How the Hawkeyes are Staying Together

by Jack Rossi

IOWA CITY, Iowa — How does a team stay unified when told to keep apart?

The arrival of the Covid-19 more than six months ago has challenged teams to adapt to social distancing rules without missing a step. The University of Iowa softball team has been able to navigate the hardships of 2020 by relying on a group of former U.S. military members.

These former members of the U.S. Marine Corps run an organization called The Program, which is a leadership development and team building group based in Connecticut.

The Hawkeyes and Program representatives Cory Ross and Cole Walter have been working together since 2018, but have been dependable resources for the team to talk to, especially during 2020.

"(The Program keeps) us on the right path and helps keep our mental state intact throughout this pandemic."

Head Coach Renee Gillispie

“(The Program keeps) us on the right path and helps keep our mental state intact throughout this pandemic,” head coach Renee Gillispie said.

The Hawkeyes were first introduced to The Program in 2018 but have maintained a relationship with the organization ever since. The Hawkeyes even had The Program visit the team in Florida during the 2020 spring training trip in January.

“The results from the first two times we worked with them was fantastic,” Gillispie said. “The girls bought into understanding what it is to be a teammate, how to communicate, how to be there for each other and be accountable. These are all things we try to instill in our players.”

When Covid-19 hit, the staff knew that there was going to be a disconnect with their players, and Gillispie knew exactly who to go to.

“We reached out to Cory and Cole about wanting to touch base and stay in touch,” Gillispie said. “It was a check-in to make sure everybody is doing well and keeping their focus on what they can control.”

Controlling the controllables is the saying the team has been using.

“It is to be there and be able to control what they can control and reach out to each other,” Gillispie said. “If somebody isn’t feeling good or are having a hard day, you have your teammates’ back and know they have your back.”

This fall, the team meets with Ross and Walter once a week via Zoom to go over The Program’s book, aptly named The Program. The book is written by members of the U.S. Marine Corps, which details personal experiences relating to leadership qualities.

“Each section teaches a different thing,” Gillispie said. “This week was communication. They have a leadership section, accountability, and fighting the fear section. Each chapter goes through a different aspect of what we want to include in our team.”

While the challenges are always present, the Hawkeyes are fighting each step of the way to tip the scales in their direction.

“We’re trying to keep our team on the right path and keep our mental state intact during these challenging times,” said Gillispie.