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Youth soccer team finds its stride with yoga

by Jon Savelle
Journal Reporter

KIRKLAND -- A roomful of young boys isn't usually a place of quiet concentration, but members of the Lake Hills Thunderbirds soccer team presented exactly that picture Friday.

The boys, aged 11 or 12, trooped in to Bikram's Yoga in ParkPlace and gave their undivided attention to instructors Gerard Ostebovik and Larissa Anderson.

For an hour. In 100-degree heat.

``It's about being balanced and focused,'' said Jeff Cole, parent of team member Matt Cole. ``My son has just responded incredibly. I'm just amazed.''

He isn't the only one. The boys have amazed their parents, their coaches and even themselves. And they say the yoga, which emphasizes balance, flexibility and mental discipline, gives their team a competitive edge.

``When you're doing it, it's really hard,'' said player Will Minice. ``You feel it's a waste of time, you just feel you're working. You don't see the benefits. But if you're doing an activity that requires you to use your muscles another way, it helps you.''

Players and coaches credit the yoga with helping the team advance to playoff games today in the state championships, the President's Cup. The boys will play three games in a round robin, the first at 8:30 a.m. and the last at 7 p.m. If they do well, they will play again Sunday in the semifinals and finals. All games are at Pop Keeney Stadium in Bothell.

Friday's yoga session was the fourth for the team. They first tried it on the suggestion of Jeff Cole, who practices yoga himself and works for ParkPlace as director of corporate real estate. The suggestion intrigued coach Robb Glenny, a cardiologist and professor of physiology and biophysics at the University of Washington.

``Throughout the season we've tried to work on physical conditioning, but more to get the boys focused on what they're doing,'' Glenny said. ``Jeff suggested Bikram yoga. He said it would be a challenge for the boys to make it through a whole hour staying focused and going through the yoga poses.

``Honestly, I didn't think they would be able to do it. I have enough trouble keeping them focused on a wide open soccer field.

``I was blown away.''

The particular form of yoga the boys practice was developed by a master named Bikram Choudhury. It consists of breathing exercises and 26 postures, all designed to work every part of the body. The hour-long workout is done in a room kept at about 100 degrees.

Glenny said the yoga master at ParkPlace, Greg Gumicio, was so impressed with the boys that he decided to support the team by providing the yoga facility and instructors at no cost.

Many of the boys and their parents were apprehensive about the yoga at first, said Gary Madson, an assistant coach whose son David is on the team.

``Three of those parents have come here with their kids, and came out of it with a totally different frame of mind,'' he said. And everyone who started it has continued.

On the soccer field, the team starts each game and practice with yoga breathing exercises. Glenny said the boys have become so accustomed to them that the exercises seem to trigger the concentration and focus they seek in yoga class.

In the classes, Glenny said, ``Greg talks a lot about while you're focusing, thinking about how you're going to play. When they get into those poses, they kind of click into that other state. For that hour, now we really are focusing on soccer and the upcoming game.''

The yoga regimen is just one aspect of a team that is unusual in several ways. Glenny said the boys have played on teams together since they were 6-year-olds at Cherry Crest Elementary School. Some of them have played championship baseball and basketball.

But parent and assistant coach Mike Stevens said the team's days as a unit of longtime friends may be coming to an end. The boys are growing up and moving on to other schools, so this season of soccer and yoga may be the last they do together.

Jon Savelle can be reached at jon.savelle@eastsidejournal.com or 425-453-4231.

EXERCISE FITNESS BELLEVUE SCHOOL DISTRICT SPORTS PHOTO by Maxwell Balmain/Journal: Members of the Thunderbirds soccer team practice yoga in 100-plus degree heat at Bikram's Yoga in Kirkland. Players and coaches say the yoga helps the team focus better on the playing filed. The team has advanced to the playoffs.