Lexington coaches, athlete talk mental health in sports

LEXINGTON, Ky. (WTVQ) – As debate surrounding Simone Biles’ decision to drop out of the Olympics continues across the country, ABC 36 asked how local coaches and athletes they’re feeling.

“You have to push yourself sometimes, but it’s also okay to take a step back,” 16-year-old cheerleader Abby Henderson said.

Henderson said she had to do before, and would again.

“If I got to a situation where I couldn’t do my full potential on the mat, and I was just going to end up hurting myself or sometime else, I think it would be better to put someone else in if I just couldn’t do it,” Henderson said.

That’s why Henderson said she can put herself in Biles’ shoes. She decided to stop competing in the Tokyo Olympics citing mental health concerns.

It’s been met with a mix of praise and criticism. UK broadcaster Piers Morgan tweeted, among other things: “Athletes are now deemed more courageous, inspiring and heroic if they lose of quit then if they win or tough it out, which is ridiculous.”

Kentucky Cheer Academy coaches Ben Head and Jomo Thompson disagree.

“She’s doing things that humans shouldn’t be able to do,” Head said. “If she’s doing all these flips in the air and she says it doesn’t feel right, it’s not right.”

“Having coached for 20 years, I’ve had to deal with that with numerous athletes, and basically it’s just about trying to put them in a safe space where they feel confident in themselves,” Thompson said.

University of Kentucky Counseling Center Director Mary Chandler Bolin said there’s also an added layer of identity crisis. It’s something Biles alluded to when she tweeted, in part: “I’m more than my accomplishments and gymnastics which I never truly believed before.”

“It’s figuring out who am I in relationship to myself and others, and very often athletes have a long-time identity with being in that particular sport,” Bolin said.

Head and Thompson said they’ve both dealt with that – personally and as coaches.

Now, they say they’re glad they can teach athletes, like Henderson, that their mental health is important, even if they have to take a step back.

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