Gymnastics coaches say it's time to prioritize mental health in sports

Posted at 11:18 PM, Jul 29, 2021

LEXINGTON, Ky. (LEX 18) — This past week, there was plenty of speculation as to why Olympic gymnast Simone Biles withdrew from team competition.

After thoughts of an injury, it was later determined she decided to focus on her mental health. Gymnastics coaches in Lexington have applauded that effort and say it's something that needs to become a more regular topic.

"Whether it's coming from the coaches, parents or just the athlete, pressure is something that is just built in with gymnastics," said Natalie White, who is a coach at Legacy All Sports in Lexington.

A former gymnast herself, she found out as a teenager that coaching was more her calling.

"Coaching ended up coming into my life when I was about 14 or 15 years old," White said. "I started with classes and just little ones and I quickly caught on and soon realized that's what I'm meant to do in this sport."

Coaches say they are proud of Biles for focusing on her mental health and it's something they prioritize with their own young gymnasts.

"For Simone to do this and stand up and say, I'm not mentally okay to be competing is huge not only for our sport, but for so many other people that watch gymnastics and other sports as well," said Marissa Beucler, who is a former gymnast at the University of Kentucky.

"Mental health was never really a topic that was discussed when I was growing up," Beucler said. "It was kind of more, get your job done. If you're feeling some sort of way you have to work through that and push through."

That's why she decided to coach -- to make sure this was prioritized among youth athletes.

"That's really the main reason I'm back coaching gymnastics specifically is to make sure athletes have a well-rounded atmosphere and positive culture that they're training in," Beucler said.

Normalizing mental health can start with communication. These coaches talk with parents to know what might be going on outside of the gym.

"When they have a sprained ankle, they have a boot on, they have crutches, everybody can see it," White said. "When it's mental, nobody can see it except for them. So we need them to help us see it."

These coaches are thankful Biles backed out of a gymnastics routine to make this conversation more routine. They also say it's important for athletes to know their teammates will always be cheering them on.

"As long as they're happy doing what they're doing, that's all that should really matter," White said.

"I think it's so important for everybody to get the help that they need and not be afraid to say I'm not okay, because it's okay to not be okay," Beucler said.