumas (vs. Big T traumas – in reference to severity using lower case and upper case Ts) were also common and not addressed. Those traumas are a whole other ball of wax as far as the influence they have on mental health and performance.

These are normal kids from good families. To support an athlete who achieves that level, parents spent endless dollars and hours at practice, privates, tournaments, and have 1,000 car rides home. Often, In all that time and attention, a platform to present mental health or emotional struggles isn’t available.

Athletes should receive ongoing training and education in mental health and performance mental skills, and both should be attended to as much as physical skills. They seldom are. They should be able to recognize when they are sliding in the wrong direction. They should be about to see it in their friends, too.

Athletes spend a lot of time grinding. Practice, games, travel, schoolwork, and social lives squeeze every last minute out of the day. Mental health problems fester unaddressed, but athletes suck it up because that’s what athletes do. They keep grinding, until like Simone Biles, they feel like they can’t. In addition to the normal stress of being an athlete, we are all coming out of a year long Covid cave, and things are a little funky with sports, socially, and practically in normal life! 

How will Simone Biles choosing to step down from the highest stage, at the biggest moment, influence athletes?

Only time will tell, but using it as in indicator of the need for attention on mental health is a great way to create momentum toward something better and more sustainable.

I have been shouting from the rooftops for years that intentional and proactive training of the mental game has unimaginable benefits on performance and mental health. Not only do the skills learned create consistent peak athletic performance, but they also help manage thoughts, emotions, and behaviors for consistent performance as a human being!

Athletes and their systems (coaches, parents, etc.) need to understand the basics of mental health, how to maintain it, who can help them, and what skills they can use to maintain it. A foundation to that is mental skills training, they should do that too! 

Give me some time in front of your athletes, coaches and/or parents. I will teach how mental health and high-performance processes work, what to look out for on the mental health side, and how to connect to resources and get help when that’s needed.


I’m Dr J. I operate Mind Right Performance. Drawing on a doctoral education in sport and performance psychology and a master’s education in counseling, I work from a foundation of positive coaching. I provide a scientific, strengths based approach to mental skills training. I offer individualized interventions for athletes, coaches and organizations to help them maximize their potential.

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follow: @mind_right_performance

Email me: justin@getyourmindright.us

call or text at: 210-475-2848

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