HUNTINGBURG, Ind. — A typical Saturday morning for most high schoolers usually involves sleeping late. In fact, most probably aren’t awake before 11 a.m. — and even that might be generous.
But at Southridge High School there’s a group of teenagers awake bright and early every Saturday during the high school football season. Since 2015, the Raiders have implemented an optional workout the morning after a Friday night game that may seem unusual. But the players have loved just how much its improved both their body and mind.
Saturdays for the Southridge football team are dedicated to yoga.
“It’s an every Saturday thing, that’s for sure. Ever since I can remember, I’ve been showing up for yoga — even when I was back in seventh and eighth grade,” said junior Aidan Jochem, one of the Raiders’ primary yoga participants. “It’s something that we really value over here.”
These workouts are led by Erin Rauscher, the founder and owner of Yes Power Yoga in Huntingburg. She’s a Southridge grad and a former Raider athlete herself. The yoga at Southridge started as a summer conditioning for all student athletes in 2015, not just football players.
She was aware that head football coach Scott Buening had just wrapped up his second season with the Raiders and wanted to pass along the idea of doing some sort of weekly yoga conditioning with the team. A friend of hers passed along Buening’s email and it didn’t take long for Rauscher to hear back.
“As soon as I emailed him, he was like, ‘Yes, I’m interested!,'” Rauscher said. “He asked me what my schedule was and when we could start doing it. He knew the benefits of it and I didn’t even really have to sell it to him. It started as summer conditioning and turned into something we would continue during the football season to help the team become less injury prone.”
During Buening’s first head coaching stint at Jennings County High School, he recalls the school having an art teacher who was also a yoga instructor so he decided to look into some yoga conditioning. At first, he admits he was a little skeptical that it would be beneficial.
But Buening says he realized just how important these workouts were to the team once players expressed their disappointment when they had to miss a week due to a conflict with the yoga instructor one Saturday.
“A couple of them who I really trusted basically said, don’t ever have us skip yoga again,” Buening said. “I was pretty hooked on it after that and really felt like our guys got a lot out of it. It really helped them deal with the physical stress we put on our bodies and just mental and emotional stress as well.”
These workouts, which are either held at Southridge’s field house or on the football field, are catered to whatever the students feel they need worked on the most. Sometimes it’s the back that bothers them, other days it’s the arms or shoulders.
While many members of the team are at each meeting on Saturday, the yoga sessions aren’t mandatory. However, it’s basically understood throughout the program that if you’re not there, you’re missing out on a beneficial program.
“It’s not mandatory but it’s basically mandatory. You’re basically expected to be there –even if not by the coaches but by the players,” Jochem said. “It’s something we’ve just really taken seriously over the years.”
Even though there’s different techniques used each week, the meetings usually follow a similar format. The workout is filled with tons of different stretches as well as breathing techniques and other ways to calm both the body and mind.
The end of the session is always the same. Rauscher has the players lay in a final resting pose for five minutes to focus on what worked and what didn’t work on Friday night.
“I tell them (that) I want (them) to visualize the play that maybe didn’t go so well, going seamlessly — see the catch, see the tackle, see everything working,” Rauscher says about those final moments of relaxation. “It’s a great way to clear your mind.”
While the players mostly understand the workouts they go through during each session, Rauscher sometimes likes to remind them just how important these can be moving forward.
She’ll often relay the message to them in football terms. That way, they can see the yoga poses and stretches pay off firsthand when they step on the field.
“I tell them to think about when we’re in this stretch today, you’re one stretch closer to catching the ball than you’re opponent,” Rauscher said. “They think of range of motion as we do the yoga practice. They get it. They start to see that you just can’t be strong, you have to be agile.”
But perhaps what’s most important, the players feel more relaxed when they head back home Saturday afternoon following the hourlong workout. They feel calm, mellow and in a sense refreshed.
And it’s a feeling that doesn’t just hang around for a few hours. It carries over all the way into the first practice of the week on Monday. It’s almost like yoga is the first step of preparation for whoever the Raiders next opponent on the schedule is.
“After all the stretches and everything, you just feel 10 times better,” Jochem said. “I think it’s a good way to clear our heads and get everyone back on the same page and get ready for another week of practice.”
Contact Courier & Press sports reporter Hendrix Magley via email at [email protected] or via Twitter @TweetsOfHendrix.