Updated: Aug 2, 2021
One of the biggest stories coming out of the Tokyo Olympics 2020 (2021) is when one of the greatest gymnasts in the world, Simone Biles decided not to compete in the team competition at the least minute due to her mental health. Simone basically said she felt pressure so great that she needed to take a step back. This is the quote from her interview with reporter Hoda Kotb,
“I truly do feel like I have the weight of the world on my shoulders at times. I know I brush it off and make it seem like pressure doesn’t affect me but damn sometimes it’s hard.”
This young lady is arguably the best all-around gymnast man or woman that there has been thus far in the world and the pressure that she described few will ever experience. As you read this article, many of us will have our own opinion of did she choke or did she do what she needed to do to stay mentally safe. I offer you a perspective of my own and hopefully another way of viewing Simone's decision.
I am an ex-collegiate athlete and I know personally what it feels like to have the pressure to perform on your shoulders. I know what it feels like to have your teammates counting on you to do your job and to do it well. I know what it feels like to have a stadium of fans rooting for you to do your job well, to gain a victory that will be shared amongst the team and the fans. I also know what it feels like to fail out there on the field of battle when your best was just not good enough. I know what feels like to fold under pressure and not perform the way you usually perform. I know what it feels like to not be able to hold your head up before others just because you had a tough game. I was a football player for the University of Arizona, a fullback, a short-yardage power running back whose goal it is to gain a yard or two for the team when needed. We were playing a game against Oregon and I had been playing well, I had a couple of fifteen-yard runs early in the game and the team needed me to gain a yard or so on the goal line to score a touchdown. I could feel the pressure mounting on me to score this touchdown each time the play was called for me. With every failure the pressure mounted and when I didn't score the final time (even though I did everything I could) it deflated me. As big and as strong as I was, I was not able to score a touchdown even when I was given three chances to do it. We lost the game by four points and I felt terrible because on the inside of me I believed I had let my teammates down, my coaches down, my family down, and the fans who trusted in me down. I could not even hold my head up, I felt broken, embarrassed, and ashamed, I have never forgotten the day that took place, over twenty-five years ago. I have had many failures in my life in which I can remember a lot of them in great detail, but the failures I hate and remember the most are the ones in which I felt like I folded under pressure. I wish I had the tools back then to handle the internal pressure I was experiencing differently. With all this being said, I can still say that I have never felt pressure, where it seemed like the 'the weight of the world, was on my shoulders'. I can only imagine what this young lady was feeling at this moment. What an intense moment, but then again, what a special lady Ms. Biles must be to handle that moment which such dignity.
Stress and pressure is a very real thing in most people lives, but most people fail to realize that there is a difference between pressure and stress. In an article written by Psychotherapist Amy Morin, she talks about the difference between pressure and stress.
"While we all face both stress and pressure in our personal and professional lives, Hendrie Weisinger, Ph.D., makes a clear distinction between the two.
Stress refers to the situation of too many demands and not enough resources – time, money, energy – to meet them.
Pressure is a situation in which you perceive that something at stake is dependent on the outcome of your performance.
Stress may involve a variety of problems that lead to feelings of overload. A meeting that runs late, a long list of emails that need responses, and several looming deadlines that need to be addressed may cause a fair amount of stress. But that doesn’t mean you’re under pressure.
Pressure involves feelings--often of an anxious and fearful nature--of a “do or die” type situation. When you’ve only got one shot to get it right--like being at bat in the ninth inning of the World Series with the tying run in scoring position, or a presentation to a client or job interview--you’ll experience pressure."
I am not sure if you caught a couple of the keywords in Weisinger's description of pressure, so I want you to pay attention to the words you perceive.
Pressure is an internal emotion or stress that we bring upon ourselves based on our perception of what is at stake concerning our actions and outcomes!
As I have matured over the years and have become a mental health advocate, I realize we must do our best to minimize the pressure that we allow to build on the inside of us. I also have learned that it does not help to add undue pressure to ourselves by boasting about our greatness and accomplishments while we are in the process of still accomplishing and becoming even greater. No one needs added stress or pressure in their lives! We certainly don't need to heap more pressure on ourselves than we are already dealing with.
One thing I have seen over the years is athletes start to call themselves the GOAT (Greatest Of All Time). This is cute, but it does not carry much weight when they say it about themselves. The greater problem is when the athletes put more pressure on themselves than they already have. Ms. Biles said she felt the "weight of the world on her shoulders". This comes from the weight to perform, the weight to stay the best, the weight to please others, the weight to live up to the GOAT standard. I have never heard Ms. Biles call herself the GOAT, but I did see her wear a uniform in which a symbol of the GOAT was on it. I have also heard many people call her the GOAT in the media. This also adds unneeded pressure because now she is trying to be what everybody expects her to be rather than focusing on being the best that she can be. For the record, she was already great and loved by most before the GOAT comments. Ms. Biles made a comment after she stepped away concerning her and her teammates, “We hope America still loves us.” I thought to myself wow, how it must feel to wonder if you are still loved by a country of people because you fell short of expectations. I know how that feels to fall short of expectations in front of tens of thousands of people, and it hurts but never have I experienced the weight this young lady is referring to. With this being said,
the truth of the matter is that we will all have days where we fall short of our own expectations, as well as the expectations of others!
I don't care how great of an athlete and person you are. None of us are immune to having tough days in our lives and therefore we should not add more undue pressure to our lives. The reason we don't want to add this pressure is that sometimes the pressure outweighs the excellence that lives within us. When we find that the pressure does outweigh the excellence that lives within us we have to learn to step back like Ms. Biles did and get our mental health together rather than take steps that put us in a darker place. I applaud Ms. Biles for her accomplishments and I also applaud her for her courage. The courage to take a step in the right direction concerning her mental health, to show humility and honesty concerning what she is going through, to have enough integrity within to say that this is more than I can handle at this moment, so let me step away so that I will be good moving forward.
Mental health is something we all should be concerned about. Every year in our world about 800,000 people die from suicide. Suicide is one of the leading causes of death in young people. If more people knew how to handle the external stress and the internal pressure better we would start to see a drop in these statistics. It's going to take good people to continue to speak up on what they are experiencing like Ms. Biles and others who are champions for mental health. People who can relate to other people understand that they are not alone in this battle, that there is hope, as long as you are not willing to give up!
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May God’s Love Surround You Always!