Yeovil Town's Nathan Smith: The footballer who spent his close season meditating

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Nathan Smith (second left)

No exercise, no talking, no eye contact, no mobile phones – just 10 straight days of meditation in rural India.

It is not what you might imagine a professional footballer would get up to on their summer break.

But that is how Yeovil Town left-back Nathan Smith, “bored of the usual party holidays”, chose to spend his close season.

“My best night’s sleep was on the first night,” the 29-year-old told BBC Sport. “After that, some nights I had no sleep whatsoever.

“Each day, the meditation lasted until 9pm. Being a vegan, the diet was hard too. I stayed away from anything that might have milk in it.”

But why would a League Two full-back put themselves through such an experience?

What is Vipassana meditation?

Nathan Smith on Twitter

“It is not religious,” explained Smith. “It is a universal meditation to help people eradicate all impurities that they face in life at a deeper, subconscious level, to rid the impurities.

“With no reading, no writing, no mobiles – you learn a lot.

“My friend and soul coach, Selina Brown, suggested that I look into it and I am so glad I did. It was very intriguing.

“Now I’m hoping to help others back here now. I’m looking for projects that will help raise awareness for a healthier lifestyle among youth and adults in all types of communities, and outreach with youth charities.”

Despite the lack of exercise and rapid weight loss, Smith says he feels extremely healthy, as Yeovil’s squad resume pre-season training.

Could it help on the pitch?

Nathan Smith (right)

“It will hopefully help me be calm and perhaps diffuse certain situations on the pitch,” said Smith. “I learned a lot about respect too.

“A few of the [Yeovil Town] lads have been joking about it but also I think they understand it. They’ve been curious, interested.”

Smith, who signed a one-year contract extension in May, made 48 appearances in all competitions last season as the Glovers finished 19th in League Two, 14 points clear of the relegation zone.

He has high hopes for 2016-17, adding: “We’re looking at promotion, no less. Since [manager] Darren Way came in, he has installed a personality in the team. We believe in him.”

Other unusual preparations for a new season

Smith is not the only footballer to have spent time in India this summer, with West Bromwich Albion defender Jonas Olsson having visited the Premier League club’s ‘Pass it forward’ project in one of Delhi’s slums.

But, while Smith and Olsson’s trips will have been both personal and emotional, others in the game have endured some more unusual close-season experiences.

In 2013, then-Southampton manager Mauricio Pochettino had his squad walk on fire during pre-season.

The Saints walked over hot coals as a team-building exercise, though to what extent the experience led to their impressive start of six wins and just one defeat from their first 11 games of that season remains unclear.

Striker Rickie Lambert did, however, later hail the exercise as one of the reasons behind his subsequent form and call-up to the England national team.

Roy Keane

Ex-Ipswich Town manager Roy Keane attempted to improve the squad’s fitness by spending two days undertaking army exercises.

Keane’s side reportedly joined Paratroopers in an attempt to build their endurance before the 2009-10 season, in which they would eventually finish 15th in the Championship.

Meanwhile, former Bristol City boss Steve Cotterill took the Robins on a pre-season tour of Botswana in 2014, becoming the first British club to visit the country.

But the trip did not go entirely to plan, as defender Karleigh Osborne suffered a serious injury as a result of a challenge that reportedly prompted a mass brawl and Cotterill to withdraw his team from the pitch before full-time.

However, the experience was soon forgotten as Cotterill guided the club to a lower-league double in 2014-15, winning both League One and the Football League Trophy.

Smith’s trip to India seemingly offered a significantly more peaceful environment than that.

“Eleven-plus hours per day of meditation,” he says, “it sounds tough but I’d recommend it to anybody.”

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