A Sports Brand Doing It Right: Simone Biles

The Tokyo Olympics are over, but one question remains in the world of women’s gymnastics:

what will Simone Biles do next?

As an MFT trainee, I had a few questions about Biles that I sought answers for.

What was the mental health issue(s) that lead to Simone’s decision to drop out of the Tokyo games?

As Biles entered the Olympics, she was under a great number of stressors. Everyone expected her to win all champion and break gymnastics history. Instead, she stumbled and slid at her first event. We soon heard she was suffering from the twistiesa mental health condition in which gymnasts lose the sense of where their bodies are in midair.

But what may have triggered the twisties could have been an earlier series of tragic events that shocked the sports world. In 2018, Biles admitted she was one of hundreds of women to say she was sexually abused by gymnastic sports doctor, Larry Nassar, who is now in prison. In addition to this emotional travesty, the games were postponed for a year due to COVID, and this delay may have further propelled her mounting anxieties.

What was the “mental health boot camp” that got her to return and claim the bronze medal for the U.S. on the balance beam?

Biles needed a secret place to learn gymnastics again. The Americans called a Japanese professor at Juntendo University in Japan who had a facility an hour outside of Tokyo where she could practice out of the public eye and regain her confidence. There Biles spent the week with medical professionals and sports psychologists. After a week of boot camp she was cleared to

perform on the balance beam where she went on to win bronze and is vaulted by her team members for showing the world that even sports stars can be human.

What opportunities might open up for the Olympic champion now that she stood up front and center to share her vulnerability?

Biles is soon heading to the Gold Over America Tour where she will be starring and touring through 15 cites. After her much needed rest and vacation, here are some of her options:

1. Biles goes on to compete in the Paris Olympics in 2024.

2 She becomes a gymnastic coach and trainer.

3. She can partner with an organization for a cause. Perhaps she becomes a spokesperson for Mental Health Associations.

In Tokyo, Biles said she just wasn’t in the right head space. What she was saying for the first time is that she is just not going to power through it. At the biggest moment in Biles’ history, she decided that her mental health was worth more than the Olympic gold medal she had dreamed of as a kid. At this moment, Biles changed her brand story.

What she may be remembered for is beyond her physical ability. She may be remembered for her willingness to open up and speak about her mental health and emotional vulnerability. By doing so, one can argue she has done more for the sports world than any athlete in history. She showed what it’s like to be human. Her brand is leading the way by showing the world it’s okay not to be okay, even if you are a sports superstar.

If you’d like to dive deeper in the Simone Biles story, check out this New York Times podcast from ‘The Daily” on “The Story of Simone Biles” as reported by Juliet Macur here.

You can hear ESPN’s podcast on the story here.