Yannick Noah talks about mental health in sports

20.30, 14 May 2022

These pictures, Yannick Noah “hate”. However, they need to be revised to measure the extent to which the problem of athletes’ mental health, which is at the heart of recent news, was already there before our eyes 39 years ago. These pictures are those from a press conference held a few weeks after his victory at Roland-Garros in 1983. Everything goes normally until a question of a “journalist pol” to whom he confided his illness the day before.

Read also – Yannick Noah on JDD: “It’s not only the prize list that counts”

“I needed someone to talk to and I really opened uphe rewound last Monday as we caught up with him during his promotional marathon for the sweet doc who hits Prime Video on Friday (Noah: the importance of winning, by Delphine Jaudeau and Vladimir de Fontenay). And there he pulls the thing out and I crack completely. » The next day, his tears are smeared in the media, making him “dive seriously”.

More reasons to stand up

Noah was then 23 years old and had reached his Grail. He is lost. No more dreams, no need to get up. The void. At night he walks alone. Look at the water under the bridges … “A great depression, sums it up today. My dream quickly came true. Beyond my expectations, because there are common feelings, in addition to victory. This love that fell on me was a heavy thing! From one day to the next it was no longer possible to go for a walk, go to the cinema, to the bakery … I was not ready at all. That was not what attracted me to the idea of ​​winning Roland. I said to myself that maybe I would get more chickens, more wheat, that’s all. Honor, but no questions asked. My number was still in the phone book. »

From one day to the next it was no longer possible to go for a walk, go to the cinema, to the bakery … I was not ready at all

To find meaning in all this he will do “a lot of sofrology” and will go into exile in New York. But nothing will be as before. For ten years his driving force had been to prove that a Frenchman could win Roland-Garros, which had not happened since Marcel Bernard in 1946. An occupation. “When I first reached that goal, it was not the same, even though I had my best position afterwards. [3e mondial en 1986]. The next thing I wanted was a family. But back then, when you had a wife and kids, you were done as a tennis player. You fought for something else, but you no longer had that rage. »

Thirty-nine years later, while still and always the last three-colored winner of a Major, the floor is therefore free. A year ago, the Japanese Naomi Osaka had put the debate on the table by refusing to attend Roland-Garro’s press conferences in the name of her mental health. Since then, American gymnast Simone Biles has shown her flaws at the Olympics. Recently, football player Paul Pogba said he was going through phases of depression.

A taboo subject was finally recognized

Clearly, Yannick Noah has just embarked on the new “pole for mental and psychological dimension” of the Federation (FFT), Judge “very healthy” to “a taboo subject” mental health is highlighted, in addition to sports. Especially in the current context: “If it’s going to go through reputable athletes so that people are made aware that many children who have just spent two years incarcerated with this damn Covid have mental health issues, so much the better. Did we talk about burnout thirty years ago? The term did not even exist. “ He mourns the years of“general ignorance” around the athletes, “this strange feeling that when you win, you have no right to have weaknesses”. He quotes Björn Borg, who stopped playing tennis as a 26-year-old before returning “as a dilettante”. remember “the great descent” by his girlfriend Marie-José Pérec. Was recently tagged by former Australian number 1 Ashley Barty, “who said ‘I can no longer bear it, I can no longer’ ‘”.

The mental aspect is not just about winning. It is to hold on, to survive

“Many athletes have had moments of depression. Today there is a whole accompaniment that makes it not just a matter of hitting the ball. Otherwise you go crazy. Roger [Federer]

, he is of course an ingenious player, but he is in place. The mental aspect is not just about winning. It’s holding on, surviving, dealing with stress, public expectations, yours, this way of living … And yes, the thing I lived it. » If he understands the meaning of wanting “write history” when we share 61 Grand Slams, Noah becomes “fascinated” by the stubbornness of Rafael Nadal, Novak Djokovic and Federer to chase victories. “There is something I can not decode. How do they always stay motivated? They will tell later. Between the lines, we decrypt a bit: Rafa has a kind of unhealthy humility, to know that winning is the least, otherwise he does not feel good. There is a crack somewhere, not negative. He works. Look far, far, far … But it’s exhausting! Admiration is not a strong enough word. »

PSG, a textbook case

The feeling of winning, the most titled French player, has above all moved on as captain of the Blues (Davis Cup 1991, 1996, 2017 and Fed Cup 1997), as well as getting to PSG’s bedside before the 1996 Coupe des Coupes. PSG: this is a textbook case about mental bankruptcy, which inspires him to the extent that he was frustrated after the three European comebacks. “At the level where they are, they need help, slice Noah. It seems obvious to me. There are really positive players, but there are situations where it escapes us. Damn, I get feverish from looking at them because I see them fever. We back up, we do not have that thing. But it works, that. Accidents happen. Three times, on the other hand … You messed up mentally once you made it. But it was not in advance. I do not think there are any psychologists in this club. While sports are the mind. »

Should the Parisian team lie on Noah’s couch? “No, there is better”, evacuates that person whose flow is running as soon as it gets to his club: “The Champions League has been won with twenty players pulling in the same direction, not three. And the coach must have carte blanche. If he feels he has to make a substitution, no one should put pressure behind him. Messi, I like that. But if he’s tired, which happens, he goes out and you play a guy who beats or runs like a rabbit. And then that’s what you win! Seriously, you have to trust your instincts. Otherwise I would never have taken Leconte in 1991. Or put Gasquet-Humbert up in doubles in 2017 … They thought I was crazy. But what? It’s my responsibility, I felt it. Otherwise we do what everyone expects and basta! “ He lifts his big body and smiles tiredly: “Sports, I can talk about it for hours.” At the beginning of the school year, it is with the singer’s cap and a new album that he returns.

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