“Therefore, let us stop passing judgment on one another. Instead, make up your mind not to put any stumbling block or obstacle in the way of a brother or sister.” — Romans 14:13
Story is Context
Recently, I was watching a compelling tennis matchup between world No. 1 Novak Djokovic and rising star Aslan Karatsev at the Serbia Open in Djokovic’s home city of Belgrade. The match began relatively routinely and the quality of play was high. A few games into the first set, however, some fireworks went off nearby, momentarily surprising the players and crowd.
Everyone waited a few seconds for the sudden popping to stop, and play proceeded. But Novak was rattled. Almost immediately, his level of play dropped. You could tell right away that the sound of the fireworks had disturbed him. The commentators wondered if it was a lack of concentration or the onset of an injury, but they never caught on to what was really happening.
See, Djokovic has occasionally spoken of his childhood growing up during the Yugoslav Wars during the 1990s, and the traumatic events he and his family lived through because of that. He doesn’t bring it up often but it is something he has candidly referred to in the past.
As someone who has personally struggled with and spent time around post traumatic stress, I knew right away when those fireworks went off why Novak’s level of play dropped. That sudden popping had induced a flashback; you could tell by the change in his countenance, his irritability on court, and his complete breakdown of focus for the next set and a half. On the changeovers, you could see him doing deep breathing to calm his nervous system and reset his mind.
It was a serious reminder to me that even the greatest athletes are regular people just like us with hard chapters in their life-stories.
May is Mental Health Awareness Month but every day should be exactly that. Story truly is context and every day we should be aware of one another’s journeys. Nobody is immune to mental and emotional distress, and the experiences we’ve had in our individual lives have shaped us in ways only we truly understand. It’s easy to judge one another when we don’t know the full picture, and moments like this drive home the point that we cannot justify jumping to conclusions about each other or our circumstances if we’ve never heard the whole story.
If you’re struggling with mental health issues, please know that it’s completely OK to admit that you are and to take whatever measures are necessary to manage that accordingly. And if you’re a coach or just simply a teammate sharing the court or field with others, it’s important for you to be intentional about getting to know the personal stories of those around you. By doing so, you will build trust between them and you, and you just may end up saving a life because you took the time to show personal interest in the journey that made them who they’ve become.
— Katherine Singer
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