Thought Process: Rivendell Grad Makes Meditation Part of Soccer’s Day

  • Rivendell girls soccer assistant coach Stefanie DiSimone leads the girls in meditation before a game on Sept. 14, 2017 in Orford, N.H. DiSimone was instructing them to relax their shoulders. (Valley News - Jennifer Hauck) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to Valley News photographs — Jennifer Hauck

  • Rivendell girls soccer assistant coach Stefanie DiSimone looks for a reading to use before leading her team in meditation before a game on Sept. 14, 2017 in Orford, N.H. (Valley News - Jennifer Hauck) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to

  • Rivendell soccer players Sienna Carter, left, Jenna Gilbert, and Casey Ghio meditate with their team before a game in Orford, N.H., on Sept. 14, 2017. (Valley News - Jennifer Hauck) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to Valley News — Jennifer Hauck

Valley News Staff Writer
Published: 9/19/2017 12:12:46 AM
Modified: 9/19/2017 12:12:51 AM

Orford — Rivendell Academy girls soccer assistant coach Stephanie DiSimone walked barefoot inside a circle of her players last Thursday for a little more than 10 minutes before practice. She asked about their day, read from yoga texts, told her athletes — all cross-legged, many with their eyes closed — to concentrate on their breathing. There were long lengths of silence as the Raptors tried to find inner peace. DiSimone asked them to think about letting go of the things in their life that weighed them down.

Then the Raptors got up began to practice, running through various drills and exercises. After several minutes of decompression, they more ready to practice than ever.

It seems Rivendell’s players are beginning to realize just how valuable that down time can be.

Some of the girls were skeptical at first when DiSimone and Raptors head coach Tim Goodwin had broached the idea of incorporating yoga practices into their routine. Meditation may not be the most obvious way to warm up for any athletic activity, but DiSimone knew it could work wonders on the often restless mind of a high school athlete.

She would know. DiSimone played for Rivendell from 2009-13, winning a state championship as a defender in 2010. Meditation, DiSimone said, is something she wished she had during her playing days.

“When they come to soccer, they need to focus here,” she said after Rivendell’s meditation session on Thursday. “But those 10 minutes of shutting off — shutting school off, shutting family off … meditation does a lot of really healthy things for the brain.

“When we sleep, our brain recovers from reading things, memorizing things, just an overstimulation of things. So if you incorporate a meditation practice, that’s almost like a conscious version of sleep.”

Rivendell has been using meditation before both practices and games to help clear the mind. It’s an art that DiSimone picked up at Plymouth State University, where she said she needed a replacement for not playing a sport. The physicality of yoga, and the workout you get from it, initially drew DiSimone to regular classes; she admitted she’s not a gym person. From there, her passion grew.

“I was an art education major, so I was doing nothing athletic,” DiSimone said. “Initially, it was the physical practice that really nabbed me.

“Then next it was the philosophy. I’m not religious. I never have been. But I kind of adopted this religious aspect of it. Not that I believe in something, but just the ethical practices of how to live, how to appreciate people and how to let go.”

After graduating college this past spring, DiSimone returned home to begin student teaching at Samuel Morey Elementary School in Fairlee while taking monthly classes at Dragonfly Yoga Barn, Studio and Retreat in Sandwich, N.H., to build up the 200 hours required to become an instructor.

“It’s a lot of work because it’s a real lifestyle change,” she said. “You can be a teacher and that can be your whole life, but I’m changing my demeanor about everything. I’m learning a lot about myself and how I approach things. That’s something I try to bring to the girls.”

She also reached out to her former coaches — Goodwin and Russ Wilcox, now coaching girls basketball at Woodsville High — and asked if she could help out in any way. Both said yes; DiSimone plans to coach junior varsity for the Engineers this winter, and she plans to incorporate her meditation and yoga practices there as well.

“I’ve been struggling to find a way to get them to focus,” said Goodwin, who said he’s closely followed teams like the University of Connecticut’s women’s basketball team and studied how their preparation makes them successful. “Here was an opportunity to do something that’s proven, that we know is working for other teams out there, especially for athletes.”

For DiSimone, the benefits are obvious: a clear, focused mind is able to concentrate more on the task at hand, particularly in a high-intensity environment like sports. But Rivendell midfielder and senior captain Mikayla DeBois admitted not everyone was on board, at first.

“I had heard of it, a little bit. It wasn’t something that was really on my radar mostly because I play soccer. I’m not really doing yoga on the side,” she said. “I thought it would be really great for our team, because the mental part of soccer is just as big as the physical part. I think that’s really important.”

Then the on-field benefits of meditation began to show. DeBois remembered being on a breakaway during a preseason scrimmage — an uncommon situation for a midfielder — and being totally in control of her feet, the ball and what she needed to do to score, despite the spotlight.

“I don’t get very many breakaways, so I’m not great at them. When I do have breakaways during a game, I’m usually flipping out because I never know what to do,” said DeBois, who ultimately scored on the breakaway. “But that time, we had been meditating for a couple of days, I was just so calm about it. I knew what I wanted to do.

“I just felt so much more confident going into that. I’ve been playing soccer for so long, the only thing that had changed was that we were meditating.”

DiSimone said she remembered DeBois coming up to her later and telling her how she thought the meditation was working. That’s when DiSimone realized she was doing something right.

“One thing I talk a lot about with the girls is balancing,” DiSimone said. “Soccer is supposed to be last. Family, school, all of that is supposed to come first. Soccer will fit into the cracks. If they balance the other things, soccer comes.”

DiSimone said she’ll be student teaching until December and working toward her yoga certification until March; after that, she’ll be job hunting. But her few weeks of work with the Raptors already seems to have made a lasting impression.

“I definitely think that meditation is a skill that we can use in the future,” DeBois said. “I definitely plan on continuing this. When I’m feeling stressed sometimes — we just started school, and I’m already feeling the stress of homework — I’ve honestly taken the time, because I know how to do it now, just for a minute or two, tried to clear everything out so that I can focus on my homework. That’s definitely because of the meditation.

“Being to come out and relax after school is really helpful.”

Josh Weinreb can be reached at or 603-727-3306.

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