YOGA - THE SECRET INGREDIENT TO SUCCESS IN SOCCER & FOOTY
Yoga scares ManU’s soccer players
When former Manchester United star Ryan Giggs practised yoga for the first time as part of his training routine a good decade ago, he couldn’t believe how hard it was: "It tests parts of your body that you just don’t use in football. The first time I did it [in 2003], I was completely knackered. I went home from the training ground and slept for three hours in the afternoon. I actually dreaded yoga for the first year because it made muscles I didn’t know I had ache, although I know some of the lads think it’s really a bit soft.”
However, Giggs continued his yoga practice and surprised everyone with his speed and overall fitness, even when he got older. In the meantime, he is so convinced that yoga has helped him to stay fit, strong and flexible that he has started to share his practice through videos on YouTube and DVDs, for example, this one:
Giggs Fitness, part 1 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DDeUpK22qhQ
(which is followed by part 2 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=L8VjQmzSA5w)
The Germans’ secret to success
In Germany, yoga was introduced to the national soccer team after Oliver Bierhoff, the team manager and former national player himself, had attended some classes in Munich and found it extremely beneficial in many ways. In preparation for the world championship 2006, yoga became a regular part of the team training schedule – and still is. Renowned yoga teacher Patrick Broome has been teaching the national soccer team ever since - for the past 12 years – and many players, continue practising yoga even after retiring from the team. When winning the soccer world championship in 2014, yoga certainly was one of the essential ingredients to success.
Yoga and the AFL
While in American Football yoga is not an unusual practice, it seems that Aussies are less likely to do yoga as part of the regular team training. At least, we don’t hear much about it. However, training guidelines for community clubs state that the regular game specific training routine should be complemented by other activities.
From the manual: “Providing variation to a program helps prevent boredom and may reduce the incidence of overtraining. Training can be varied by altering; the training environment, training modality, volume/intensity and even performing something completely different such as yoga or Pilates. […] Throughout the year, AFL players will undergo many different forms of training aside from the usual running and weights. For example; boxing or spin classes may be used to incorporate variety for aerobic conditioning and yoga or Pilates may be used to increase flexibility and core strength.”
Teams such as Hawthorn and Geelong have indeed experimented with yoga in the past as an article which was first published in Australian Yoga Life in 2009 describes. Yoga teacher Tim Oddie started teaching the cats in 2007, and it was just the same year when they won the Grand Final. Was is a surprise coincidence or the result of regular yoga classes and individual yoga programs? Interestingly, Hawthorn introduced yoga around the same time – and won the title in 2008!
Geelong is still collaborating with Tim Oddie, and since yoga was first introduced to the club’s players they have won the Premiership two more times, Hawthorn even three more times.
Now, why is yoga so beneficial for both, soccer and footy teams?
The physical benefits
are certainly the most obvious ones. Both, soccer and Aussie Rules Football involve a lot of running. A player can easily run about 10km in a game. This alone is already hard work for the muscles and joints, not only in the legs but also in the hips and along the spine (as you can read in more detail in our post on yoga & running). In addition, the ball is kicked or hand passed, which brings even greater stress to the required body parts.
Furthermore, soccer but especially footy are contact sports, as you are frequently tackled, bump into other players or fall to the ground, either a result of a foul or just because you couldn’t avoid stumbling over another person. You can imagine that after a game the players’ bodies are wrecked!
Long, deep stretches as in Yin Yoga, restorative, supported poses and deep relaxation are best to help the body to recover. Tim Oddie says: “When they lie in savasana [corps pose; relaxation lying on the back] their bodies twitch and thrash as they let go and the energy discharges.”
Releasing tension from muscles and soft tissues and with that increasing the blood circulation in the respective areas helps the body heal injuries so that the players recover faster after an intense game.
Greater flexibility and mobility gained from a regular yoga practice significantly reduce the risk of injury. As Oddie says about his footy stars: “They work to a hip flexion of 45 degrees. If they can increase that to 50 degrees, the chance of injury is less.”
Alignment and core strength which are a core aspect of yoga styles like Ashtanga or Iyengar yoga allow the player to use his energy more efficiently and when kicking the ball or running, which results in better performance on the pitch, less physical exhaustion and therefore a reduced risk of injuries. And since the player relies on his fit and healthy body these benefits of a regular yoga practice must not be neglected.
But Tim Oddie and Patrick Broome both make clear that the athletes’ yoga routine must be adapted to meet their needs. They are careful not to push the team members to their limits in order to not risk an injury. A strained hamstring after an intense yoga class would be a disaster! Individual programs along with group classes work best.
Now, this is already a long list of benefits, but there are even more!
include better stress resistance. Many footy or soccer players experience a lot of mental pressure. There is always some competition within the team as everybody hopes for a place in the starting formation, so if training results are not ideal or you fall behind due to an injury you need to stay positive and confident to make your way back and get a chance to play from the beginning.
During the season, and especially in the finals or in a tournament, expectations are extremely high. Many players suffer from sleep issues as a result of this stress. Yoga helps to quieten the mind, which leads to a better ability to physically relax and, in turn, sleep better.
In a game, staying cool and focused can make a huge difference, as you are able to read the game better and notice your chances.
Yoga also reduces aggression during the game. There is no need to “fight”, say mean things or punch each other as we can often see even before the game.
Mindfulness and meditation as practiced in yoga help to let go of frustration and anger. Recently, I read an article about a footy player (unfortunately I can’t remember the name nor the club) who used to be suspended frequently as a result of his rude behaviour. Adding mindfulness and meditation to his schedule has helped him to control his feelings and emotions, and he was able to play the following season without being suspended a single time!
And finally, yoga is uplifting and creates a better team spirit. Instead of being a bunch of individuals, each fighting for a permanent position in the team, the team members are more supportive towards each other, appreciate the other’s skills and talents and be friends – which makes half the win.
Obviously, yoga has many benefits for athletes in team sports such as soccer and Aussie rules football. I’ve just picked the two because these are the most popular ones here, but of course, this applies to all other team sports as well.
What is your experience? Are you a footy or soccer player or pursue any other team sport? Would you like to learn more about how to integrate some yoga into your trainings schedule? We can help you choose the best combination from our timetable and give you ideas for your home practice.
Get in touch – send me a message. I would love to hear from you!
Carmen Weghaus is a mum-of-four, yoga teacher for over 10 years, and passionate about educating people towards a more holistic approach on fitness and lifestyle. Apart from teaching and practicing different styles of yoga she loves a good run along the local coast lines and participating in running events. Together with her husband she runs Inner Smile Yoga & Health, based in Altona, Australia.
Further reading & resources:
Yoga and the AFL
“Yoga giving athletes the edge”, Australian Yoga Life magazine Issue 53 Dec-Feb 2017
Yoga and soccer
Ryan Giggs Fitness