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Every athletic team tries to play better each time players go out, and one way that Franklin & Marshall's volleyball squad improves performance is through the implementation of mindfulness.
In sports, mindfulness might be defined as the art of relaxing so one can be more competitive.
In life, it has been described as the psychological process of bringing one's attention to experiences occurring in the present moment, which one can develop through practice and other training.
"It's been a great program for us," said sophomore Delaney Hahn '21, an outside hitter from North Carolina. "We're having a good season, and I think it has been a factor. We can relax at times, but then we can be more focused."
Last spring, Coach Mary Kate Salko's team entered into a mindfulness program as a means of obtaining a greater awareness during games. One of its goals is to reduce negativity, and focus on the next point of the match, the next moment.
The program at F&M is a formal regimen administered by Kathy Babb, senior student development adviser, and a career adviser with the College.
Babb makes the program available for all students, staff and faculty, but in spring 2018, she and Salko developed a program specifically for volleyball.
"Students can be under a lot of pressure," said Babb. "This program can create quiet time to make student-athletes aware of themselves. We want to drive away negativity and focus on the goal of high-performance team play.
"We don't diminish drive and competitive edge – we help players focus for better performance."
A mindfulness session can bring the team together for quiet moments. They might do yoga. They might pray. They might cleanse their minds by not thinking at all. They might gather in a circle and express appreciation of their teammates.
"I think the program has been beneficial," said Salko. "Students are under stress, and a chance to relieve it can come through meditation, and when we're in a group, we can verbalize about what we need to do and how we are a team."
She said that little tips could be used in a game, such as controlled breathing between points, and "forgetting about" an error to focus on playing well on the next point.
"Now that we are in the flow of the season, we're focused on what we have to do," said Salko.
Mindfulness is a recognized tenet of the educational and corporate communities. Research has suggested that mindfulness practices have had positive influences on well-being, stress reduction, mental acuity, and physical health.
The practices can take many forms, including yoga, tai chi, and mindful observations. Bringing mind and body to a reflective, even meditative station comprises a vital counterweight to the stress of a rigorous academic or athletic experience, experts say.
The Diplomats are benefiting from this regimen as a result of a $1 million commitment by retired investment executive Tony Kreisel, '66, and his wife, Dr. Kimberly Faris. They endowed a program that offers the F&M community a broad range of mindfulness training and practice opportunities.
"I work with a great deal of 18-to-26-year-olds, in school and out, and there seems to be a lack of balance among many," said Faris, a Boston-area clinical psychologist, in a statement. "Mindfulness helps provide balance and healthier coping skills."
Kreisel, a trustee of the College, said F&M's holistic view of student development is one of its distinguishing characteristics. He issued this statement:
"This program – the Faris-Kreisel Mindfulness Program – adds to our palette of holistic student development in a way that I find exciting," said Kreisel, who before he retired was a chief investment officer, large-cap value, at Putnam Investments. "It's something our students will keep with them throughout their lives."
This unique approach to improving an already historically successful program, speaks to Salko's pedigree as a leader. Now in the midst of her 16th season, the 2001 F&M graduate reached her 300th victory Oct. 10 when the Diplomats overcame adversity by battling back from a 2-1 deficit against Gettysburg to win in five sets.
Salko, who was inducted into the F&M Athletic Hall of Fame in 2013 thanks to her stellar volleyball career for the Diplomats, can relate to the grind of her players' daily lives on campus.
"There are many stressful pressures on the students, through academics, athletics, and other factors," said Salko, a popular mentor who some of her players call their "second mom."
"We want emotion on the court; we want to be competitive. But we want clarity and focus as well, and the mindfulness program is helping."