Experts Look at What’s Ahead for Hawai‘i’s Student Athletes in “Life Interrupted: Sports”
The third segment in our free talk-story webinar focuses on next steps and coping strategies for students, coaches and families, and also addresses the question, what will happen to those high fives?
When the pandemic forced all of us to call a timeout, sports coaches, counselors, students and administrators shifted their attention to navigating life with much less structure. A panel of sports specialists told the audience of HONOLULU Magazine’s webinar that communicating—especially about things we can’t control—makes a critical difference.
David Matlin, director of athletics of the University of Hawai‘i at Mānoa, now spends every day working on the logistics of safely restarting sports. “We focus on core values,” he says, making sure students have access to what they need for their education, for counseling and for moving forward.
Matlin credits the resilience of players like men’s volleyball standout Colton Cowell, a senior whose season was cut short while the team was ranked second in the nation. Cowell, who already earned a bachelor’s degree in economics, has opted to return next year to play while he pursues a graduate certificate in renewable energy and island sustainability.
Cowell says the sudden end to games brought a mix of remorse “and having a feeling of no control.” He says teammates stayed in touch with calls and Zoom meetings to help share support, “keep positive” and hold each other accountable.
In our latest HONOLULU Magazine webinar, moderated by veteran ESPN Honolulu sportscaster Bobby Curran, we met up with experts from Hawai‘i high school and college sports programs, an award-winning UH men’s volleyball player and a sports psychologist to grapple with the well-being of the students and the challenge of the next steps.
Chris Chun serves as executive director of the Hawai‘i High School Athletic Association. He’s also an attorney and a parent who coaches his children in baseball and soccer. “I got to see the impact on all three things at once.”
Chun is monitoring health and sports news, studying all available resources for the restarting of games and weighing the importance of education-based sports. It is important not to let the fact that people had to stay physically distant leave students socially distant. “We will have our work cut out for us,” he said.
Anne Weese, director of mental wellness and sport psychology at Kansas State Athletics, notes that athletes have proven more resilient than before through this chaotic time. But she also reminds them—and all of us—to expect strong and changing emotions that can include anger, denial, grief, feeling “terribly sad” or even relieved.
Weese cites the NCAA Student-Athlete COVID-19 Well-being Study, which surveyed 37,000 athletes to examine the impact of COVID-19 on their current physical and mental well-being. The study found a majority experienced high rates of mental distress during the pandemic. More than a third had difficulty sleeping, more than a quarter experienced sadness and a sense of loss, and 1 in 12 reported feeling so depressed that it’s been difficult to function.
She’s been impressed that more students are reaching out: “If you need help, ask for help.”
We recorded the one-hour talk story session so you can watch it or share it (see, below). Here are some of the other highlights.
Cowell, who is from Makawao on Maui, says players will feel the impact of not being able to play in front of the community of fans that strongly support then. Cowell says his main message is “practice patience” as we all deal with forces we can’t control.
A webinar viewer asked how to motivate students who have been stuck indoors to put down their computer devices, get outside and be more active. To avoid turning that advice into an argument, Weese recommends gradually phasing in boundaries. Decrease screen time by 30 minutes and then by an hour. If a low-key approach doesn’t work, families can shut off the wifi, she added.
Chun agreed and jokingly added a potentially more alarming threat: “Tell them if they’re not getting out of the house, they’ll be turning into their parents.”
All the panelists agreed that many common sports traditions are being questioned as teams try to replace celebratory hugs and high fives with fist bumps or elbow taps. Weese has seen some sports resume without the traditional end-of-game handshakes.
The nature of some sports presents tough questions: “You can tackle him but you can’t high-five him?” she asked.
It’s OK to feel anxious. Ask yourself, what am I grateful for?
Try positive coping strategies: garden, read, watch a movie, take deep breaths, go outside, move your body.
Take control of what you can control. Let go of those things you can’t control.
Stay updated on the news, but don’t overdo it.
Connect and check in with others by phone, text, video, group chats or texts.
Remember that we’re in this together, so let’s spread aloha.
Resources and hotlines
NAMI Basics on Demand, Nami.org
Mental Health America of Hawai‘i, mentalhealthhawaii.org
Domestic Violence Action Center O‘ahu, (808) 531-3771, or call toll-free 1-800-690-6200
National Domestic Violence Hotline, 1-800-799-SAFE(7233)
Child abuse reporting hotline O‘ahu, (808) 832-5300, or call toll-free 1-888-380-3088
Child trafficking reporting hotline, (808) 832-1999, or call toll-free 1-888-398-1188
Hawai‘i Psychology, hawaiipsychology.org
ACES Connection Hawai‘i, acesconnection.com