Practicing Mindfulness at Collegiate

When Alex Peavey became head coach of the boys’ varsity basketball team at Collegiate School in 2004, he not only arrived with a focus on athleticism and sportsmanship, but also on players’ well-being. The mindfulness tactics Mr. Peavey began modeling and encouraging his basketball team to adopt helped them learn how to concentrate on the present, control their emotions and move forward despite challenges or setbacks.
“It taught them how to handle both adversity and success,” said Mr. Peavey, who retired this year from coaching basketball but remains an assistant varsity boys’ lacrosse coach. “If we just got beat by 30, (they learned) there’s an opportunity to come back the next day and try again. If we won by 30, there’s an opportunity to show humility.”

Within two years, others at Collegiate were beginning to recognize the value of Mr. Peavey’s efforts, including Annie Richards, Upper School Chair of Health and Wellness.

In 2006, Ms. Richards contacted the student health centers at numerous universities around the nation to find out what incoming freshmen need most to maintain good health.

“Every single college or university mentioned stress management,” said Ms. Richards, who also serves as head coach of girls’ lacrosse at Collegiate. “Alex said he was really interested in the topic and the rest, as they say, is history. What I thought would be a two-week topic covered in Health and Wellness I (taken by all freshman in the fall or spring) has grown because of Alex Peavey. He is skillful in his approach, he understands the mind and he practices what he preaches.”

Mr. Peavey, who is also an Upper School Counselor, credits Jon Kabat-Zinn with creating the concept of mindfulness. Dr. Kabat-Zinn established the Center for Mindfulness at the University of Massachusetts Medical Center 30 years ago to help reduce stress in patients with serious medical issues and to help them heal faster.

“Once it was clear (that mindfulness) was a positive addition to the curriculum, and when more and more people were asking for it throughout the school and community, Collegiate agreed to send me to New York to receive professional training (from) Jon Kabat-Zinn,” he said. “This expanded my abilities in teaching the practice, and it gave me the tools needed to teach adults as well.”

These days, in addition to every 9th Grader taking a mindfulness class, Collegiate 3rd, 4th and 5th Graders are exploring the practice, and Mr. Peavey teaches a senior seminar in which students gain a greater understanding of the concept and apply it to everyday life.

Recent graduate Dorcas Afolayan '16 said practicing mindfulness in fast-paced environments kept her centered during senior year.

“It just kind of becomes an everyday thing and you choose to apply it,” said Dorcas, who graduated in early June. “Mindfulness helped me when I was working backstage and moving props for a play.”

Mr. Peavey also has helped numerous Collegiate athletics teams, including girls’ tennis, field hockey, football and lacrosse, adopt the practice.

“In lacrosse, we talk about feeling the breeze,” he said. “First you notice the heat, then you realize the heat allows you to focus on the breeze.”

Mr. Peavey occasionally leads mindfulness workshops for faculty and staff, and has hosted a few workshops for Collegiate parents.

Weldon Bradshaw, a Middle School English teacher and former head coach of the varsity cross country team, found mindfulness beneficial in the most critical time of his life.

“When I was told I had a week to live, I took that to mean seven days,” said Mr. Bradshaw, who suffered from an autoimmune liver disease and received a liver transplant in 2012. “What I learned from [Mr. Peavey] really helped me during that time. I’m going to manage now, rather than worry about later. Being able to stay in the moment and not getting too ahead of myself made good sense for living life on the line.”

Mr. Peavey said his first priority for mindfulness is that it happens naturally, and that people choose to use it when they need it most.

“I see it continuing as (an avenue) for parents, kids and faculty to navigate the everyday life of stress,” he said. “So much of life takes us out of the present moment; but the present moment is the only time we’re alive. What we’re going to realize is that we’ve missed our entire life by focusing on the next thing rather than what’s right in front of us. Mindfulness is (strengthening) resiliency and cultivating a vitality for life.”

This article was written by Collegiate School's communications intern Ashley Jones.