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Mindfulness on the Field with Coach George Lombard

Sometimes you find yoga in unexpected places. After seeing the Dodger's first base coach, George Lombard, practice on our Manduka PRO mat at Dodger Stadium, we couldn't wait to hear how his practice translates onto the field -- and off. First drafted as a player to the Atlanta Braves in 1994, his extensive career in professional baseball has transformed him from a student to a teacher. Who knew coaching baseball and teaching yoga had so much in common?

Dodger coach George Lombard participates in Yoga Day on the field after the game. Jill Weisleder/Dodgers

What was your first experience with yoga?

My godfather was always pushing me to try it.  He had been doing yoga long before yoga was considered cool, and kept going on and on about it. Finally, midway into my playing career I started messing around with it during the off-season. Then, after an injury and surgery, yoga helped free up a locked shoulder and I realized just how beneficial it could be.

What are the benefits of yoga for athletes, exactly?

As an athlete, you think you’re strong. Then you go into a yoga class and realize you can’t do half the poses! For me, real strength is range of motion and then having structure behind it. Yoga gives you both. Our strength training and medical staff are starting to assign yoga to more guys during the off-season because they see the benefits, too. Now, I do it just as much to decompress mentally, as I do it for the physical benefits.

It seems like baseball, more than other sports even, requires a lot of mental concentration.

Yeah, if you’re not familiar with it, baseball is a very slow looking sport from the outside. In fact, every move in baseball is actually a powerful move. We train pitchers to endure six innings but really, they're performing one explosive move at a time. In between that, there's a lot of dead time. As an outfielder, you could play nine innings, and you might only have one ball hit to you. Being able to relax your mind and stay in the moment is extremely important. You have to keep your mind in the game and be in the right place at the right time. 

Does your team have any rituals or routines to get focused?

Each individual player has their own routine to bat. If you’re going up to hit, you take these deep breaths, you step out of the box, you reset your mind and get back in -- always trying to slow the game down. It’s so difficult. When you have a guy throwing  a ball at you at 97 miles per hour it takes incredible concentration. Breathing is huge.

How would you compare being a coach to a player?

Every aspect of it is completely different but I never miss playing. I played for a long time and a lot of people really struggle when they’re done, but towards the end of my playing career I was already helping and teaching some of the younger players. I got right into coaching because I knew it was a great opportunity and wanted to learn, and what I learned is that the fun part is teaching.

Obviously, the part I’ll miss is the competitiveness -- but I find other ways to engage with that. If I go out there and throw batting practice to them, play catch with them, hit ‘em ground balls -- you can physically watch them getting better. That's where my connection to the game is, and you still feel like a part of it. 

Los Angeles Dodgers Yoga Day after game against the Atlanta Braves Sunday, June 5, 2016 at Dodger Stadium in Los Angeles,California. Photo by Jon SooHoo/© Los Angeles Dodgers,LLC 2016 Los Angeles Dodgers Yoga Day after game against the Atlanta Braves Sunday, June 5, 2016 at Dodger Stadium in Los Angeles, California.

Do you have a personal teaching style?

I’m very energetic. Early on an assistant GM told me, You have to find a way to bring energy every day because the players are going to be a direct reflection of you.”

How do you approach giving corrections?

The one thing I really don't like is when a player doesn't give me effort. I understand how difficult this game is because I did it for so long. If it was easy everybody would be doing it. 

But, I’m not the coach who’s going to scream and yell. When I go to my son’s little league games and a coach is screaming at a kid “Catch the ball!” I don't get it. There’s not one kid out there who’s trying to drop the ball. If you really want to get mad it’s probably your fault because you’re not teaching them to catch. At the pro level, we’re trying to get them to stay sharp and be confident. A lot of that is just bringing positive energy every day. 

What’s the best advice you’ve been given in baseball, either as a coach or as a player?

You want to do everything with some type of passion. In practice, if you’re just going to go through the motions all you’re going to do is create bad habits. The whole saying that practice makes perfect isn’t really true, it’s that perfect practice makes perfect.  If you’re driven and have purpose, you’re going to get so much more out of every little thing -- and enjoy it at the same time.

Then, I believe in celebrating victories. At this level it's so hard, so you have to enjoy, celebrate each win, and then find a way to win the next game. On the flip side, you have to be able to rest. Joe Madden, the manager of the Cubs, he’d lose a game and say “We’re going to spend five minutes thinking about it, be pissed off, and then we’re going to move forward.” It doesn’t do any good to dwell on a loss. You learn from the moment and move on.

What’s your advice for people interested in starting yoga as a beginner?

This would be my goal for you: dedicate yourself to really doing it for one month. Go three or four times a week with an instructor. That's when you'll really feel the benefits and get into it.

Last thing,  do you have a favorite yoga pose?

Pigeon. It hurts, but it feels so good.

One thought on “Mindfulness on the Field with Coach George Lombard”

  • Excellent article, quite motivating. I overheard George's brother Matt say that "yoga is the answer to everythi g"....and then a few minutes later I heard him say it again. Well after this article I guess I'll have to check it out....and, the pigeon huh?
    Great job coach, go get em' Dodgers!


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