MINNEAPOLIS — It wasn't the Olympic moment anyone envisioned or expected, but when gymnast Simone Biles made the difficult decision to pull herself out of competition during the team finals, something important happened.
"It really is a remarkable moment in sports and one that I hope sparks a dialogue, continuing to advocate for the importance of mental health," said Johnny Tauer, a professor of sports psychology and head men's basketball coach at the University of St Thomas.
As both a coach and a psychologist, Tauer admits that watching the greatest gymnast ever suddenly struggle, and ultimately withdraw from competition, on the biggest stage was agonizing. But with the team finals set to air again on NBC primetime, he says he hopes that parents and young athletes will tune in and talk about what happened.
"I think there can be a range of emotions because this really is, for younger kids, difficult to understand," Tauer said. "It's easier to understand a torn ACL and someone can't compete. Understanding what would lead mental health to prevent someone from competing is harder. I think one of the things we can do as parents is just simply listen and ask questions and also share that none of us have all the answers. Every person's existence, every person's mental health and physical health is unique and different. For Simone to step away, she's the expert, she's the best at what she does and she knows herself better than anyone."
And even in stepping away, Tauer says Biles still showed young fans how a champion can still step up, and lift up, her teammates. The team, including Minnesota's own Suni Lee, excelled in the spotlight to win the silver medal. In the process, they all taught us all a lesson in resilience.
"This is one of those moments where young people can look, and maybe not fully understand why Simone stepped away, but see how she did support her teammates, how they handled this unpredictable adverse situation with grace and class," he said. "At the end of the day, as parents, what more would we want from watching Olympics with our kids? It's great to see someone win a gold medal, but frankly it's going to be those other lessons that are going to be learned that are going to serve most kids. Most kids aren't going to win a gold medal, but they are going to have to deal with tough stuff in life and how do you stick together and how do you deal with that adversity."