Mental Health & Time Managment

Published by Susan Zaro on

A whirlwind discussion erupted regarding athlete’s & mental health when Naomi Osaka withdrew from the 2021 French Open. This article by Dorothy Chin & Tamra Burns Loeb provides a nice summary of the issues that have come into the discussion. Look a bit deeper and earlier at the ascent of Osaka’s rise to stardom. She played her first ITF, a developmental circuit for the WTA tour @ fourteen years old. She turned pro at sixteen and had her first major professional break through in 2014 at the Stanford Classic defeating the world #19 Samantha Stosur. Osaka was ranked #406 at the time.

She continued to steadily climb in the WTA rankings there after. In 2018 she won her first WTA title at the Indian Wells Open. Later that summer her victory over Sereena Williams in the finals of the U.S. Open launched her into the mainstream limelight. The visibility of being a recognized tennis star rocketed from there. Point being when a young athlete is ambitiously pursuing an athletic career there is little time to focus on anything but the details of being successful. The routine of preparing, practicing, traveling competing is a full time focused job. Add to this an athlete with a predisposition to depression and anxiety as media reports suggest, it is not surprising that an athlete new to all the attention and demands on her time could become overwhelmed.

For the team around the athlete there is a responsibility to advise and help the athlete to figure out a place of balance. Depression & anxiety are depending on the degree both treatable and manageable. But when a 23 year old new to all the demands on her time and expectations of others is juggling:

*Responsibilities to her team whom she employs.

*Practice & growth as a player.

*Tournament scheduling with almost a year of tournaments.

*Travel, preparation, adjusting to time zones, climates, different court surfaces etc.

*Obligations to twelve plus sponsors & their contract commitments.

*Endorsement, commercials, appearances etc.

*WTA tournament commitments, including attending award ceremonies, tournament events, speaking with the media etc.

*Outside tennis activism.

*Media visibility around her activism. Being a world wide recognizable athletic figure that organizations would like to have her be a voice for their causes & causes that she supports.

*Activism invites criticism when other parties have different world views of an issue.

*Awards & appearances by organizations in recognition of her activism.

Media attention alone cannot be blamed for Osaka’s withdrawing at the French Open. She is a fresh talent with a great future in women’s tennis. Looking forward she will benefit from her team helping to better advise and manage the complexities of her professional tennis career with outside interests. This includes coaching her on the skill of managing the media, being prepared to protect herself during interviews by her replies, having the interviews be time limited. Osaka recently withdrew from Wimbledon and plans to resume competing at the Olympics. It will be interesting to see how she evolves professionally as she attempts to balance her tennis career which allows her the platform to promote interests outside of tennis and prioritize her mental well-being.