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‘Our Worth Isn’t Defined By How Well We Do In Our Sport’: Cori ‘Coco’ Gauff Weighs In on Mental Health Conversation Surrounding Athletes

American tennis player Cori “Coco” Gauff is speaking out about a subject that has become a hot topic lately in the world of athletes: mental health.

In a Wednesday, August 11, interview with The Washington Post, fellow tennis player Naomi Osaka sparked conversations earlier this year surrounding the media’s role in the toppling of an athlete’s mental health. Since then, other athletes like the most decorated gymnast and Olympian Simone Biles, Olympian Noah Lyles and more have spoken out about their mental health.

Cori Gauff (USA) waits for service during the first round WTA National Bank Open match on August 10, 2021 at IGA Stadium in Montreal, QC (Photo by David Kirouac/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

Now Gauff is coming forward about her own mental health experience after “watching everything unfold” with her peers. She said, “I just feel like the media and everyone forgets that a mental injury is just as painful as a physical injury. Mental health is invisible, but it’s a very real issue.”

The 17-year-old saw a tweet from Biles, to which she said she was able to relate. The tweet read, “I’m more than my accomplishments and gymnastics.” Trying to separate her worth from her achievements as an athlete was something she “had to work through and deal with,” Gauff said. “I would imagine that other people feel that, too. It’s important for us to know that our worth isn’t defined by how well we do in our sport.”

Last year she talked about being a young successful player and how that triggered her to go into a state of depression. In a self-written Behind the Racquet article, she wrote, “Throughout my life, I was always the youngest to do things, which added hype that I didn’t want. It added this pressure that I needed to do well fast. Once I let that all go, that’s when I started to have the results I wanted.” Between 2017 and 2018, she started questioning her passion for tennis. “I just found myself not enjoying what I loved,” she said. “I realized I needed to start playing for myself and not other people. For about a year, I was really depressed. That was the toughest year for me so far.”

Her youth and her skills were not the only thing that may have brought the pressure on Gauff; she also comes from a family of athletes. Her father, Corey Gauff, was a basketball player at Georgia State University, and Candi Gauff, her mother, was both a hurdler and a heptathlete at Florida State University.

Luckily, her parents always showed their support for her in anything she wanted to do since her years as a little girl. At a young age, they had her take part in every sport — basketball, track, gymnastics, soccer — but when she got a little older she decided that tennis was her favorite sport. When he saw his daughter was serious about her decision, Corey moved his family from Atlanta to Delray Beach, Florida, to get her the proper training.

Corey spoke success and confidence into his daughter from the time she was six years old, always reassuring her that she could be the greatest of all time (GOAT) someday. He told Sportsmail, “She was six years old and I think I was watching the Australian Open. Serena won and they were saying she’s maybe one of the greatest of all time. To me and my basketball friends, we say Michael Jordan was the greatest of all time, or Kobe Bryant was the GOAT. As a little girl, she said ‘I want to be the GOAT.’ So I never changed her mind. Parents talk you out of dreams sometimes.”

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