The headline states: “Tennis Star, Naomi Osaka, withdraws from the French Open for mental health reasons.” The story is, she requested to not speak to the press during the event due to her anxiety and discomfort with public speaking. Instead of respecting her wishes, the French Federation reinstated the rules and slapped her with a hefty fine. Her rebuttal was to withdraw.

So, we are left with a young, incredibly talented, wildly influential athlete forced to stop doing what she loves. As sport parents, coaches, athletes what can we learn from this situation?

The Role of Obligation 

Showing up and participating fully is part of being an elite athlete. That includes during practice on the ice/court/field, in the locker room, the kiss and cry, and with the media. There are a lot of expectations put on athletes to present as role models, ambassadors of their sport, to represent their country in a picture perfect way. In the past, this may have included “sucking it up”, “zipping your lip”, putting on a forced smile, and appearing to have it all together. Present day expectations have shifted as we have awakened to the consequences of such stoic behaviour.

Present Day Expectations

The shift in present day has gone from picture perfect, on a pedestal to “just like me”, relatable. It is crucial to see yourself represented in the sports stars you look up to. The public has come to appreciate this, however, old habits die hard with Federations that go by a book that clearly needs to be rewritten to best fit the 21st century. One way of doing so is respecting, educating on and supporting athletes as they strengthen their mindset. Let’s highlight where we currently are with mental training.

Reactive Approach to Mental Training

As a Mental Trainer, it is refreshing to hear more athletes speak freely about their mental health. However, the approach to mental training has not changed much over the past 8 years that I have been in the field. It is still greatly reactive. That is: we have a problem, now let’s seek help to fix it. Years of reinforcing negative, self-deprecating thoughts can not be reversed quickly or easily. You would never wait until your athlete sustained an injury to start warming-up and cooling down before practice. You assume these are integral parts of training.

Proactive Approach to Mental Training

What if you assumed the mind controls the body and healthy thoughts are as important as healthy food, exercise, sleep? You would identify the key roll mental training plays in you/your athlete’s success, correct? Then you would be compelled to include this training from the get go, arming yourself/your athlete with the tools necessary to build the mental muscle.

So while it is refreshing to hear athlete’s share their journey, we need more representation of what a healthy athlete who does mental training looks like.

In conclusion, let these moments in history provide lessons. You no longer require evidence to prove the mind is a key player in every athlete’s journey. Support and tools are available to you/your athlete. Federations can no longer turn a blind eye. The public wants to see their favourite stars being showcased on the big competition stage all around the world. Mental health cannot be the reason this happens again.

Until next time,

Keep your Brain in the Game

Mind-Body Performance Academy

A Do-It-Yourself online course for athletes, parents and coaches. Mind-Body Performance Academy is a great introduction to mental training through video modules, worksheets and email Q & A.

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