Lost Season: High school seniors reflect on suspension of athletics
Flour Bluff’s Julian Burnett, Sinton’s Kaylle Lopez and King’s Orlando Salinas reflect on their suspension of high school athletics in Texas.
Annie Rice, Corpus Christi Caller-Times
She didn’t plan to follow in the footsteps of her family, but then life intervened.
Salinas struggled at Ole Miss, the school she signed to play softball for after she graduated from King. And a transfer to Duke turned out to be just what she needed, not only on the diamond but eventually for her direction in life.
That decision to change addresses opened her eyes to the mental aspect of being a successful athlete and started her on the path she is currently living as a mental health coach working toward her doctorate at the University of Denver with the goal of becoming a sports psychologist.
Struggling for the first time
“I was pretty confident in myself, but because I hadn’t experienced failure to the level I did when I got to the next level and I didn’t know what to do,” Salinas said. “I was hitting a ton. I was fielding a ton. On the field I felt like I cared too much. I was freaking myself out and my body was tensing up. I lost everything I knew. I couldn’t throw the same. It didn’t make sense.”
Salinas transferred to Duke, where the softball team met with a sports psychologist every two weeks and were encouraged to schedule individual sessions. It opened her eyes to what she was dealing with and at the same time, gave her a glimpse of what her path in life could be.
Seeing how much working on the mental side of her game affected her, Salinas felt like that was something she would like to do for others.
“When the transfer came, I was introduced to what a sports psychologist was, and realized I could find answers,” Salinas said. “It doesn’t even feel like a job. I’m just having a conversation with this man and this is what he does for a living. If I don’t see it as a job and I enjoy these conversations, I started to see it as my calling.”
Now the King graduate is working on her doctorate in Colorado while also as a mental health coach for a handful of individual athletes in South Texas along with the Texas A&M-Corpus Christi and Texas A&M-Kingsville softball teams.
Her father, Orlando Salinas, now the head coach of the Javelinas softball program brought her in to speak to his team after seeing her influence with the Islanders program, where he was a volunteer assistant under Kathleen Rodriguez.
In 2022 A&M-Corpus Christi had its most wins since 2011 and with a mid-season coaching change last season, Orlando Salinas felt like his daughter could help the Javelinas work through the transition.
“The team mentally wasn’t in a good place,” Orlando Salinas said. “She came in and talked to them and told them they were going to be OK. It was perfect scenario for her and the team. I saw how much she impacted the Islanders and how important it was to have your mind right and how to deal with adversity.”
The field of sports psychology is continuing to emerge as more high-level professional athletes subscribe to the benefits of having a mental health coach. What once was stigmatized as athletes being soft, is now understood as science begins to understand the connection to mental health and physical health.
“Back then there was this stereotype and stigma about people who saw a psychologist,” Salinas said. “It helps now with more professional athletes speaking up. There are brain scans that can show if an athlete is playing with attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and anxiety by the blood flow and how different parts of your brain fire.
“It isn’t just someone being ‘soft’ it is actually something in your brain that is affecting your body. If the mind isn’t right, it doesn’t matter how hard you push yourself, how many hours you put in, it is not going to turn out how you want it to.”
Salinas’ own struggles and battle to overcome her issues help her connect with some athletes, and not just on the softball field. She currently works with 10-15 athletes a week, including golfers, gymnasts, volleyball players and other athletes from various sports as young as 9 and all the way up to current college students in Division I.
Making an impact
“It has been exciting and eye-opening. My whole goal was to help people,” Salinas said. “I didn’t know how big it was going to get or how fast I was going to be able to do that. Immediately coming out of my master’s program and even in the middle of it, I was having people ask me in the Coastal Bend, ‘Hey, can you help me out?’
“I started working with athletes then and it started to spread word of mouth.”
Orlando Salinas said that his father Hector understood the connection between mental health and success on the field before it was recognized and science and now his daughter continues to help others.
“My dad always had a saying: ‘A happy player is a productive player,’ ” Orlando Salinas said. “That is what I feel Dominique’s secret is. She helps players feel comfortable and positive about themselves and you see results on the field.
“I’m proud of the impact she is making with so many people.”
Even though she did not set out to become a coach, Salinas found a path that keeps her involved in athletics and allows her to help others who are dealing with she once did.
“I think this is starting to become a vital part of sports,” Salinas said. “I may be biased, because this is something I enjoy, but we are hearing about these conversations more and more from athletes that have a platform. Now it is trickling down and it is really exciting.”