Simone Biles: Nothing But Strength

Cortnee White, Mental Performance Specialist
Cortnee White, Mental Performance Specialist

Over the past few days myself and my team have been contacted by numerous news and media stations, friends, and others wanting to know our perspective on Simone Biles pulling out of the Olympics after some mental health concerns.  

For me in this moment as an Athlete Therapist I would like to first address the fear and anger people have expressed about her decision. The fear that we are raising and promoting weak minded athletes. That her choice and other athletes’ choice to take care of themselves is selfish and soft. That she is a quitter and choked under pressure. Simone has 36 medals, 27 of them gold. She spends 7 hours a day 6 days a week training.

Nothing about Simone’s journey of greatness is weak or soft. Her training would cripple most, the trauma she has experienced in her sport and in her life would cripple most and yet she has shown nothing but strength. She had a small moment in her incredible career where she didn’t feel right and did what she thought was best for her and her team. 

Simone Biles addressing her mental health concerns.

Every day I sit with athletes some as young as 9 who come in for mental health concerns or just in need of support while they devote their life to a sport that can be incredibly harsh. Riddled with anxiety, pressures and injuries. Ashamed and angered that they feel the way they do. 

Yet, most continue to show up, break their bodies and be ridiculed by armchair experts over every little thing. Everyday I am amazed by athletes’ struggles and their ability to still be successful and hold it all together. 

Our own fears and uncomfortability with seeing athletes struggle or what happens if we address it has only caused more fear and harm. People’s anger only promotes that medals, perfection, and physical output is all that is important. 

Simone has not been the first nor will she be the last to put her health and safety first over winning a medal.

I am extremely grateful to be in a career that allows athletes to be human, to be broken, to be strong and to be empowered to step back out there or walk away. 

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Dear Senior Athlete…

I was lucky enough to be a senior athlete twice. Once as a high school player and again in college. I have to be totally honest both times were not the greatest for me in terms of having great stats, winning championships, and going out with a bang. I struggled with this for a while. I went back and forth wishing things might have been different, wishing I had tried harder, and wondering who I would be now. I was hard on myself and I based my last year, the last at-bat, the last catch on who I was as an athlete, overlooking the 10+ years of accomplishments.

Dear Athlete

Dear athlete, you have been through a whole lot especially in 2020-2021. You might be confused, you might be angry, you might be okay, whatever you feel, feel it. Some of you had absolutely no control over how this chapter of your athletic career ended, you can’t go back and change the performance you had or get back the time lost in the pandemic. Some of you may have even found you don’t miss your sport at all. There is no shame in allowing yourself time to process all of it. It is apart of the journey.

I am going to list some things that I wish I had done sooner and it is the same things I help the athletes I work with now.

A senior softball player putting away her equipment for the last time.


Accepting what has happened is more than just saying there’s nothing I can do about it, it is what it is (I hear this a lot). I want to encourage you to develop a new and loving relationship with the experience you are going through. It won’t happen overnight but there is so much more about you, about your sport, about your experience that is going to be more valuable than finishing the season, winning that championship, and going out with a bang. The story you will be able to tell, the character you will build, and the knowledge you will be able to share in the future will be irreplaceable.


This is another area I struggled with for a very long time. As an athlete I wanted to be the best, I wanted to continue to be more successful than I was before, and I had a hard time looking back and being proud of myself. I didn’t become a professional athlete, I didn’t win the golden glove award, I didn’t become All-American. My university probably would not remember my name. These are all things I thought about after my career was over. I reflected on what I could have been and not what I was.

I challenge you, to reflect on your accomplishments, on the moments that brought you joy in and out of the game. The things you have gained and the things you have learned. I have my athletes write out all of their accomplishments, awards, friendships, fun moments, and places you traveled. How you reflect directly influences, your thoughts, your emotions, and your behaviors moving forward.

Athlete and…

All of the skills and conversations I share with my athletes are in some way helping them understand themselves better. After we are done being athletes there is usually a lost sense of self and identity. After college, I continued to compete in any way I could searching for fulfillment in any sport I could. I kept doing and going without reflecting, without accepting, hoping one day I would just wake up fulfilled. I am by no means saying athletes don’t know who they are but they usually put so much of themselves and so much of their self-worth into what they do that it’s hard to process anything else. Other interests and dreams are put on the back burner for our sports. This can make the transition really hard for some. You are an athlete and so much more.

An empty sports stadium after an athlete is finished with their game.

I encourage athletes to again take some time to write down your strengths as a person, your interests, your values, your world views, and what matters most. You will always be an athlete, and anything else you want to be. I want you to take a step back and start finding you. Your sport does not define you it elevates you to take on whatever comes next.

“Dear Athlete, the next chapter of your life will be as bright and fulfilling as you want it to be. Find you, be you, enjoy you.”-Cort

Cortnee WHite, M.Ed

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