Where are they now? • Quieting performance anxiety, Hilo alum Breitbarth finds the good place

  • JARED FUJISAKI photo Even as he was being carried during the celebration of Hilo High’s 2015 BIIF baseball championship, Josh Breitbarth said he was dealing with performance anxiety. Breitbarth is on track to graduate from Simpson College, a Division III school in Iowa, in May of 2021, and along the way he’s learned how to cope with his mental health.

Like a lot of Hilo kids, Josh Breitbarth played baseball growing up and dreamed about playing in college, where he learned the tools to deal with mental health.

The 2016 Hilo High graduate is the middle child of three athletic siblings. His sister Jordyn (2014 graduate) played softball at Wayne State, a Division II school in Michigan and is in her second year of physical therapy at Briar Cliff in Iowa. Jyson (2020) signed to play soccer at Northeast Community College in Nebraska.

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The trio is racking up travel miles in the land of corn and Great Lakes. And the journey to faraway places continued with Josh, who went to Iowa Central Community College and Simpson College, a Division III school in Iowa, where he is set to graduate in May 2021 with a degree in sports administration and a teaching license in physical education.

He has a semester of classes and a semester of student teaching left. He’ll be in his second year of coaching middle school volleyball and officiating boys and girls volleyball, and possibly track and field in the spring as well.

In the Curious case of where are they now?, Breitbarth, 22, is in a good place, especially with his mental health, and living in Indianola, Iowa. He hopes to be an athletic director someday.

He learned that he had performance anxiety, basically, when an athlete has too much stress emotionally and mentally that hinders athletic performance. Breitbarth noted it is common in collegiate and professional sports but starts even before an athlete gets to that sport.

Breitbarth was on a career services panel at Simpson to represent athletes, bringing in former USC volleyball player Victoria Garrick. In the type of stuff that happens in movies, he contacted her through twitter and they’re now in a relationship. She’s a mental health and body image advocate who travels the country advocating for student-athletes’ mental health. When she spoke at Simpson, over 150 athletes were in the crowd.

The coronavirus pandemic has brought mental health issues to the forefront. The social distancing and stay-at-home orders have made life challenging, especially for athletes who are suddenly cooped up.

“This pandemic has brought times that many people aren’t used to,” he said. “Not having their routines, friends, peers to talk with, having trips or big events canceled or sports activities that actually help distract them of their stress,” he said. “So it may be a struggle for many to keep to themselves, which may be their worst enemy. Trying to get routines back, communication lines open, and new ways to cope with mental health is huge.”

Josh passes on what he learned to his siblings. Jyson is a goalie, a focal point in soccer. He’s the last defender and the one people notice, much like an offensive lineman who gives up a quarterback sack.

Josh will text tips and advice to Jyson to deal with the ups and downs of college sports. The best brotherly advice comes from experience.

“I wish I would’ve known now when I was starting my college career,” he said. “So in any way possible, I want to make sure my brother can get the most of this new experience and get that edge of handling the mental side, unlike myself.”

Josh had sleep deprivation issues and put too much pressure on himself to be perfect. He recalled sleepless nights before a game and unable to calm his thoughts.

Cleveland Cavaliers star Kevin Love, who won the Arthur Ashe Courage Award on Sunday at the ESPYs, spoke out in 2018 about his struggles with performance anxiety and mental health. It’s not exactly a tidal wave but more athletes are joining the conversation.

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Josh has learned the importance of breathing techniques and positive thought processes to anything to help boost confidence in performance. The key is to stay away from negative thoughts that cripple performance. He knows BIIF players experience the same type of mental health struggles. The first step is to acknowledge the problem. He’d like to see coaching staffs make the issue a priority.

“This is a new issue that is only starting to gain exposure and be taken seriously, so it will take some time, but if the BIIF could get a jump on it and start helping their athletes gain that edge now, the sky’s the limit for them,” he said. “My last advice for all athletes is to know it’s OK to have struggles with mental health. It is more common than many people think. The hardest part is admitting it, and then talking to someone about it, but once you do it will only get better. So don’t be afraid to say something. Go to a coach, player, teacher, parent, family member and just talk about what you’re feeling.”

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