when champions dare to express their weariness

On March 23, Ashleigh Barty’s announcement stunned the world of tennis and sport in general. A retirement at only 25 years old and at the top of his game, with three Grand Slams to his name, including the Australian Open just a few weeks earlier. Especially since it is not because of recurring injuries or suffering from excessive torment that the world number one decided to put away her racket prematurely. No. Just the desire for something else. Another rhythm, other emotions. From another life.

Nothing says, of course, that in a few years the Australian will not decide to return to the courts. Before her, a few young retirees like the Swiss Martina Hingis (aged 22 in 2003) or the Belgian Justine Henin (aged 26 in 2008) took to the game for more or less time, before hanging up permanently.

→ DEBATE. Should athletes be required to respond to media requests?

But Ashleigh Barty displays, at the time of “pursue other dreams”a relief such that his choice seems most solid, the fruit of long reflection and deep weariness: “I no longer have the physical motivation, the emotional will and everything it takes to surpass myself at the highest level”she explained.

Find the concept of pleasure

“High-level athletes are now better at accepting their fragility, but it is still very difficult to express.notes Mathieu Sissler, fencing master at the Vittel fencing club, also a sports psychologist and mental trainer. We are in a society that is still very performative, and the mythification of the athlete erases in the collective unconscious the idea that he may have flaws. In sport as in the company, we very quickly make this shortcut: if an employee or a champion is committed, invested, he is happy. But, not necessarily. The dimension of pleasure is not taken into account: it is a real subject of society. »

But why does this malaise surface more than yesterday and so quickly among young champions? “Because the requirements begin earlier and earlier for athletesanswers the psychologist Meriem Salmi, long responsible for the psychological follow-up of athletes at the National Institute of Sport (Insep), who accompanies many champions, including Teddy Riner. Hardly detected, children, they are very quickly oriented towards very demanding practices. We must also emphasize the growing number of competitions. And on competition, on the rise in all disciplines, due to the internationalization of sport. All these parameters make the high level more and more difficult and require enormous sacrifices. »

Really support the preparation of champions

Mathieu Sissler does not hesitate to also evoke a generation effect. “Young people today are perhaps more concerned about their personal ecology than, say, the generation of 40-60 year olds who are often their coaches. We see the same thing in the company: the idea of ​​being an ultra-efficient machine is no longer desired in the representation of young people. Ashleigh Barty was winning, but it seemed like she was losing control of her life. Her commitment, she ended up seeing it only as a renunciation of everything else. »

A question of mental health highlighted by these cracking champions – from gymnast Simone Biles during the Tokyo Games to tennis player Naomi Osaka, who is always trying to find a balance or not – like Paul Pogba recently evoking, in Le Figarohis depressive phases.

“We are making progress, but too slowly”

“So much the better that stars are finally addressing the subjectcontinues Mathieu Sissler. It remains that these issues emerge more difficult in sports that brew less money, and that they do not yet lead to major changes in the preparation of champions. »

→ ANALYSIS. Sport and health: these champions who last longer and longer

Awareness of the problem is only the first step, which Meriem Salmi is not satisfied with either: “I am often told: we take care of the minds of our athletes.And, yes, we are making progress, but too slowly. Moreover, today it is still more a question of mental preparation – focused, therefore, on performance – than of psychological support. We need a global approach including mental health because, in the meantime, the suffering accumulates. Changing mentalities, imparting knowledge, improving training, learning to provide psychological support to our champions… A lot of work remains to be done. »

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Naomi Osaka, long-term malaise

For more than a year, she has been fighting. A day with, a day without, this is the daily life of Naomi Osaka since this Roland-Garros 2021 where she had cracked, refusing to answer the media after her elimination in the second round of the tournament, and then revealing to know “anxiety episodes”. They did not let her go, as her tears still testify in the middle of a lost match in the second round of Indian Wells on March 13, after a spectator shouted at her. “Naomi, you suck! ». Today 77e world, the Japanese was invited to the quarter-finals of the Miami tournament (played on the night of this Wednesday, March 30), this time with a broad smile: “I live funny moments in my life”assured the champion with four grand slam victories, which explains “having started working with a therapist”.

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