WNBA's Lynx spicing up downtime

Shark phobias aside, the Lynx players had a successful paddleboarding excursion on the Mississippi River. Courtesy of Stand Up MN

With more than a month off during the Olympics and nearly three dozen days to fill without games on the schedule, what's a WNBA team to do? Get creative.

The Minnesota Lynx, the defending league champions, are doing just that. With three players in London on the U.S. team -- Seimone Augustus, Maya Moore and Lindsay Whalen -- and a few of others recovering from injury, the Lynx are shorthanded. Practice is not only difficult, but frankly, it gets a little boring.

Which is why coach Cheryl Reeve decided it was time to mix things up.

Two weeks ago, it was yoga and Pilates in between basketball days. Last week, the team went paddleboarding on the Mississippi River. This week, it's Zumba, a workout that combines aerobic exercise and Latin dance, and capoeira, a Brazilian dance that incorporates martial arts movements.

"We don't want the players who are here to feel like they are being punished with the monotony of practice," Reeve said. "So we've mapped out a plan where we are getting enough basketball in and then we are introducing some different things."

After a week off to start the Olympic break, the players returned to Minneapolis for a schedule that has included basketball three days a week and another two days of alternative fitness workouts and team building.

Many of the players and coaches were already familiar with yoga and Pilates as part of their individual workout routines.

Paddleboarding, not so much. And the experience unearthed a few surprising phobias.

"Some of them were concerned there were sharks in the lake," Reeve said, chuckling. So, she and another member of the coaching staff agreed to give paddleboarding a trial run. "I told them I would investigate," she said. "I told them I went out there and cleared out all the sharks."

Guard Candice Wiggins, for one, was not feeling it, laughing nervously when asked if she was looking forward to the experience.

"Um, no," Wiggins said. "Lakes to me are very suspicious. I'm very wary." The San Diego native recalled a ninth-grade field trip to Catalina Island -- and not in a good way. "We were supposed to go snorkeling and kayaking and I was miserable. It was tiring and I was famished. I hope it's not like that. I'm not much of a surfer girl."

Turns out, it was not like that at all.

"It was hilarious," said center Taj McWilliams-Franklin said. "It was a great workout for the arms and the core."

Instead of paddleboarding on a lake, the team spent two hours with an instructor out on the Mississippi River. The workout earned rave reviews. "He told us that once we got the hang of it, we were the fastest to finish of any group he had," McWilliams-Franklin said. "We were racing like Michael Phelps against Ryan Lochte. We were our usual competitive selves."

McWilliams-Franklin has been through three Olympic breaks in her long WNBA career. But paddleboarding was a first. "Me and Rebekkah Brunson, we have shark and piranha phobia," she said.

Even so, McWilliams-Franklin is all for keeping things fresh and avoiding burnout during long breaks. "I've run the gamut of team building over the years, but I know the value of getting together do to stuff outside of basketball," said McWilliams-Franklin, a 14-year WNBA veteran. "You need to do things that you wouldn't normally do."

McWilliams-Franklin said it was fun to watch her teammates during the yoga workout, legs wobbling as they tried to find their balance in some of the advanced positions. "It shows you how resilient people are, how they are thinking through things and making adjustments," she said.

The Lynx will be back on the floor Aug. 17 in the hopes of making a run at a second straight title. Reeve believes there's been plenty of value to this idle time.

"They see each other in a different light when we do things like this," Reeve said. "I think that's a good thing. It's amazing how creative you can be."