PEI

Why this youth soccer team is trying a different kind of practice

On a sunny Monday evening, just off the side of a Charlottetown soccer field, about a dozen boys lunge, stretch and breath deeply. They're all members of the Sherwood Rangers youth soccer team and for many of them, it's their first season practising yoga to improve their game. 

Coach Jack Wheeler says yoga has improved his team's focus and performance

Erika Killam, right, and the Sherwood Rangers soccer team do their routine at Monday night yoga practice. (Nicole Williams/CBC)

On a sunny Monday evening, just off the side of a Charlottetown soccer field, about a dozen boys lunge, stretch and breath deeply.

They're all members of the Sherwood Rangers soccer team and for many of them, it's their first season practising yoga to improve their game. 

The team's coach, Jack Wheeler, decided to introduce it last summer as a way to get the boys stretching and focused after he noticed them getting easily distracted.

"Some of them weren't focusing on what was going on in the game," Wheeler said. "They were talking to each other. I said 'how do we get them to focus on just being an athlete?'"

Wheeler decided to introduce the team to instructor Erika Killam, and now every Monday night they're incorporating yoga into soccer practice.

"They're so focused. I love seeing them respond so positively to something that is new to them," Killam said. 

She personalizes the practice by incorporating moves that involve using a soccer ball.

'I'm more aware of my surroundings'

"It's good. It helps with leg flexibility and mental stuff. Like if I'm taking a penalty shot or something, just like focus and stuff," said 13-year-old Nathan Wheeler, who's been doing yoga with the team since last summer. 

It's 12-year-old R.J. Acorn's first summer with the team, but he said he already notices a difference in the way he plays.

"I think I'm more aware of my surroundings and taking my time more whenever I'm making plays and I think it's helping me improve," he said.

"It's fun starting out. I think I'll get better as it goes along."

The team often practises yoga with a soccer ball. Instructor Erika Killam says it helps them apply what they learn during yoga to how they play on the field. (Nicole Williams/CBC)

Wheeler said while yoga has helped improved the team's focus, it did take some time getting used to.

"The first evening they were laughing. They were giggling. It was new to them and they were a little bit uncomfortable," said Wheeler. "By the end of the season they were buying into it."

Improving performance

Since then, yoga seems to have paid off for the team.

"Last year we were a fifth-place team and we went into the playoffs. We played the first-place team and we took them to overtime and penalty shots," Wheeler said. 

"All three of our players scored. The other team lost every shot. So we will give the benefit to that focus there." 

Wheeler said the team will continue practising yoga for at least another season. And through this new routine, he said the team has developed a new mantra.

"Just bend over, pull your socks up, take a moment and focus." 

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