Youth athletes face unique challenges as they strive to improve their performance and navigate the pressures of competition, even at young ages. While many athletes focus solely on their sport-specific training, incorporating yoga into their routine can provide numerous benefits for their well-being. Broadly, we can group these into physical and mental benefits.
Physical Benefits of Yoga for Youth Athletes
- Improved flexibility: Many yoga poses focus on stretching and lengthening the muscles, which can improve flexibility and range of motion. This can help reduce the risk of injury and improve overall performance.
- Increased strength: Yoga poses also require strength, particularly in the core and upper body. This can help athletes develop the strength they need to excel in their sport.
- Better balance and coordination: Many yoga poses require balance and coordination, which can translate to better performance in sports that require these skills, such as gymnastics or dance.
- Reduced stress and anxiety: Yoga can be a great way for athletes to reduce stress and anxiety, which can improve mental focus and clarity. This can be particularly helpful in high-pressure situations, such as competitions.
- Improved breathing: Many yoga practices focus on deep, intentional breathing, which can improve lung capacity and oxygen flow. This can be particularly beneficial for endurance athletes.
- Faster recovery: Yoga can also help athletes recover faster from injuries or strenuous workouts. It can help increase blood flow and oxygenation, which can speed up the healing process.
Emotional & Mental of Yoga for Youth Athletes
Yoga can have numerous emotional benefits for youth who participate in sports. Here are some ways yoga can support emotional well-being:
- Stress relief: Yoga can help reduce stress and anxiety, which can be beneficial for youth who may experience pressure or stress related to competition or performance in sports.
- Mindfulness: Yoga often involves mindfulness practices such as deep breathing, meditation, and body awareness, which can help youth develop self-awareness and improve focus.
- Self-esteem: Through practicing yoga, youth can develop a sense of accomplishment and self-confidence, which can help improve self-esteem and overall well-being.
- Resilience: Yoga can help develop resilience by teaching youth to stay present and focused during challenging situations, which can be beneficial for handling adversity in sports and in life.
- Connection: Yoga can help youth develop a sense of connection and community through practicing in a group setting or with a teacher. This can be particularly beneficial for youth who may feel isolated or disconnected from peers.
In particular, two yogic niyamas, or moral codes, come to mind when I think of yoga.
Tapas and Youth Athletics
Tapas is often loosely translated as “firey discipline,” and refers to the practice of discipline and burning away impurities through dedicated and consistent practice. Tapas can be applied to athletic performance in several ways:
- Consistent training: Tapas involves a commitment to consistent practice, which is also important for athletes to improve their performance. Consistent training can help build strength, endurance, and skill.
- Mental discipline: Tapas involves mental discipline and perseverance, which can be beneficial for athletes when faced with challenges or obstacles. Mental discipline can help athletes stay focused and motivated, even when the going gets tough.
- Building resilience: Tapas can help build resilience by developing the ability to push through discomfort and challenges in training and competition. This can be beneficial for athletes to stay motivated and continue to improve.
- Self-improvement: The practice of tapas in yoga involves a commitment to self-improvement and self-discipline, which can be beneficial for athletes to continue to grow and develop their skills and abilities.
Santosha and Youth Athletics
Santosha refers to contentment or a sense of inner satisfaction. In the context of youth athletes, cultivating Santosha can be an important tool for promoting their overall well-being, both on and off the field.
Many young athletes are driven to succeed and can become overly focused on achieving their goals, leading to stress, anxiety, and even burnout. By practicing Santosha, they can learn to be happy and satisfied with their progress and accomplishments, regardless of the outcome.
Encouraging youth athletes to develop a sense of contentment can also help them maintain a healthy perspective on competition and performance. Instead of constantly comparing themselves to others or getting caught up in winning or losing, they can focus on doing their best and enjoying the process.
Additionally, Santosha can help young athletes cultivate a positive attitude and build resilience. By learning to find joy and satisfaction in the present moment, they can develop a mindset that is better equipped to handle setbacks and challenges.
Youth athletes can benefit from attending regular yoga classes, or incorporating a short yoga routine into their warm-up or cool-down before or after sports practices or games. By prioritizing their overall well-being, youth athletes can develop a strong foundation for success in sports and in life.
About the Author
Jessica LaGarde has been teaching creative movement in the metro area since 2005 and is passionate about helping children discover and explore their bodies and the world around them. She was trained by Joye Newman, MA to teach preschool creative movement for Kids’ Moving Company, a Bethesda-based creative movement studio. In 2017, she completed her Baby, Toddler, and Children’s Yoga Teacher Training through Childlight Yoga.
In addition to working with preschoolers, Jessica is a registered massage practitioner and is trained in infant massage instruction. She has practiced massage for over twelve years and taught massage as part of Potomac Massage Training Institute’s professional training program. Outside of the movement space and massage room, she enjoys cooking, knitting, sewing, gardening and exploring the outdoors with her daughter.