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Simone Biles, Naomi Osaka & Serena Williams Are Teaching Our Kids To Be Quitters

Photo: Getty Images / Lev Radin / Shutterstock
Serena Williams, Naomi Osaka & Simone Biles

Three of the world’s most famous and successful sports stars ─ Naomi Osaka, Serena Williams and Simone Biles ─ have one important skill in common: the ability to say no.

In June, Osaka bowed out of the French Open due to mental health concerns. Later that month, her tennis predecessor, Williams, announced she would not be attending the Tokyo Olympics.

Now, in the midst of the 2020 Games, Biles withdrew from team gymnastics before quitting the competition entirely. In a move straight out of Osaka’s playbook, Biles explained that the decision was born from a need to focus on her mental health. 

The unexpected lesson these champion sports stars are telling the next generation is not to keep going no matter what but, instead, to know when to quit. 

RELATED: Simone Biles Continues To Dominate Her Competition — Why She's Being Penalized And Chastised For It

Quitting has its merits and Biles, Osaka, and Williams are teaching the next generation the importance of saying no. 

Anyone who was raised by a pushy parent will know that quitting is rarely seen as admirable, particularly in sports.

I can still hear the words of my own sports coach ringing in my ears whenever I’m on the brink of quitting something: “Pressure makes diamonds.” 

This kind of logic might have even bred some of the greatest athletes but it has also made them crumble. Osaka already told us this, if we cared to listen.

She made it clear she needed a mental health break from tennis, then when she was defeated in the Olympics, she was made to answer invasive questions about the break

Biles had a similar take. The 4-time Olympic gold medalist is as tough as they come and certainly knows how to be a champion, and knowing when to step back might just be part of that.

“We have to protect our body and our mind,” Biles said of her Olympic departure. “It just sucks when you’re fighting with your own head.”

Biles is part of a new generation that recognizes and respects the inextricable links between mental and physical health which Rachelle Stone, a burnout prevention coach, says is vital. 

“Elite athletes understand all too well the importance of not just their physical well-being, but their mental well-being, too. You cannot have one without the other, as much as we as humans have been trying to for many many years.”

Not giving up isn’t always the best thing. 

Perseverance isn’t all its stacked up to be. Kerri Strug will tell you all about it. 

Strug famously broke her ankle on the gymnastics vault during the 1996 Olympics in Atlanta. She completed the second vault in spite of the injury, sticking the landing.

Strug may be a symbol of strength to some but she didn’t actually need to perform on her injury in order to secure the gold medal. Team USA had the score to win without it.

Decades later, the GOAT of gymnastics is a shining example of why putting yourself above your sport is as admirable as the reverse, if not more.

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Osaka, Biles and Williams owe us nothing. 

Williams has been more coy about her reasons for abstaining from the Olympics and in that is another lesson. These athletes owe us nothing, not a great performance nor an explanation for a not-so-great one. 

"There's a lot of reasons that I made my Olympic decision," Williams stated when announcing her decision. "I don't feel like going into them today.” 

Her comments are a reminder to young people that “no” is a full sentence and doesn’t require a further explanation. 

For these women, quitting is a reprioritization of their own needs, something women don’t feel empowered to do often. 

Williams is a veteran in the sport who has been a professional athlete since she was a teenager. Biles and Osaka are 24 and 23, respectively. These are women who face intense scrutiny, and their insistence upon not making every part of themselves public property is a vital lesson for youths. 

As Black women, they are carrying a burden of symbolism, expectations and the entitlement others feel they have to their bodily labor, yet they have made no error in reminding us that they owe us nothing. 

Quitting is a good thing. 

Quitting is an important part of crafting a life that best serves you. Biles told reporters, “There’s more to life than just gymnastics.” 

Without teaching the importance of quitting, we risk raising a generation who remain trapped in jobs and relationships that are decaying their mental well-being.

If we follow Osaka, Biles and Williams’ examples, however, we convey the need to choose what is best for ourselves, even if it rubs people the wrong way.

“As a burnout coach, I applaud Simone Biles and Naomi Osaka for putting the breaks on their physical performance in order to get their balance back before causing irreparable harm to themselves,” Stone adds. “They are helping to raise awareness in a much-needed area.”

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Alice Kelly is a writer living in Brooklyn, New York. Catch her covering all things social justice, news, and entertainment. Keep up with her Twitter for more.