By Taylor McNitt
When competition ramps up, classroom life can be difficult for student-athletes to manage. Does that give the men’s gymnastics team an excuse to put their studies on the backburner? Not for men’s gymnastics head coach JD Reive.
“My expectation of them is that they will absolutely prioritize those things and that they’re managing it,” he said. “I get very, very upset when we’re not doing it properly or they’re not prioritizing it properly. We literally talk about it daily.”
This intense attitude toward academic success is what explains Reive’s long record of academic honors earned by his gymnasts.
Iowa, in recent years, has been among the top 10 academic teams recognized by the College Gymnastics Association.
“Quite honestly, my philosophy in why I chose to go into coaching is that mind and body are inherent to just growing and learning and evolving in ways we don’t quite understand,” Reive said. “For me, it’s as important as what we do for the sport. If I’m doing one-half or the other, then I feel like I’m totally failing my student-athletes. The academics is a priority because it means that their life is in order, they have control over their mind and emotional intelligence. All of those things translate to great performance, and we’re a sport that’s about performance.”
This stress on balance has fueled the gymnasts’ academic success and accolades. In the last three years alone, 16 Academic All-Big Ten awards have decorated the team. In the past four years, 29 All-America Scholar awards have been earned by Reive’s Hawkeyes.
For the athletes, this can be a real trick when their sport is so time-demanding.
“It’s all about getting into a rhythm,” senior Elijah Parsells said. “I find that if I keep the same schedule week-to-week, it makes getting my work done a lot easier. When you start traveling, it becomes a lot more difficult because you have to reschedule things. The three, four days before you leave is a lot more packed, so you have to be proactive and do things before they come up to make sure you don’t get behind.”
The expectation is ingrained in the athletes by this point in their lives. As long as they can establish what works best for them, albeit after adjusting to being away from home, the “student” part of student-athlete shouldn’t be too much of a strain.
“Academics are definitely very critical,” said senior Mark Springett, a two-time recipient of both Academic All-Big Ten and All-America Scholar awards. “We’ve grown up doing both gymnastics and academics, and you have to figure out the balance between the two … If you’re not performing academically, then that’s just kind of an extra stressor. If you’re not stressed out about a paper, then you’re probably not going to be stressed out in the gym too much.”
The belief in the hand-in-hand nature of academics with athletics has created a reputation to uphold for men’s gymnastics. And they expect to continue to do so.