HOUSTON — Simone Biles is highlighting the tremendous pressure on Olympic athletes. But it impacts teen and even kids in grade school too.
Mental gymnastics, especially on the Olympic level is nothing new for Robert Andrews, a sports psychotherapist.
“Right now, I’m working with athletes from four different countries: swimming, diving, sprint, track and field, pole vault, fencing and gymnastics,” he said.
The founder of the Institute of Sports Performance has told all his Olympians, “No social media.” He adds, “Get off the phones. Uninstall the app if you have to.”
Even if online support far outweighs criticisms, we tend to focus on the detractors. One hundred comments may be positive but the one negative comment? That’s the one we remember.
Artificial perfection is showcased on social media and amplified on traditional media. The sports performance consultant believes, “ESPN does a dis service by showing the 'Not Top 10 Plays.’ Whoever is on the list, is humiliated.”
Teammates make fun of them. Fans pile on.
All that is trickling down to high school athletes hoping for scholarships or college admissions. But it goes further than that. In the last 8 to 10 years, it’s begun impacting grade schoolers hoping to win and advance.
“We see 7, 8, 9, 10-year-olds terrifying of disappointing coaches and parents or having anxiety attacks on the sidelines,” Andrews said.
So, the licensed therapist preaches “filling the tank" or doing something that gives you joy. “These are activities away from your sport that bring emotional and mental energy back into the system.”
When stress and pressure are reduced, he explains, “You don't make as many mistakes. You're more coachable. And research shows athletes suffer fewer injuries.”
And he says, remember why you played in the first place. For the love of the game.