KAHULUI - From working in a team to getting dirty, the girls who attended the Maui Softball Clinic had a variety of answers to share with UCLA coach Kelly Inouye-Perez when asked what she considers to be the most important question: Why do you love softball?
The three-day clinic at Maui High School's Patsy Mink Field began Friday, and offers instruction to players from 4th through 12th grade.
"I think she's a good teacher for softball. My favorite part of the clinic was getting to meet her because she's from the Mainland and she's professional," 11-year-old Haley Gomes said of Inouye-Perez, who has coached the Bruins since 2007, going 219-68 with two trips to the Women's College World Series, including a title in 2010.
UCLA coach Kelly Inouye-Perez works with Jordan Vierra, 11, during the Maui Softball Clinic on Friday at Patsy Mink Field.
HOKU KRUEGER photo
Having taught at many clinics before, Inouye-Perez says there are few fundamental differences between coaching youths and college players.
"The game is the game. The fundamentals of the game are the same," she said. "There's more on the line the further you get up but my goal is to make sure that they don't look at the game like that. It becomes too big. The differences are that these girls, they're sponges and they have a lot to learn. For the older levels, they just have experience. Experience is something you can't teach."
Friday was a day for defense. Inouye-Perez worked with the girls on fielding and throwing before breaking them up into their specific positions. Each group spent four hours going through drills and practicing.
"I'm excited for tomorrow because I get to learn new techniques and it's fun," said Dayna Siangco, 10.
Inouye-Perez is heading toward her 24th season with the UCLA program - she won three NCAA titles while playing for the Bruins and three more during 13 seasons as an assistant coach.
Inouye-Perez's father was born and raised in Wailuku, her mother in Hilo.
"I wanted to come out here also to send a message that being in Hawaii, you may not get as many opportunities to compete in tournaments, but there are people that have an eye on the girls over here on the island as well," she said. " They work just as hard and I believe their ability to succeed both in the classroom and on the field should be rewarded."
Inouye-Perez knows events like this week's clinic can help players not only improve their game, but also learn about more than softball.
"Life is about opportunity," she said. "You never know what could come of this, whether it is a connection or exposure or they might be able to walk away and hopefully learn something about the game and the bigger picture in life. Everything is about opportunities."