The consensus from many athletes is clear: postponing the Olympics until July 23, 2021, and the Paralympics until August 24, 2021, amid the novel coronavirus pandemic was smart. Though it gives them a full extra year of training, it's hard news to bear — and the United States Olympic and Paralympic Committee (USOPC) announced on April 3 that Team USA athletes, coaches, and administrators would have access to an external mental health taskforce offering support along the way.
The taskforce, according to a press release, is made up of 13 members originally organized in February. It includes US Olympians, Paralympians, coaches, and mental health professionals (a psychiatrist, psychologist, etc.) who will put together resources and also collaborate with an internal USOPC mental health working group to ensure that seeking out guidance during this time and thereafter is encouraged. The taskforce will meet on a monthly basis and consists of, for example, Rio 2016 Para-cycler Chris Murphy as well as 2010 Olympian and figure skating national champion Rachael Flatt.
Flatt posted on Twitter, "Athlete mental health is a top priority, especially during this time, and I couldn't be more excited and honored to be a part of this team. Time to make sports safer for athletes and support their mental health and well-being. Let's get to work!"
In addition, athletes have 24/7 access to phone counseling through a benefits program, and USOPC sport psychologists are continuing appointments with them via phone or video. The USOPC is also providing "mental health officers" who will facilitate conversations around mental health for athletes and staff.
It's important, no matter who you are, that you take care of your mental health now and moving forward. For athletes in particular who have to put their training on hold and wait to achieve their Olympic dreams — or even qualify for a chance to compete — until 2021, supportive resources are crucial. Like the rest of us, they are learning how to live in a new normal. However, they're also facing a unique experience that might feel particularly isolating or difficult to cope with.
Simone Biles said it best. "We have to stay in shape mentally just as much as physically, and that will play a big factor moving forward, listening to your body and your mind." Come 2021, they'll be back — and this taskforce will hopefully help them do so in a way that keeps them healthy in every aspect of the word.