Going For Medal or Mental?

If anyone were to ask me to surmise the last year and a half I’m pretty sure I couldn’t come up with one word or even one paragraph that would properly Explain the bizarre-ness that everyone has endured. I believe with the delay of the Olympics many people have placed hope then it’s resuming this year would put us on a course to return to normality.

It certainly has given me a lot of time to pause and think. I think about my children, their friends, my friends, my friends children, and quite frankly people that I don’t even know. I watched the Olympics and as one of my very sweet friend said so eloquently “I feel like I have achieved absolutely nothing in my life when I look at these young amazing people and what they are able to accomplish“. But then look at them more deeply and think about them more as people then as superhuman athletes.

As a parent of athletes, I have been surrounded by sports families for years. We all have endured watching our children be injured, go through recovery, return to sport, and now as they are getting older we have watched many decide to hang up their cleats, swimsuits, tap shoes, and move on with their lives. I am glad for many of the “kids” whose parents allow them to have the space to say I don’t want to do this anymore, this doesn’t bring me joy anymore, or I’m just done. And I think about those kids who got scholarships to college and find themselves having to perform in order to sustain their education. And I worry about the pressure that it places on them. Not just from the physical aspect but from a social and emotional one as well.

I suppose it’s not really fair to call them kids because once you hit the age of 16 you only listen to your parents because it’s the right thing to do not because you don’t have your own opinions and desires. But often times we continue to listen to our elders because we believe they know what’s best for us, because they have the history, they have the knowledge, or because we feel that we owe them some thing. How many parents have we watched that live vicariously through their children, pushing their children to be better, to play harder, to be more than they are? I watched a father berate his daughter after a U 13 summer fun soccer game the other week. Through her tears she apologized to him for being “a failure and letting him down“. No child should ever have to say that to their father. Period. Our kids are not successes or failures, they are all works in progress striving hard to find their way, to make their way in the world, and figure out who they want to be. We are here as parents to help guide them, direct them, and make sure they stay on the path that they have started. But our love is unconditional and therefore we should never be calling our children failures. Especially not after a game that means absolutely nothing in the whole scheme of things. Sometimes I think parents inadvertently place tremendous amounts of pressure on our kids in an attempt to help make them be stronger, to teach them commitment, to teach them responsibility, or whatever it is that we think we are teaching them. But sometimes we cross that line and move into the area of the rating, belittling, and doing nothing more than making these kids feel small.

I didn’t hear the news about the gymnast that stepped out of the Olympics because of personal reasons. I have not read articles, I have not listened to commentators, I really don’t know much about it. Not because I don’t have access to this information or because I don’t care, but rather quite frankly, it’s not my business. If someone says they are done and they can’t handle some thing anymore, then we owe them the respect of them knowing themselves well enough to know what they cannot handle. Don’t get me wrong there’s a difference between having a temper tantrum and saying you’re done and making a well thought out exceptionally difficult decision to say my mental health supersedes my desire to win a gold medal in the Olympics. Because how many of us would love to receive a gold medal in the Olympics for anything? Heck I would even consider taking up a sport if it meant I might have the opportunity to experience the Olympics. But I’m pretty sure there’s nothing out there that my ripe old age of 40 some thing that I am fit to do and to be the best at. So instead, I will just lament and write about my opinions and viewpoints in hopes that maybe somebody reads them and it makes them think, and maybe makes them think again before saying something to their child that does anything other than “I will always be here for you“

Working in the mental health profession I have seen a tremendous amount of people struggling over the past year and a half. We are being faced with conditions that none of us we’re prepared for and many of us do not know how to cope with. Many don’t have the resources they need or even know what they need in order to get help. And I’m not speaking of vaccines or medical treatment. I’m speaking of coping skills, social skills, quality time with people they care about, and filling up that emotional bucket that people tend to make fun of but that is so ever present in our lives then when it is empty we are acutely aware of it. It’s funny how the term be kind has become so prominent and popular as of late. Just as it was funny that we had to remind people to wash their hands so many months ago. It is amazing to me that we have to remind people to proceed with kindness. To assume innocence. To give grace. When did everyone become so cold and detached that Amazon had to start selling T-shirts reminding us of general human behavior?

No athlete, scholar, employee, student, friend, partner, individual, parent… no one should ever be pushed to the point where they have to choose their love for self over their love for something that once brought them joy. When we push people past the point of which they are able to cope. Past the point of where they have resources and support. Past the point where they feel that they are able to handle the responsibilities on them, they will crack. They will find themselves in mind numbing pain. They will find themselves distracted by negative self talk. Negative thoughts. And feelings that can be so overwhelming that they are harder than the biggest long jump, longest freestyle swim, or hardest jousting match anyone can imagine.

We don’t need to just be kind to each other, we need to be kind to ourselves. We need to teach our children to take care of themselves both inside and out. We teach them physical fitness but we forget about mental wellness. We forget to teach them how to find good things about themselves other than the size and strength of their bodies. No one should think their worth is only as good as their end time in the 600 m relay, or the number of goals they scored, or whether or not they put themselves before their team because they knew that was what they needed.

So as we watch these Olympiads shows bodies that are able to do amazing things, I worry about who is taking care of their mental health. Who is watching over their emotional self and making sure those are just as healthy and buffed as their exteriors. And as a parent, I want to reassure and ensure that my children know that while I encourage them to strive to do their very best, and to try their hardest, and to not give up. But in the end if they no longer feel the joy or they feel the mental strain is too much for them, that they can stop and they will always be loved.

If we want to prevent ourselves from becoming a robotic society that requires more than T-shirts that say be kind, I think everyone should take a moment to pause. We need to remember that what you feel is just as important as what you think. And how you care is just as important as what you show to others. We are not just muscle mass, we are so much more than that. If we truly want to be kind then we need to remember to not only care for a physical selves, but to keep our sanity and remember our mental health. Because medals mean nothing without healthy mental.

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