Baseball is what Maxwell Costes does, it’s not who he is

A panic attack once turned into an anxiety attack at the same time for Maryland baseball star Maxwell Costes, and with several other factors the first baseman realized he needed to seek help.

“After, I would kind of sit there like I need some help or something because I can’t keep going on like this,” Costes said. “This gets to a point now where it’s affecting my play, it’s affecting me and my ability to just be a regular human being.”

The panic attack that turned into an anxiety attack occurred during a weekend series at Minnesota in the spring of 2019, Costes’ freshman season. Costes had so many different stresses going on in his life at the time and it all culminated with an attack on his mental health. He had trouble sleeping, trouble paying attention in school and trouble enjoying just doing anything. 

Costes was the 2019 Big Ten Freshman of the Year, and an All-Big Ten First Team and All-Big Ten Freshman Team selection. The Baltimore native also earned Freshman All-American honors from Collegiate Baseball. He led Big Ten freshmen in slugging percentage (.547), RBI (49), home runs (15), doubles (15) and total bases (117). The slugger hit five home runs in the season’s final six games, including three in the Big Ten Tournament.

After the series against Minnesota where Costes dealt with some of his mental health struggles, he expressed to his head coach Rob Vaughn and his hitting coach Matt Swope what was occurring and also that he needed help with it.

“The spring of his freshman year is when it kind of came to light,” Vaughn said. “You look at him and you’re like ‘what are you talking about, you’re hitting .350 with 14 home runs, what do you mean you struggle with some of this?’ Having that conversation and seeing what internally he actually felt and bringing that to the surface was a major step.”

There is a clear stigma within sports that keeps many athletes hesitant from speaking out about their mental health.

“He’s not afraid to express how he feels, which in sports is just not something that is the norm,” Swope stated.

Vaughn and Swope have both been an incredible help to Costes’ improvement with his mental health struggles, in addition to the University of Maryland Athletic Department’s Clinical and Sport Psychology Services, which has been directed by Dr. Michelle Garvin since 2017.

“Dr. Garvin is literally the most wonderful human being in the world,” Costes expressed.

Garvin has really helped Costes learn what mental health is and she’s helped him find ways that work in coping with some of his struggles. In their weekly meetings together, Garvin has helped Costes realize that these struggles did not begin at that Minnesota series, but these are some things he dealt with in high school at the Gilman School.

“Now that I’ve really learned about mental health and the symptoms and effects of it, I realized I was dealing with this stuff all throughout high school,” Costes said. “I had really, really bad anxiety throughout high school, I didn’t deal with stress well and I was depressed. I am glad to say that I figured all this stuff out young, so now I know what to work on so when I get into my 30s and 40s this isn’t something that has been affecting me to the point where it affects my actual physical health.”

Vaughn and Swope, along with Maryland pitching coach Corey Muscara and assistant coach Anthony Papio, have instilled meditation and visualization into the Maryland baseball program. Every single day before hitting at practice, Swope has the players meditate for three minutes to clear their minds.

Swope brings this aspect of baseball to his team everyday because it helped him cope with some of the biggest tragedies during his life. His brother passed away when he was in high school, his sister died from cancer when she was in her 30s and his mother is currently battling cancer. Meditation is something that worked for Swope in getting through hard times, so he brings it for his players to try at practice.

“We talk about meditation and visualization all the time and I think the thing about our staff is that we’ve seen it work,” Vaughn said. “Coach Swope has dealt with a lot of stuff in his life, a lot of pain and emotional stuff. Meditation and visualization are so real to him because it has allowed him to address some of this stuff. Swope has been extremely diligent in saying, ‘if the head is not right, we don’t need to just dive in and start hitting and if the head is not right, nothing else is going to work right.’”

Looking up to Swope and having a great relationship with him has allowed Costes to adopt meditation as a major part of his mental health battle and his routine before games. 

“Right before we come out for infield-outfield warm ups, I always spend 10 to 15 minutes doing mindfulness meditation,” Costes said. “It’s not because I need to stop bad thoughts, it’s not so I stop feeling anxious and stop feeling nervous. It is more so to just recognize it, like ‘hey I feel like this right now, what do I need to do to be able to function the best.’” 

On top of the meditation that Costes does, he also turned to writing poetry as an avenue to help him mentally because it helps him get his thoughts out.

“I first started writing poetry because I had so many thoughts and things running through my head that I could never calm down,” Costes stated. “Sitting down and just writing my thoughts out is what turned into poetry.”  

Writing down his thoughts and feelings helped Costes form a journal that he writes in everyday, which he says started as a joke. Swope signs off on Costes’ journal before each practice or game and they joke that he is signing Costes’ permission slip to go hit. Over time, this became more serious and helpful for Costes’ mental health.

“I think it originally started with him knowing that it’s okay to express some of this stuff and it doesn’t take away from the fact that you could still be a really good athlete and do that,” Swope said.

Swope believes that sometimes you can go too far to the other side mentally and analyze the game of baseball and your performance too much. All of that works hand-in-hand with mental health. So, since the beginning of April, Costes has been jotting down his thoughts in his journal, which helps him express his thoughts and allows Swope to be connected to Costes’ mental health. 

“It’s just as important that he’s been able to start to express himself as a person, but making sure that he still has something that’s applicable to that day,” Swope said. “So I sign off on his journal before every game. He writes down what the starting pitcher is doing or what his plan is going to be and I had to start signing off on it because sometimes it was too cerebral. For his overall maturation and development as a person, I think it’s a lot bigger than just the game for sure.”

For Costes, sitting down with Swope and developing something that he could follow is what has helped him mentally.

“I’m not stepping into the batter’s box like ‘what’s going on?,’” Costes said. “I have a path to follow and sometimes it’s wrong, but at least I have something to base my at-bats on and something to guide me through my at-bats.”

Vaughn, Swope, Muscara, Papio and the rest of the Maryland baseball program are extremely approachable and welcoming in talking about mental health. As a coaching staff, they try to be super transparent and have specific conversations about mental health on a personal level. Costes has been lucky to have coaches believe in him and see what he is going through, which helps him open up more.

Costes and Vaughn have known each other beyond Costes’ time at Maryland because his older brother Marty Costes played at Maryland from 2016 to 2018. This allowed Vaughn and Maxwell to create a relationship early on and Vaughn has raved about him ever since.

“He is an extremely intelligent young man,” Vaughn said. “The dude could have gone to play at the Ivy League schools if he wanted to. Maxwell was very outspoken and very passionate about a lot of what we’re seeing today, before it was a new thing and before Black Lives Matter had the slogan. When he was a freshman I told him, ‘you’re going to change the world and it’s going to have nothing to do with baseball.’ I hope he plays baseball as a profession, but he’s so passionate about more.”

One of Vaughn’s messages to Costes during the early parts of his freshman year has allowed him to be more comfortable with himself as a person and open up more about his mental health struggles.

“Baseball was clearly what he does, not who he is,” Vaughn said. “He didn’t necessarily know that and we helped him grow into learning that and actually being able to appreciate that, so when he does start losing himself on the baseball field he can come back to it. But, he’s always been an incredible human being. He has serious depth to him and he cares about people. You can’t say enough about Maxwell, he’s an incredible person.”