Biles, the greatest gymnast of all time, left the competition floor with a trainer after awkwardly landing a vault. She returned minutes later, hugged her teammates, and cheered them on from the sidelines.
There was speculation she was hurt. Instead, Biles says she wasn’t in the right “headspace” to compete and that she withdrew to protect herself and her team. It’s just proof of how much pressure is put on these athletes, but it doesn’t start with the Olympics.
Dr. Karen DeMoss pointed out the pressures these athletes are facing.
“When you and I go to work, we want to do a good job, we want to focus on what we’re doing. It’s not, ‘if I don’t do well today, I’m going to let the whole world down,’” said Dr. DeMoss, a licensed psychologist.
These pressures are applied to all athletes, not just those at the pinnacle of the sport.
“For some people, it can be just the fear of letting their parents down or their team down,” Dr. DeMoss said.
Dr. DeMoss said these issues go beyond even collegiate and high school levels. Sometimes it can start at the little league fields.
“Some of the younger teams, you don’t get a popsicle if you didn’t get a hustle card. That can be pressure in and of itself,” Dr. DeMoss said.
But the stressors are not always being put on an athlete by external factors like a player or a coach.
“Some people have very high expectations for themselves, and the fear of not meeting those expectations might stop them from doing well,” Dr. DeMoss said.
Dr. DeMoss recommends that athletes find ways to control those inner emotions, and that their coaches and parents be mindful of them.
“The one thing that never, ever helps is to yell at somebody or put the pressure on, that does not improve performance,” Dr. DeMoss said.