Jo Prins on Mental Health: “It is Not a Weakness!”

2020 Momentum gsport Awards Woman in Social Media winner Jo Prins recently announced that she would be taking a break from netball - a sport that she loves to focus on her mental health. Photo: Jo Prins (Instagram)

2020 Momentum gsport Awards Woman in Social Media winner Jo Prins recently announced that she would be taking a break from netball – a sport that she loves to focus on her mental health.

So often people, more especially athletes, are encouraged to push through the tough times with sayings like “no pain, no gain”.

This advice can come at the detriment of mental health because this is where physical fitness will take precedence and emotional well-being will take a back foot. The mind and body work together to keep us going, it is important to take care of both.

Over recent years, we are starting to see athletes who are prioritising their mental well-being the same way they would for their physical well-being.

Four-time Grand slam champion Naomi Osaka took a break from tennis to prioritize her mental well-being, Gymnast Olympic and World Champion Simone Biles withdrew from five of her six finals at the 2020 Tokyo Olympics to focus on her mental state.

A Turning Point for Prins’ Mental Health

Prins described to gsport the moment that led to making this decision to take a step back and focus on her well-being: “We had the Telkom Netball League (TNL) trials at the beginning of the year and after we started, we got in, registered and did one of the fitness tests. Suddenly, I got this overwhelming feeling where my ears are ringing, we were indoors, and the big arena just started feeling small and very stuffy. I felt like I couldn’t breathe…

“I told my one friend next to me that I need to go outside. This was a friend who was aware of my mental health challenges and she understood. She accompanied me outside and the moment I stepped outside; I threw up. This has never happened to me before. This was the beginning of me realizing how bad it has become,” she continued.

“I went to therapy and explained to my therapist that I am not happy right now. Nothing sparks joy at this stage and that was when we made the decision. Even if the thing that you love most and has been consistent in your life which has been able to pull you out of a rut has now inflicted anxiety and negative emotions around it, then you know it has reached a point where I need to pause and I need to take the time to deal with it properly instead of just shutting it down.”

This sparked a journey of self-discovery for Prins outside of the netball court: “It was a daunting experience for me in the beginning. I was extremely scared, and I felt lost. Growing up, I used to be quite self-assured and I backed myself. I knew where I wanted to go and had all these ideas for my life. So much of my identity was wrapped in my netball career so much so that when things started faltering even on the netball front and I wasn’t playing how I felt I could play – to the best of my ability.

“That is the thing that was triggering to me for everything else. I was so in my mind about everything. I started questioning my ability and every single thing. I then asked myself, who am I? The one thing that gave me my identity is not there anymore. Who am I if I am not Jo the netball player? As I have been on the journey, I realized that actually, this is an exciting phase of my life, a whole new chapter. This is not supposed to be daunting; I am not failing because I am finding myself at this stage. This is just the journey that I am on. This is just life. I have learned the hard way that letting go is actually the best thing you can do sometimes.”

The 26-year-old highlighted the importance of having a good supporting structure within your team and your organization.

“I was very fortunate to have a good relationship with the Fireballs coach from last year. I felt comfortable enough to reach out to her to let her know that I am finding myself in this very tough spot right now. She honestly went above and beyond to support me and be there for me on both a professional and personal level.

“She never made me feel like I wasn’t worthy, or I couldn’t say that I was struggling. She treated me like a human being. She saw me as a person and not just as an athlete.”

The netball star shared how reassuring it was to know that the sport and the organization will be ready and waiting for her return when she is ready, whether as a player, coach or even a commentator.

Having the netball community’s support has given her the validation she needed to commit to her healing journey.

Prins shares some encouraging words for athletes who may be experiencing symptoms: “One of the things that keep athletes from speaking up and admitting that they are struggling with their mental health is the shame and stigma attached to it and what I am saying with my message is that it is okay. You are not alone. You can get help; it is not a weakness. You can take that vulnerability and turn it into courage and get the help you need by speaking out. At the end of the day, it will make you a better athlete and human being holistically because we all want to be the best version of ourselves.”

In #gsportLive’s Monday interview with Banyana Banyana head coach, Desiree Ellis weighed in on how we can support our loved ones with their mental health.

“We mustn’t be afraid to reach out because nobody knows what we are facing, nobody knows what we are going through. I think it is so important that if you call yourself a friend, to regularly check in with someone.

“We need to consistently do that with each other. A lot of people are afraid to come if they are suffering from mental illness, but we are there. If a person is not reaching out, as friends we should check in on a regular basis just to make sure that everyone is okay. We need to make sure that we help out in every and any way we can,” she concluded.


Photo 1 Caption: 2020 Momentum gsport Awards Woman in Social Media winner Jo Prins recently announced that she would be taking a break from netball – a sport that she loves to focus on her mental health. Photo: Jo Prins (Instagram)

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