Yogi Berra famously said, “Ninety percent of the game is half mental.”
This saying comes to mind during the current Summer Olympics, where we’ve seen superstar athletes like Simone Biles and Naomi Osaka step back to protect their mental health. NBA star Kyrie Irving took a break during the past basketball season, citing a similar reason.
There’s no question that competing in some of the most watched global sporting events on the planet must be incredibly stressful. The more one succeeds, the more is expected of them in future competitions. Professionals who can provide appropriate mental health support should be part of the entourage of coaches and advisors that attend each world-class athlete.
However, champion athletes who pull back from competition because of the mental stress of competing under pressure seem to be unclear on the basic concept. The reason they are there is because they can perform at that high level. These are highly paid professionals who are at the pinnacle of their profession. They’ve been given a chance to prove themselves that thousands of people in their field would give their eye teeth to have.
Can you imagine Tom Brady showing up at the Super Bowl and telling his team he didn’t think he was as sharp as usual, so go with the backup quarterback? Even Brady has his bad days and loses big games, but he always shows up in uniform and acting like he is at the top of his game–regardless.
Baseball players like Jackie Robinson, Hank Aaron, and Willie Mays must have faced incredible stress on a daily basis. Not only were they achieving amazing feats on the playing field, but, like Biles and Osaka, they were also fighting racial discrimination. How often do you think Robinson, Aaron, and Mays told their managers they weren’t up to their normal level of play and needed to be benched?
Athletes should have time off to recover from emotional issues, just as they do from physical injuries. But when an athlete returns to action, they need to show up prepared to deal with the pressures of the game.
Yogi Berra also said, “It ain’t over till it’s over.” Unless it’s over before you start.
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