5 Lessons from Simone Biles for Team USA

I woke up on Tuesday morning expecting to see Gold, but all that was on the news was the withdrawal of the star player.

During one of Simone Bile’s vaults early in the women’s gymnastics Team competition, something changed. She didn’t complete the maneuver planned and landed on the mat abruptly and hard. You could see the grimace in her face and the loud sound of the slap of the mat as she then lunged forward to catch herself from falling.

As I watched the live replay later that afternoon, I got to see and hear for myself what had sparked a media frenzy.

All the speculation revolved around a possible injury to her foot she had hurt previously, or a possible nervous breakdown. Worse than that, she was being treated as if she was mentally unstable and unable to continue on.

As I listened to the hot mic after her incomplete vault, you could hear her say to her coaches and teammates, “I just don’t want to do anything stupid.”

As the day unfolded and the pieces of the story unraveled, the context of her comment was clear.

Here are the five lessons Simone Biles showed the world.
1. Gymnastics is a dangerous sport.

If she is not mentally capable of pulling off her best stunts then an injury could end her career. Possibly the most difficult choice to make at the worst time, Simone decided to pull herself from the Team competition to allow someone else to step in and hopefully perform better.

The Olympic committee made it clear that some stunts are too dangerous. In what appeared to be an unfair low score a few months ago, was meant to deter other gymnasts from trying to perform it. Was this simply politics, or is the reality of injury too high of a risk? 

No matter what your take away from the low score for an impossible move, it can only be attempted by the best.

2. The real GOAT made it clear that even the best, have to recognize their own limitations. 

The humblest people are the ones that can admit when they are not okay. Some words posted in the internet felt like she was quitting or not living up to her potential. To them I would say, “Unless you are competing at her level, you have no room for criticism.” 

If anything, Olympians both past and present are acknowledging the truth Simone has been speaking about the amount of pressure this level of  competition brings. As well, it’s not just the challenge but the spotlight that makes it that much more unbearable.
3. The example Biles set for the world watching was how to lose gracefully. 

She knew that the chances of getting a gold without her would be tough but the chances of losing a medal altogether were higher.

What you did see when watching the live replay, or if you were up in the middle of the night, was the support she gave from the sidelines.

She smiled, she laughed, she cheered, she encouraged, she carefully analyzed her teammates routines…she was all in.

If she wasn’t going to compete, she was going to be the teams biggest fan and it showed. What emerged from this set back is a team that found it in themselves that even without their star player, they were pretty darn good.

A silver medal at the Olympics still means you are at the top of your class and respect is always due. Gold may be for glory but silver is the one who brought the challenge for gold to exist.

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4. Simone made a wise choice. 

If she doesn’t compete in the individual competition, it’s okay. Choosing the safety of her body, heart and mind is far greater than trying to prove something that she already has.

I have a hunch that the pressure or carrying a team humbled her, but the ability to compete in a way that doesn’t impact the team is where she can feel some weight lifted off her shoulders.

I’ve been waiting for five years to see this superstar shine and I was humbled not knowing if I could have stayed and cheer my teammates on. I’ve been watching this year with my girls and have been reading books and listening to Simone’s story in preparation for showing them an example of an amazing athlete.

What I got was something far better, amazing sportsmanship. Know when to stop but that doesn’t mean you quit. Simone could have wallowed in self pity and kept to herself. But she pushed her teammates to be their best when she couldn’t.

As a father of two girls who are dreamers, dancers, artists, and strong; thank you Simone Biles for showing us another side of greatness.

Team USA, you got silver and that means you are part of an elite group of gymnasts that are the best in the world.

5. Her decision to back down was based on more than one variable. 

Similar to my last point, the wisdom she used was in considering the variables working against her. I think a major one she mentioned was not being able to have her family there and the stress that we all carry from this past year. She was human that day, relatable and inspiring. It’s okay to not be okay.

Finally, don’t jump to conclusions about the root problem as having been sexually abused. Her emotional wellbeing is rooted in whatever she wants it to be and I don’t think the victim is one of them. Her past hasn’t defined her, so whatever happened today was her looking toward the future. I think it is unfair to put words in her mouth and imply, “She couldn’t compete because she was sexually abused and went public about it.” Don’t let evil have the final say in the face of a personal choice for mental health. Even if this is true, it really is none of our business to make this connection.

I think she will look back and know that gymnastics wasn’t everything. She said so herself in one of her post interviews. It was a great season in her life, but her greatness was not from her medals. They came from her personality, her humility, her tenacity, her courage, her joy, her humility, and the people she surrounded herself with.

I’m still hoping for some great competition on Thursday, but I’m also okay if Simone isn’t able to make it. If she retires, she has still set the bar higher then anyone else.

I am on Team Simone Biles, the GOAT that never asked for it, or bragged about it. The one who simply showed up, and let her actions speak for themselves.

In Truth & Love

Matthew J Diaz

Update: Simone has also pulled out of the women’s all-around competition for a Thursday. She has yet to make a decision on the individuals she qualifies for.

Looking forward to your addition to this dialogue.