Striking a pose: FSHS boys surprised to see benefits of yoga sessions

Tami Keasling leads Free State high soccer players in yoga exercises Friday at the FSHS football field. Keasling, whose daughter is on the FSHS girls soccer team, was invited by the boys coach to teach the team yoga to increase their flexibility.


Tell the truth: You just pictured somebody, we’ll say Richard Gere for argument’s sake, sitting in lotus position, eyes closed, entranced, sort of half-humming, half-chanting, didn’t you?

You’re not alone. That’s what many of the Free State High boys soccer players imagined when first told their summer workout schedule would include an hour every Friday morning devoted to yoga exercises. They have learned otherwise. Their yoga exercises entail a wide array of stretching and no chanting.

“My mom and sister have been doing it for a couple of years now,” senior left defender Colin Phillips said after a recent workout. “I used to mock them about it, but it’s actually a really good workout.”

What, Phillips was asked, did his mother and sister say when he told them he had taken up yoga along with the rest of his teammates?

Free State soccer players strike a (yoga) pose during a session on the FSHS football field.

“They actually don’t know yet,” he said. “And I’m not sure I’m going to tell them.”

Phillips has no problem watching crows fly and hop, he’s just not sure he wants to eat one.

“It’s obviously going to help you be more flexible, and that’s going to prevent injuries, and you just get a good workout,” Phillips said.

The concept of yoga might be new to the Free State soccer team, but it’s not new to the sport.

Manchester United soccer player Darren Fletcher, in a recent telephone interview with the Journal-World, was asked if he had any experience with yoga.

“Yeah, I’ve done yoga,” Fletcher said. “We have a yoga instructor on Manchester United. We do it a couple of times a week. I can definitely tell the benefit. It helps you to realign your body position after physical matches and from the wear and tear over the years. It’s definitely beneficial. Some people might not think of it as something that goes with sports, but it definitely is helpful.”

There you have it. If it’s good enough for Manchester United, the world’s most popular professional sports franchise, it’s good enough for any soccer team in the universe.

Kansas University coach Mark Francis believes in the benefits of yoga, though he hasn’t incorporated it into the team’s workouts yet.

“I think it’s a great idea,” Francis said. “I’ve done it myself, not a lot, but I have done it. As a soccer player, I’m not very flexible. I imagine a lot of soccer players, especially in the hips, are not very flexible. It helps with flexibility, which probably will help with injury prevention, especially around the hips and groin, that kind of area, so I think it’s a great idea.”

Francis looked back on last season, one more time.

“We had so many injuries,” he said. “Maybe if we were a little more flexible, those could have been avoided.”

Injury prevention was the very thing that motivated Tami Keasling to volunteer her time to lead the stretches every Friday. Her older daughter, former Firebirds soccer player Logan Keasling, suffered an ACL tear in both knees.

“I wish I had made her do yoga with me more frequently,” said Tami, who said she has been doing yoga for 10 years and is not an instructor. “I honestly believe we may have prevented at least one of her ACL tears by being more flexible in the fall.”

Regan Keasling, a current member of the girls team, does yoga with her mom more often. So far, Tami gives the boys soccer team straight A’s for effort.

“This group is so impressive,” she said. “Their willingness to try things is great. You saw every one of them up in the bridge pose, which is awesome, just awesome. And they all try. They’re not just laying there waiting until I turn and see whether I’m watching them.”

All the seniors at a recent session were polled on their impressions, and all seemed to have conquered their original skepticism.

“It’s relaxing,” Chris Stogsdill said. “It really helps you stretch out your core.”

Said Marcus Mattern: “I have really bad hamstrings, and it stretches them out really well.”

Sam Corkins said he thinks it will, “help me focus. It will calm me down before games if I have nerves or anything.”

He might do it on game day.

“Probably before the games, but not during the warmups,” he said. “We don’t need the other team seeing us.”

Dylan Bergstrom said it enables him to work out muscles he wouldn’t otherwise stretch.

“I’ve seen my dad do it because he has a bad back,” Bergstrom said. “He’s a UPS driver, and he does it from the yoga channel on TV.”

Nathan Bowman said, “It’s definitely a lot harder than you would think, but it’s still relaxing at the same time.”

Triplets Will and Tony Libeer both said they thought it would be easier. James Windholz agreed.

The most difficult position?

“Up dog,” Windholz said before correcting himself. “I mean down dog. Definitely down dog.”

Kelly Barah, promoted from assistant to head coach after Jason Pendleton left for a similar position at Blue Valley Southwest High, expressed gratitude for the time Tami Keasling devotes for the players and said he thinks it will have great benefits.

“For you to get bigger and faster, you have to make that muscle stretch longer when you’re putting loads on top of it,” he said.

Keasling said she has plans to work with the Free State girls team as well.