In July 2021, Simone Biles shocked the world by withdrawing from the individual all-around event at the Tokyo Olympics. She was set to defend her gold medal win and add to her impressive collection of Olympic medals. Over the following weeks and months, Biles opened up about how her decision to pull out of multiple events was motivated by her mental health struggles. She noted how she felt immense pressure to meet the world’s expectations, which made her physically incapable of performing.
"[Athletes] also have to focus on ourselves, because at the end of the day, we're human, too," Biles said, according to the Associated Press. "We have to protect our mind and our body, rather than just go out there and do what the world wants us to do."
Biles received an outpouring of support from other athletes, like long-time mental health advocate Michael Phelps, and inspired others to come forward with their stories, like fellow Team USA Olympian Noah Lyles.
Lyles won bronze in the 200m at the Games, but his road to Tokyo was rocky due to feeling pressure to perform similar to Biles. He admitted to the New York Times that he dealt with depression, anxiety, and therapy throughout the year leading up to the Olympics. However, Lyles knows that sharing his challenges will ultimately help others start taking their mental wellness seriously.
“I knew there was a lot of people out there like me who’s scared to say something or to even start that journey,” he said. “I want you to know that it’s OK to not feel good, and you can go out and talk to somebody professionally or even get on medication because this is a serious issue.”
Many other Olympians and professional athletes have taken to their platforms to speak out about mental health since the summer of 2021. Their message is clear: put yourself first. Yet, many athletes, especially youth athletes, lack the roadmap that shows them the way to mental wellbeing. For outspoken athletes like Phelps, the time to act is now.
“The most important thing that I see from an outsider perspective is that maybe we can see change,” Phelps told NBC’s Mike Tirico in an in-depth and candid conversation.
“Maybe we’ll actually be able to help athletes. One of the things I’ve been most frustrated with is the lack of change and the lack of support we have for mental health before competition and post- competition.”
Phelps’ call to action is clear: it’s time to change the relationship between mental health and sports. Despite the success in integrating mental health awareness into the cultural conversation, a challenging and essential question remains: what do we do about it?
Introducing a new discussion around mental health
The US Anti-Doping Agency and TrueSport hope to tackle the “now what?” question by introducing a new discussion at their event “TrueSportTalks.” On December 7th and 8th, the virtual and in-person hybrid event will start a brand new conversation around the mental health challenges that youth sports athletes face today.
TrueSport has recognized that as athletes become aware of and navigate through their mental wellbeing, a new set of important questions arise:
- What are the resources available to me, and where can I find them?
- Where can I find a support network?
- How can I apply these tools to my sports journey?
“The Path Forward” event seeks to answer these questions and address the need to equip athletes of all ages with tools they can use to actively put their mental wellbeing first.
“We know that our young athletes and their sport communities are facing challenges like never before,” said USADA CEO Travis T. Tygart. “It’s a critical time to lead through action to help as together all of us in sport can make a difference in athletes’ mental health and wellbeing.
Want to learn how you can support athlete mental wellbeing? Register for “TrueSportTalks” today!
Who will be a part of the conversation?
TrueSport has teamed up with Team USA athletes and youth sports experts to start the new mental wellbeing conversation. Track and& field Olympian Noah Lyles and Paralympian Deja Young-Craddock, and Olympic figure skater Gracie Gold will share their unique mental health journeys and how their athletic careers were affected.
The athletes will be joined by experts like Today Show contributors, Dr. G and Dr. Jen Hartstein, Dr. Kevin Chapman, and other nationally recognized physicians, coaches, psychologists, and influencers. Each expert will bring their unique perspective, stories, and learnings to the conversation to identify the path forward.
“We welcome youth sport influencers to join us in the effort to end the stigma, normalize conversations around the mental aspect of healthy competition, and chart a better path forward,” said Tygart.
How you can join the conversation
“The Path Forward” will take place on December 7th and 8th at the US Olympic & Paralympic Museum in Colorado Springs. All sessions and panels on Wednesday, December 8th are free and open for all to attend virtually. For more information on the event schedule, guest speakers, and sessions, please visit the TrueSportTalks events page.
“We see this investment in the next generation—their resilience, available strategies and toolkits, and mental health and wellbeing— as some of the most critically important work we can do right now to secure a healthier and safer sport culture,” said Tygrart.
TrueSport encourages all involved and interested in the mental wellbeing of youth sports athletes to participate in the discussion. Whether you are a parent, guardian, coach, team administrator, or youth sports athlete, your unique perspective on and experience with mental health can make a significant impact on identifying the path forward in youth sports.
Join the conversation. Register for “The Path Forward: Mental Wellness and the Young Athlete” today!