Coach has Cedar Cliff boys' basketball players try yoga to help team focus on mind, body

(Carlisle) Sentinel (TNS)
  • The Cedar Cliff boys' basketball team tried yoga this season.
  • The Colts recently had six sessions with yogi Jenna Leibermann.
  • The once-a-week sessions were approved and paid for by the team’s booster club.

Cedar Cliff boys' basketball head coach Tigh Savercool tries to think outside the box.

Sounds cliché, sure, especially coming from a coach. But he definitely finds some unconventional ways to challenge his team.

Savercool had the Colts try a spin class last year. His latest challenge — a six-week yoga class this season. This one sounds like it’ll become a staple.

The Colts wrapped up their final session with yogi Jenna Liebermann last week. The once-a-week sessions were approved and paid for by the team’s booster club. By all accounts, it has been a rousing success.

Savercool said the team seemed to perform better in practice or a game the day after a yoga session. Senior Chris Dare echoed that sentiment.

“I don’t know if it’s coincidence or not, but it honestly has been something [we’ve noticed],” Savercool said the day of their fifth session. “The day after has just been — they’ve been very focused, very into it, ready to go. Placebo effect, I don’t know, coincidence, I don’t know. But I can tell you we’re on session five and it continues to happen.”

“Oh, yeah, for sure,” Dare said. “We definitely feel a lot more loose, our legs feel a lot more fresh.”

The Colts take part in a one-hour yoga session in an auxiliary room near the high school gym right before basketball practice. Liebermann leads the team through breathing and stretching exercises.

The certified yoga instructor knew Savercool when the two worked together for a few years at a vineyard. They joked about her teaching the team for a while, but it wasn’t until the preseason that Savercool decided to actually give it a shot after hearing more about the use of yoga at coaching clinics.

Instructor enjoyed opportunity: Liebermann enjoyed the opportunity.

“It’s really magical to see them [improve],” said Liebermann, who teaches out of Om My Yoga and Drip 105 Hot Yoga, two yoga studios in Camp Hill. “They’ve got a lot of things going on [in their lives]… and then to come here, a safe space, and just to tune inward — it’s something that’s pretty uncommon I think in these young men’s days. … I think this time is super valuable for them.”

She has practiced yoga since 2013 and has been certified as a yogi for more than a year, she said, and also leads a kindergarten class in a once-a-week practice in Harrisburg.

She said some of her biggest keys with the Colts were top focus internally, breathing and not worrying about what others are doing during the practice. She said the team has picked up a lot in six short weeks.

“What I see the most, and what I think we’ve been working on the most, is the ego — and I don’t mean egotistical, I mean the ego says, ‘You’re not doing it right. The guy next to you is doing it better. How is he doing it? Why can’t I do it?’ And really trying to let go of that,” Liebermann said. “I think a lot of them have been working on it.”

“We’ve definitely bonded throughout it,” Dare said. “Seeing each other being so intense on the floor and everything, to seeing them so relaxed in yoga classes, it’s pretty cool.”

Some hesitancy: Coach and player said there was certainly some hesitancy throughout the team on the first day of practice. But Savercool said there were a few players who had tried it before and liked it. And by the time the first session ended, everyone else was hooked.

Dare laughed when explaining that after the first practice “we were all extremely sore, stretching areas that we’ve never stretched before.”

While Liebermann strives for the players to focus internally and find a peace during the practice, she also includes plenty of physical elements that stretch and work the core. Colt players said they felt better on the court physically and mentally.

“I feel more relaxed in high-intense situations in basketball,” Dare said.

“She also relates things to basketball and everything, which really helps us.”

“This is something where we’re worrying about our concentration,” Savercool said. “We’re focused and we’re trying to make sure we’re worrying about ourselves, but we’re doing things like plank positions and functional movements where we’re working on our core, and things like that. It’s actually a lot deeper and more involved than kind of like the surface of what people think of yoga.”