I’m by no means a sports psychologist, but I play one on the radio and in my head every once in a while.
My perspective on the sport runs the gamut each year – from little league baseball in the summer to professional golf at the highest level in the winter – and this allows me to look at the activities we do and analyze them a bit, for better or for worse.
Recent coverage of a few pro baseball players from the Valley Isle chasing their mainland major league dreams mixed with nearby events like last weekend’s Sakamoto Invitational swim meet and the inaugural Maui County Hawaiian Canoe Association regatta season today put a big smile on my face.
We need these events, these outlets, these destinations much more than we might have thought before the COVID-19 pandemic took them all away for two aggravating, long years.
With mental wellbeing being a major focus these days – and rightly so – it’s important to note that the return of these events and the return of athletes to what they love has been a huge mental boost for everyone involved, myself included.
“I’ve been fortunate to have had really good coaches over the years, but especially through high school and college.” 2016 Baldwin High School graduate and state champion Haloa Dudoit recently shared with me a story about how he made it to professional baseball with the Boise Hawks. “There is a certain type of coaching that prepares you for a professional baseball career.
“I feel like I’m coming out of high school, (Baldwin at the time) coach Jon Viela – and all the other coaches – they prepared me really well, in terms of the drills and in terms of the mental attitude of drills and games.”
Ryley Widell, a professional baseball player from Maui, said he’s in the best mental spot he’s been in as a pro. The King Kekaulike graduate played for two colleges and signed with another, and has been with three MLB organizations — with one stint in independent baseball — since being drafted in the seventh round by the Minnesota Twins in 2017.
He missed an entire season with mononucleosis and another due to the pandemic.
Now the 24-year-old left-hander is awaiting his assignment with the Colorado Rockies and is literally ready to rock.
“Yes, 100 percent” Widell said his mental game is at its best. “There are definitely things I struggled with and worried about when I was with the Twins – I just never really talked about it or really knew what to do. Towards the end of my time with the Twins I sought help from a psychologist and that really helped and made me realize that I probably need to do that.”
Widell added that he’s learned a lot about mental health since he was in Pukalani high school.
“The next year when I went to the Dodgers (2021) I kind of didn’t focus on that as much — I feel like it’s the exact same thing as taking care of his body.” he said. “It’s a constant, it’s just good to speak things out, especially as a baseball player – you’re playing a game of failure. You will have doubts, you are human. I still get butterflies, I still have doubts. It’s just the way you attack it, it’s the way you go about your daily business.
“For me, it just helps me to know that I’m aware it’s there and just to know that people often don’t think the things you do think of you. Once I somehow had (thought) that, I’ll just control what I can control. It helped, just great.”
Veteran swimming coach Reid Yamamoto led Maui High to team titles in the Maui Interscholastic League for both boys and girls in February, something that has never happened before for the Sabers in the same season.
His daughter, Mari, has just graduated from the Kahului campus — her unexpected MIL title in the 100-meter backstroke helped the Sabers girls win the championship — and she will attend Oregon State University.
She swam three events at the Sakamoto meet, but the rest of the time she was learning the coaching ropes with her father.
Reid Yamamoto’s approach is much more mental now than it used to be – he’s a former University of Hawaii standout and things have changed since then.
“I think it’s huge, I think in the last few years it’s basically become a much bigger part of all sport, all of life.” said Reid Yamamoto. “I think once you’re able to navigate that, you should be on your way to success, and even if you fail, how you can kind of get back on the horse and just keep going, just keep doing it.”
Reid Yamamoto stressed that no one wins every time, and that’s okay.
“I think once you understand that, not to lose, but just to be aware that ‘as long as I’m doing my best, I should be happy with that a little bit,’ then still go back and work as hard as You can, that’s the goal for us,” said Yamamoto. “I’m not an expert, but I’ve been training for a while and I’ve had a lot of failures. Lately I’ve been trying to pay more attention to the mental aspect. We take days off to do team stuff.
“One day we will drive a bit easier because I see that my children are injured – 10, 15 years ago it was ‘No, my way or the highway.’ Now you need to consider her feelings. I don’t spoil them at all, but I want them to understand that this will happen because of their feelings. … I’m just letting them know I understand how they’re feeling.”
Yamamoto knows he trains his swimmers for life beyond the sport.
“Really, in life you will encounter many trials and tribulations, and you must find a way to navigate them.” he said. “You can’t flinch, you can’t crawl into a cave, but if that’s how you feel then go and seek help. We tell our children, ‘If you need to see someone, go to someone.’ The world is very different and I think we as coaches need to recognize that as best we can. The old days are gone.”
Dudoit is the all-time hits leader at Concordia University Irvine and credits Eagles coach Joe Turgeon with continuing his baseball journey. He earned his master’s degree in coaching from CUI before moving to Boise.
“That’s thanks to the preparation I’ve received over the years before and I can’t thank them enough for that because it has now put me in a better position to succeed.” said Dudoit about his coaches.
Dudoit admits he didn’t always watch the endgame as a youngster and in college.
“Even if I wasn’t having success or wasn’t on board with the things we were doing at the time, when I didn’t see success right away, sticking with it and they had a plan for all of us on the team basically prepares you.” this moment before” said Dudoit. “I noticed that we went through the training and the long days – we play every day, we maybe have a day off, every week or every other week.
“The practice before the games, a lot of guys are still trying to work their bodies through, but I kind of managed because I’ve been doing that for the last eight to 10 years. ”
Dudoit has two younger brothers who play baseball, Haku in junior college and Halii at Kamehameha Maui.
“I’m just telling them to just hang in there, there’s always a process, a journey.” said Haloa Dudoit. “You might not get it right now, but I know my youngest brother is very into baseball and really wants to do it, so he goes to all the travel ball tryouts in Hawaii and whatnot.
“Haku, with the unknown of going to junior college and then having to make the decision to transfer to another four-year[school]I just tell him to let it all play out, in the end everything will work out for the better. Just stay in the grind and just trust the process.”
Maui Swim Club coach Kiki Matsumoto was the driving force behind organizing the 46th annual Sakamoto Invitational gathering over Memorial Day weekend, where it became a Maui sport landmark over the decades before COVID-19 wiped it out in the last two years.
“It’s really super rewarding,” said Matsumoto. “The support we had was incredible. We had some issues that we had to work through, which is true for any sport, any type of thing you wear. … Everyone worked really well together. (Maui Age Group Swim Association) and the parents at my club have been phenomenal.”
It warmed Matsumoto’s heart as he watched the tournament, initiated by legendary MSC coach Spencer Shiraishi, come back strong. It takes a whole village to put together an event like this and everyone has responded, showing once again how important our sporting events are to all of us.
“Our club is about half the size it used to be so it really takes a community effort to pull this off and our parents have been phenomenal, just phenomenal.” said Matsumoto.
* Robert Collias can be reached at [email protected]