A New Season: An interview with coaches of the Memphis City Football Club

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Chanda leads the Memphis City Football Club soccer team through a gentle yoga practice after skills training.

We are often looking for the secret formula to stay young as long as we can. For some it’s about looks, while others fight to keep sharp minds. Athletes, in particular, are continually looking for ways to retain the strength and health of their physical bodies - for pro athletes it's essential to prolong their careers. Fortunately, many of these athletes are finding yoga to help keep them in the game.

If you haven’t heard already, Memphis is getting a United Soccer League team, Memphis 901 FC,  in the summer of 2019. This past summer, Pretty Zen was fortunate enough to get to work with Memphis City Football Club, which will be part of the Premier Development League for the new USL team. After each of their training sessions, they spent 30 minutes with us practicing restorative yoga.

In our ceaseless quest to spread the good news about yoga, we decided to chat with MCFC’s head coach Mark (Lefty) Franklin and assistant coach Diego Vieria to pick their brains about why yoga has become important to the team and the resulting benefits they saw throughout their season.

PZ: Why do you think yoga is important for your players?

Mark: Firstly, it helps with recovery after games. Playing 90 minutes in a
game is a challenge, let alone playing two games in three days. Having yoga as part of their recovery routine allows their muscles and joints to be protected from injury. It also builds muscle strength while increasing flexibility, which is also beneficial in preventing injury. Secondly, it helps the players with their breathing which increases their energy, allowing them to perform at a higher standard for longer. Most importantly, it helps the players with their mental approach to the game. Yoga teaches you to focus on the present and do away with distracting thoughts, two vital techniques that players have to learn to use during a game.

PZ: Did you see benefits for your players from yoga in their game, mood, mental focus, etc?

Diego: Yes. We have to understand that yoga is a tool and not a magical solution. Players won't become super stars by doing yoga. Yoga will allow them to reflect on what their priorities are if they approach it in the right way. It is a very powerful tool, but the most important thing is for them to discover on their own its importance. Yoga can improve players in several aspects, but it is way more effective if the players come to that conclusion on their own.

Mark: Absolutely! The biggest difference I observed was after a two day rest period. Players struggled at the beginning of the season to regain focus. After a few yoga sessions, the players were quicker to focus in on their playing mentality.

PZ: Will you continue to add yoga into training for your players for future teams you coach?

Diego: I'd love to. Like I said, it is important that the players see value in it. If it's forced, it won't work. My job is to explain what yoga can do for them and why it is a good tool to use. If they like it like I do, I will add yoga as a team activity. In the past, most players wanted to get involved with yoga and wanted to keep doing it throughout the season.

Mark not only saw the the benefits with his players but he is an experienced yogi himself who practices Bikram yoga and keeps up his practice due to the effect it has had on his life. So of course we wanted to know more about his personal practice as well.

PZ: What are the benefits you have seen for yourself?

Mark: I have seen a greater ability to focus and accepts the things I can’t control. I have also seen a definite increase in flexibility along with muscle tone and muscle strength. It has also helped me keep a healthy diet. Eating not only the correct foods but at the correct time keeps my energy levels constant throughout the day. I could go on and on but you get the idea.

PZ: What is your favorite yoga pose and why?

Mark: My favorite poses are: Standing Head to Knee – because I was pretty bad at this pose when I first started. I wasn’t flexible and I wasn’t patient. My other favorite is Triangle – another pose I was bad at. I couldn’t hold the pose, my breathing was erratic and I kept falling out of the pose early. I love both of them now. Learning to breathe properly, being patient with myself and focusing on the here and now has gone a long way in mastering these poses.

If more athletes start including yoga in their training, perhaps they will be able to have a long-lasting career like Manchester United pro soccer player Ryan Giggs, who at 40 was still playing in the Premier League and is the most decorated player in English football history. He attributes his extensive and successful career to incorporating yoga into his training and has called it his “fountain of youth.” Sounds like Giggs has found his secret formula to anti-aging. Looks like Mark and Diego have figured it out as well.

Join us in welcoming the new Memphis 901 FC team to Memphis by following them on Instagram @memphis901fc, Twitter @Memphis901FC or at Memphis901FC.com.