The older generation would mumble about ‘snowflakes’ and how in sport one just has to have an unassailable mind. As otherwise one should not engage in professional sports at all. But this is clearly not the case. The ‘mind of steel’ needs some TLC too and can’t always be so steely, because we humans are simply not robots.
From Naomi Osaka to Simone Biles, the relationship between mental health and high pressured sports has been widely discussed. What can we learn from these world class sportswomen? How can they stop when they are on top of their game? And when is it really time to say ‘enough’?
Ranked number one worldwide by the Women’s Tennis Association, Naomi Osaka’s skill is undeniable. She is known for her blazing forehand on the court, and her social activism off it, having been a loud supporter of the BLM movement last year. Osaka’s reputation is so amazing that she has a Barbie doll modelled after her and was asked to ‘light the cauldron’ of the Tokyo Olympics, an honour not many of us can even dream of. But, despite this unbridled talent, Osaka’s has struggled openly with mental health issues for a while now.
After winning the first round of the French Open this year, Osaka declined to give a press conference due to poor mental health, and the young star was fined $15,000 by the organisers, instead of being supported. Tweeting that “anger is a lack of understanding. Change makes people uncomfortable”, Osaka’s frustration with the anger she faced for not ‘doing’ her press conferences is clear. For Osaka, sitting in press conferences can conjure up doubts about her own ability, and she finds she is often asked the same questions by the media over and over again, which – she says - damage her mental health, as they often focus on the negative rather than the positive. So, Osaka’s obvious answer was to quit conferences altogether and avoid these prying questions.
This decision that did not win her fans among the press corps but was strongly supported by her sponsors as well as by her fans on her own platform. Possibly, this is anyhow the way of the future, where athletes control their own media feeds via their own social media accounts rather than relying on the press as we know it.