By Faye Martins
Just 40 years ago, it was common to see children playing sports like baseball, soccer, and football in vacant lots. These unorganized games were competitive, but they had no adult intervention or supervision. This “adult free” atmosphere had positive and negative benefits. As children, we learned to sort matters out amongst ourselves without competitive adult coaching. On the other hand, there were times when we could have used a sage for guidance.
Children today are more involved than ever in organized sports: according to CNN, an estimated 41 million kids play competitive sports in the U.S. today. Speculation that competitive, organized sports have replaced unstructured play seems obvious, but is this negative?
Team sports offer a number of benefits, including physical activity in a time of increasing childhood obesity, learning teamwork, sharing and self esteem. However, early “extreme specialization,” or focus on one activity to the exclusion of all others by parents hoping for scholarships or professional athletes, is a big problem. Such focus can lead to burn out and sports injuries, giving children a negative experience. Teaching Yoga to children’s sports teams offers a great way to diversify play time and even help prevent injuries.
Teaching Yoga for a kids’ sports team helps them improve concentration and agility, and done together as a group, is an excellent “team building” exercise. Yoga is non-competitive, so the team members practice cooperation and working together as they stretch. Asanas that reinforce the muscles used during team play can be incorporated into practice and building core strength is beneficial to all sports. Yoga includes everyone- there are no “benchwarmers” during practice.
Yoga for a sport’s team is typically done once a week. Some poses can be incorporated into a warm up or cool down before and after every game as well. Leading the children through Yogic breathing can help them relax and focus, giving a great opportunity for a coach or parents to talk about strategy or goals for the team. Learning these relaxation skills is excellent for times that children get angry or upset during a game; they can be reminded to “do their breathing” and move past their anger.
There are no special styles or poses that are recommended for sports teams, beyond typical adaptations for children’s Yoga. Keeping the practice short and sweet will hold attention spans, and children will learn to work at their own pace. Some studios that offer children’s Yoga have offered one free team Yoga practice, to demonstrate benefits to sometimes-skeptical coaches. Adopting Yoga for stress relief and exercise early in life will be a tremendous benefit to these children, as they become adults with healthy habits.
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