Watching 300-pound offensive linemen trying to stand on one leg while they wrap their other leg around their body can be a funny sight.
“You try not to laugh or point it out, but yeah, of course it’s funny,” Gig Harbor High football coach Aaron Chantler said.
Chantler, other coaches and all the players have to do their best to suppress their laughter twice per week in the offseason, when Gig Harbor’s football team participates in a yoga class on the turf practice field at Gig Harbor High.
And it’s not just the linemen who sometimes have a tough time with yoga positions — no one on the team is an expert, by any means.
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“None of us are very good at it, obviously,” said Gig Harbor senior defensive back Marc Fletcher. “We’re football players who do it twice a week, so none of us are very flexible. It’s a good team-bonding experience. It’s a good laugh, as a team.”
Flexibility is the main reason Chantler has included yoga as part of the team’s offseason regimen. The current instructor, Toria Southworth, is the older sister of Christian Southworth, who played for Chantler in the past.
Football players are not known to be the most flexible athletes. But the more flexible you are, the easier it is to bounce back from injuries.
Aaron Chantler, Gig Harbor coach
“Football players are not known to be the most flexible athletes,” Chantler said. “But the more flexible you are, the easier it is to bounce back from injuries. You don’t take the same amount of pounding, you can avoid big hits. The biggest thing is increasing flexibility. It’s really, really good for our linemen. Usually, bigger guys struggle to do those types of movements.”
For Fletcher, he was plagued by injuries his freshman and sophomore years and wasn’t able to participate in the offseason yoga workouts. Once he started doing them, he noticed a dramatic difference during his junior season.
“I didn’t have any injuries last year,” he said. “We were all able to play the whole season and be really successful.”
While injuries in football are inevitable, coupling yoga with weight lifting and conditioning reduces the risk of preventable injuries, such as muscle strains.
We’re going really hard in the weight room, lifting, and we can get injured really easily. But we come out here and we stretch and we make sure we’re fluid with our motion.
Marc Fletcher, Gig Harbor senior defensive back
“It’s really helpful,” Fletcher said. “We’re going really hard in the weight room, lifting, and we can get injured really easily. But we come out here and we stretch and we make sure we’re fluid with our motion.”
While Chantler doesn’t have exact numbers on injuries with a yoga program versus one without, he said he believes the increased flexibility does indeed lead to less injuries.
“I don’t see as many of the muscle injuries that I had as a player and a coach at other schools,” he said. “The kids who have really done the yoga and really gotten into it, haven’t had as many muscle strains — or with the linemen guys, lower-back issues. It’s nice to be able to see the injuries that kind of hampered them in the past seem to get a little better.”
While the taboo surrounding yoga and alternative forms of fitness seems to mostly gone now, new players do show up a little apprehensive, Chantler said.
“It’s still a group of teenage boys,” he said. “They don’t want to look different than their buddies. … Every year, it’s a new experience for some of the kids. The new players in the program might be a little apprehensive, but you look around and it’s not really intense. They can get comfortable.”
In addition to the increased flexibility, Chantler appreciates the mental aspect yoga brings. The most extroverted, outgoing players are forced to stay quiet.
“You have to be calm when you’re doing yoga,” Chantler said. “(Southworth) really wants them to focus on breathing. It allows them to focus on the moment and tune out all the noise, which hopefully translates to the field.”