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Reid and Mari Yamamoto take in the action at the Sakamoto Invitational swim meet at Sakamoto Pool on May 28. — The Maui News / MATTHEW THAYER photo

I’m not a sports psychologist by any means, but I get to play one on the radio and in my mind from time to time.

My perspective on sports runs the gamut annually — from Little League baseball in the summertime to the highest level of professional golf in the winter — and that allows me to look at the activities we do and analyze them a bit, for better or worse.

Recent coverage of a couple professional baseball players from the Valley Isle chasing their major league dreams on the Mainland, mixed in with closer-to-home events like the Sakamoto Invitational swim meet last weekend and the opening regatta of the Maui County Hawaiian Canoe Association season today have put a great big smile on my face.

We need these events, these outlets, these goals a lot more than we may have realized prior to the COVID-19 pandemic taking them all away for two exacerbating, long years.

With mental wellness being a major point of emphasis nowadays — and rightfully so — it is important to note that the return of these events and getting athletes back to doing what they love has been a huge mental boost for all involved, myself included.

Maui Swim Club’s Nick Almiron wins the boys 10-under 100 backstroke with a time of 1:27.34 at the Sakamoto Invitational last weekend. — The Maui News / MATTHEW THAYER photo

“I’ve been lucky enough to have really good coaches, all my years, but especially through high school and college,” 2016 Baldwin High School graduate and state champion Haloa Dudoit told me for a recent story on him reaching professional baseball with the Boise Hawks. “There’s a certain way of coaching that prepares you for, like, a professional career in baseball. 

“I feel like coming out of high school, (then-Baldwin) coach Jon Viela — and all the other coaches — they did a really good job of preparing me, in terms of the practices and in terms of mentally getting my mind right for practices and games.”

Fellow Maui professional baseball player Ryley Widell said he is in the best mental place he has been as a pro. The King Kekaulike grad played for two colleges and signed with another, and has been with three MLB organizations — with a stint in independent baseball — since being drafted by the Minnesota Twins in the seventh round in 2017.

He missed a full season with mononucleosis and another due to the pandemic.

Now, the 24-year-old left-handed pitcher is awaiting his assignment from the Colorado Rockies and is, literally, ready to rock.

Lahaina Swim Club’s Maison Alexander wins the boys 15-18 200 butterfly with a time of 2:26.2. — The Maui News / MATTHEW THAYER photo

“Yeah, 100 percent,” Widell said of his mental game being in the best place it’s ever been. “There’s definitely things I battled with and I worried about when I was with the Twins — I just never really talked about them or really knew what to do. Around the end of my time with the Twins, I did seek help with a psychologist and that completely helped me and made me realize this is something I probably need to do.”

Widell added that he has learned a ton about mental health since his high school days in Pukalani.

“The next year when I went to the Dodgers (in 2021) I kind of didn’t really focus on it as much — I feel like it’s just the same thing as taking care of your body,” he said. “It’s a constant, it’s just good to talk things out, especially as a baseball player — you’re playing a game of failure. You’re going to have doubt, you’re human. I still get butterflies, I still have doubt. It’s just the way you attack it, it’s the way that you go about your business of the day. 

“For me, it helps me just to know that I’m aware that it’s there and just know that a lot of times people aren’t thinking the things of you that you think they are. Once I kind of had that (thought), I’m just going to control what I can control. It helped, just big-time.” 

Veteran swim coach Reid Yamamoto led Maui High to boys and girls Maui Interscholastic League team titles in February, something that has never happened before in the same season for the Sabers.

His daughter Mari just graduated from the Kahului campus — her unexpected MIL title in the 100 backstroke helped the Sabers girls to the league title — and she will attend Oregon State University.

At the Sakamoto meet, she swam three events, but the rest of the time she was learning the coaching ropes alongside her dad. 

Reid Yamamoto’s approach now includes a lot more of the mental aspect than it used to — he is a former standout at the University of Hawaii and things have changed since then.

“I think it’s huge, I think this past few years it’s become a much larger part of all sport, all life, basically,” Reid Yamamoto said. “I think that once you’re able to kind of navigate that, you should be on your way to finding success, and even if you fail, how to get back up on the horse, so to speak, and just keep plugging away and just doing it.”

Reid Yamamoto emphasized that no one is going to win every time, and that’s OK.

“I think once you can understand that, not losing but just being aware that ‘As long as I give my best I should be a little satisfied with that,’ then still go back and work as hard as you can, that’s the goal for us,” Yamamoto said. “I’m no expert, but I’ve been coaching for a while and I’ve had many failures. Recently I’ve tried to pay more attention to the mental aspect. We take days off to do team things. 

“We’ll go a little bit lighter one day because I see that my kids are hurting — 10, 15 years ago it was, ‘Nope, my way or the highway.’ Now, you have to take their feelings into account. I don’t baby them at all, but I want them to understand that this is what’s going to happen because of how they’re feeling. … I just make them know that I understand how they’re feeling.”

Yamamoto knows that he is training his swimmers for life beyond the sport.

“Really, in life, you’re going to come across many trials and tribulations, and you have to find a way to get through it,” he said. “You cannot shy away, you cannot crawl in a cave, but if you feel that way, then go seek help. We tell our kids, ‘If you need to see somebody, see somebody.’ The world is way different and I think we as coaches need to realize that as much as we can. The old days are gone.”

Dudoit is the all-time hits leader at Concordia University Irvine and he credits Eagles coach Joe Turgeon with continuing his baseball journey. He earned his master’s degree in coaching from CUI before going to Boise.

“That’s thanks to the preparation that I’ve gotten throughout my years of playing before and that’s something that I can’t thank them enough for because it put me in a better position now to be successful,” Dudoit said of his coaches.

Dudoit admits he didn’t always see the end game when being coached as a youth and in college.

“Even if I didn’t have the success, or at the time wasn’t on board with the things we were doing, like I didn’t see the success right away, sticking to that and them having a plan for all of us on the team gets you ready for this moment, basically,” Dudoit said. “I’ve noticed that going through the practices and the long days — we play every day, we have one off day, maybe, every week or every other week. 

“The practices before the games, a lot of guys are still trying to grind through it with their bodies, but I’ve kind of been able to get through it because it’s something that I’ve done for the past eight to 10 years.”

Dudoit has two younger brothers playing baseball, Haku in junior college and Halii at Kamehameha Maui.

“I just tell them to just stick through it, there’s always a process, a journey,”  Haloa Dudoit said. “They may not understand it right now, but I know my youngest brother is really excited about baseball and he really wants to do it, so he’s going to all the travel ball tryouts in Hawaii and all that.

“Haku, with the unknown of going to a junior college and then having to make that decision to transition to another four-year (school), I just tell him to let it all play out, it’ll all work out in the end for the better. Just stay into the grind and just trust the process.”

Kiki Matsumoto, the Maui Swim Club coach, was the driving force in putting on the 46th annual Sakamoto Invitational meet, back on Memorial Day weekend where it became a Maui sports landmark over the decades before COVID-19 wiped it out the last two years.

“It’s really super rewarding,” Matsumoto said. “The support that we’ve had has been incredible. We had some issues that we had to work through, which is true for any sport, any kind of thing you put on. … Everybody’s worked together really well. (Maui Age Group Swim Association) and the parents in my club have been phenomenal.”

It warmed Matsumoto’s heart to see the meet that was started by legendary MSC coach Spencer Shiraishi come back strong. It takes a village to put on an event like it and everyone responded, further showing just how important our sports events are to all of us. 

“Our club is about half the size that it used to be, so it really takes a community effort to put this on and our parents have been phenomenal, just phenomenal,” Matsumoto said. 

* Robert Collias is at [email protected]


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