By BRAD KEITH
STEPHENVILLE (June 7, 2017) — Oftentimes in sports, the biggest advantages over an opponent have nothing to do with play diagrams or schemes.
Coaches have to think outside the box to discover where they can gain an edge in a big game.
Greg Winder, head football coach at Stephenville, isn’t afraid of thinking outside the box, and he isn’t afraid to try new things. Especially when all the research backs it up.
Winder and other Stephenville head coaches have gone in-house and away from outside sources in directing summer conditioning workouts, which remain open to high school and junior high athletes, male and female. But one day a week, the kids will be under the guidance of a new kind of outsider for training both body and mind.
Stephenville resident Kerri Tomaski is joining the high school athletes each Thursday of summer conditioning (beginning next week with yoga starting June 15), ending each four-day workout period with Yoga training. Tomaski, 28, owns Soul Feet Studios on the second floor of the same structure as Bostock’s Billiards & Bar on West Washington Street across from the Tarleton State University administration building. She has three years training experience and has practiced yoga for about eight years.
“I was teaching preschool and didn’t even realize for a long time how much I was incorporating yoga while working with the preschoolers,” Tomaski said. “Once I realized how much I really loved yoga and how much of a positive impact it has on my life, I knew I wanted to teach classes to help others enjoy those same benefits.”
Also a musician and part of the award-winning talent lineup of Texas Home Grown Radio, an internet station based in Stephenville , Tomaski noticed building owner Mark Bostock having work done on space adequate for a yoga studio. ”
“He had been working on that space and so I thought he may be trying to lease it out, and sure enough after we talked about it he gave me a fair deal,” Tomaski said. “It was the best deal I could find in town for sufficient space to rent, and so that’s how the studio got started.”
While Tomaski was already a big proponent of yoga’s general advantages for mind and body, she had never focused specifically on how yoga training could athletes in various sports. That changed when the parent of an injured athlete contacted her last month.
“A parent contacted me in the middle of May, saying he has two boys who are football players and one of them was injured. The orthopedist subscribed physical therapy or yoga so he called me up,” Tomaski explained. “Then Mrs. (Debbie) Winder (athletic trainer at Stephenville High School) heard from some parents who wanted it at the school, so they reached out to me.”
The rest was just logistics, and soon Tomaski says she was ordering herself a “Yellow Jacket blue mat” to use while working with the SHS athletes from 9-10:30 a.m. each Thursday – starting this week – in the “Green Room” of the Mike Copeland Athletic Complex.
Ask Tomaski about yoga’s impact on a sport like football, and she will quickly send you THIS YOUTUBE LINK to a video depicting the difference it has made at Stanford University, which is one of the programs Winder researched and drew from in deciding how to best incorporate yoga into conditioning workouts leading up to the 2017 football season as well as the 2017-18 academic year for all the school’s athletes.
“We’ve done a lot of research, this isn’t just something we jumped into. A lot of sports, not just football are getting into yoga,” said Winder. “We looked closely at Stanford University, and that’s where we kind of got the plan as to how we want to use it.
“I’ve even done a lot of research on my own, and there are aspects of it that really work on flexibility and other things that we sometimes don’t spend enough time on,” said Winder, who returned for a second stint as offensive coordinator at Stephenville in 2008 and was promoted to head coach in 2015. “I think it is really going to be a difference-maker for us.”
Tomaski believes so, too, and not just because of the physical advantages.
“What really helps the most with yoga training is the mindfulness you gain from it. I’m real excited to see what level of mindfulness we can build in the athletes, said Tomaski. “People sometimes laugh when they see people doing yoga and talking about coming into your breath and being mindful of your breathing, but it’s about understanding how your body relaxes when you exhale and how you can clear your mind that way and have a whole new level of focus.
“Imagine taking that into a game, and being so sharp, so acutely aware of everything and all your assignments, that has to be a big advantage for any athlete,” Tomaski said. “I played four years of college softball at Sul Ross State (a member of NCAA Division III located in Alpine, Texas), and I wish would have had this kind of mindfulness back then.”
Mindfulness may be the first thing Tomaski thought of when it comes to advantages, but that doesn’t mean the physical proponents of yoga training are lost on the instructor.
“Yoga increases flexibility, speed and endurance and minimizes injuries. In working out, it’s important that you are building a balance between your cardio, strength building and the softening and lengthening,” she explained. “You have to have that balance, because if not, injuries occur.”
Softening and lengthening aren’t phrases you hear coaches shouting or athletes grunting during traditional weight workouts.
“You need to lengthen your muscles so that they are softer,” she added. “Muscles are like a rubber band. You stretch them out and they are softer afterwards. You don’t want a muscle to be stiff upon impact, and in sports, the obvious one being football, there is a lot of impact.”
Thursday will mark the first time Tomaski has taught yoga to anyone under 18 or to any type of organized sports team.
“I never really followed the football team here that close, but I’m definitely going to this year,” she exclaimed. “I’ll have to get out to some of the games and see how the yoga is helping them.”
She praises coaches for doing their research and understanding what yoga can add to their efforts to best prepare their athletes and teams.
“I’m so happy the coaches are seeing the importance of well-rounded training including yoga, and I am extremely excited to see the kind of mindfulness we build in these kids,” she said. “W’re only doing it once a week, so it’s not like a stringent course in yoga, but I think we will be doing enough to impact them both physically and mentally.”
She would, of course, like to see yoga become a more regular part of the athlete’s physical training, than just 90 minutes each week during summer conditioning, and to see yoga make its way into more schools. She’s already been contacted by a school board trustee from another district looking for information to share with their superintendent and coaches.
“I’ve been researching other football programs and sports teams that have added yoga to their training, and it’s amazing the results they have seen,” she said. “I hope it turns into something they can do throughout the year. I would love to teach them in a class like one a week, or at least they can continue with some of the lessons I teach them and benefit from that moving forward.”