The critics and sofa-athletes are wrong about Simone Biles.

August 3, 2021

The world’s best gymnast withdrew from the team and the individual all-around competitions at the Tokyo Olympics for mental health reasons. Social media trolls pounced, suggesting she was weak and letting down her team.
If she had a torn hamstring, would they have demanded she competes anyway?

Too many people misunderstand mental health and the damage of ignoring it.  A torn muscle needs rest and rehabilitation. Done correctly, you are back in action as strong as ever. Injured or fatigued mental health needs the same approach.

So-called toughing-it-out increases the probability of further injury and permanent damage.

Confederate Civil War general John Bell Hood tried to tough-it-out. He’d been in several bloody battles, lost his arm at Gettysburg, and his leg near Atlanta. Hood’s mental health deteriorated while commanding rebel forces in Tennessee in 1864. His army was undisciplined and outmaneuvered. Hood flew into a rage, ordering repeated frontal assaults on dug-in Union positions at the battles of Franklin and Nashville. His army ceased to exist.

General George Patton ignored his mental health in Sicily and regarded soldiers as cowards if they showed signs of post-traumatic stress. He physically assaulted at least two privates. Eisenhower relieved him. Patton got a rest — and he got the message. A year later he commanded the 3rd U.S. Army and won his greatest victories. He never slapped another soldier or showed signs of poor mental health.

As a business leader or solopreneur, your risks of missed opportunities, expensive mistakes, toxic behavior, and burnout rise dramatically when your mental health is fatigued or injured. Get the rest and rehab you need to bounce back stronger, and set the example so that your employees feel the confidence to do the same.

Biles showed courage and good judgment. Had she competed, she could have broken her neck and probably would have damaged her team’s performance. Another gymnast, Jade Carey, got to compete on a world stage in her stead.

I wonder where Biles’ coach was in all of this? Did the coach notice and counsel Biles to withdraw or urge her to tough-it-out?

Caring for mental health, in action:

  • I’m feeling worn out right now and need a reset, please reschedule the rest of today’s meetings.
  • I take a 4-day weekend each quarter and two weeks of vacation every six months so that I can recharge. It also gives my subordinates time to take on new responsibilities.
  • Jim, your response to Joan seems out of character. How were you feeling when you said all of that?

About Author