Lisa Bluder is issuing a true Hawkeye challenge to all University of Iowa community members: Come to a game—you’ll like it.
The Iowa women’s basketball coach wants more fan support at Carver-Hawkeye Arena when the basketball season opens in November. And Bluder, who twice has been named Big Ten and Women's Basketball Coaches Association Regional Coach of the Year, is promising to put a quality product on the court and forecasting an exciting year. The squad will defend its Big Ten regular season championship title, and the University will be one of 16 host sites for the NCAA Tournament on March 22 and 24, 2009.
As Bluder enters her ninth season as Iowa’s head coach—she signed a contract in August that will keep her here through the 2013 season—she took some time with fyi to reflect on her hoops roots, her coaching success, the trials of recruiting, and her appreciation for Iowa City.
You grew up in Marion. When did you get involved in basketball, and why?
I just always loved to play. My father put up a basketball hoop in the backyard for my two older brothers, but they never paid any attention to it—I’m the one who wore it out. He got me started and I grew a love for the game that continued through high school. Then I received a scholarship from the University of Northern Iowa where I played everything from an off guard to a small forward to a power forward.
As a kid, I was never one to sit around and watch TV. I had lots of energy to burn, and I think my parents were really happy that I had the outlet of not just basketball but also track, volleyball, softball, and tennis. Basketball is just the one that stuck. I even tried gymnastics once, but a six-foot body didn’t fit too well in a leotard.
What do you find most rewarding—and most challenging—about being a Division I collegiate coach?
The most rewarding thing is watching your players achieve goals. There is a great leadership quote that states “It’s fun to fulfill your dreams but even more fun to enable the dreams of others.” That’s so true. Watching other people get excited about a goal and seeing them achieve that goal is very rewarding. Also, following your players after they graduate and go on to do some really neat things for themselves professionally and personally, that’s rewarding as well. Obviously, winning championships is very fun—and if I don’t do that once in a while, I don’t have a job.
The most challenging part definitely is recruiting. Finding out what is important to 16- and 17-year-olds and trying to sell them on the merits of being a women’s basketball player here at Iowa is tough, especially knowing they could choose their school based on how they look in that school’s uniform color. And recruiting has become kind of a nasty competition among coaches. Plus, it means spending a lot of time away from home.
You are Iowa’s second all-time winningest coach (at 148-98), and all of your recruits have earned degrees. What have been the keys to your success? And how do you get the best from your players on the court and in the classroom?
You have to surround yourself with good people who share your values—whether it’s your players or your staff. I’ve been able to retain an excellent staff. I think I work extremely hard, and while that doesn’t guarantee success, without it you don’t have a chance of being successful. I’ve got a real strong belief in myself, and also I believe in the people around me. I instill confidence in my athletes and that helps them to be successful.
I think we prepare our teams very well and give them that confidence they need. Sometimes people don’t think they deserve to win, they don’t deserve to have the big prize. We have to change that attitude. Imagine going to the free-throw line with 8,000 people behind you and wondering if your coach believes in you. Or, you go there and you know that your coach believes in you. There’s a big difference in how you approach that situation. My players have to know that I believe in them.
What have been your biggest accomplishments—professional and personal?
Personal—definitely having my three children. There’s nothing that compares to having kids and sharing your life with them. There’s no doubt that’s been my biggest thrill, my biggest accomplishment.
Professional—our graduation rate and having our players succeed athletically and academically. And, after doing this for 24 years, I feel I still have a high level of integrity and character in this profession; not everyone can say that after 24 years.
How would your players describe you?
I think they would say I was enthusiastic and that I am a hard worker. I hope they would say I was caring, that I care about them as people as well as players. They’d probably say that I was a little corny, but I’m an Iowa girl and I don’t think that’s such a bad thing.
Do you have a personal or professional motto?
The team has a motto and it’s an acronym that we post in our locker room: WIN. It stands for “Work hard with Integrity—No excuses.” When we huddle during practice and yell, “Win,” an outsider probably would think we were talking about winning the next game or winning the next drill, but in reality we’re talking about the things we feel are important in order for us to win.
Also, I’ve had a quotation at the end of my e-mail that says, “When you want what you’ve never had, you must do what you’ve never done.” And I believe that’s true. People often want different results but aren’t willing to change what they’re doing. I think if you want a different result, you’ve got to do something different. You’ve got to go beyond what you’ve already done.
Whom do you admire most, and why?
Unfortunately, there weren’t many strong female athletic role models when I was growing up. Billie Jean King was one—man, was I rooting when she beat Bobby Riggs. But there are a lot of strong leaders today, especially in this community. Dr. Christine Grant, for one, and what she has done for women’s athletics, not just at this university but on a national scale. And I think it’s wonderful that we have a woman leading this university; that’s a great example to my team.
What do you like most about the University of Iowa community? Least?
One of the most enjoyable things is living in a college town and being able to participate in a lot of different activities—from lectures and sports to Hancher and the Museum of Art. I love that. In my first two collegiate jobs—at St. Ambrose in Davenport and at Drake in Des Moines—I wasn’t in a college town. I like the energy of Iowa City, and I also like the solitude of the countryside.
The least—I would like to have more awareness and better attendance for women’s basketball. Our women work and practice so hard and we put a great product on the floor, but attendance isn’t very strong. I think if people will just come out and try it, they’ll find it’s amazing. And it’s a very family-oriented event. Kids can play with Herky and see the band and cheerleaders up close. Our players sign posters and autographs after every game up on the concourse. Tickets are reasonable. In fact, UI faculty and staff get discounted season tickets: $76 dollars for 16 home games. That’s a pretty good deal.
What are your goals?
I want to win a national championship and also continue the success of our players academically and socially.
What do you do in your free time?
I try to walk almost every day. I live out in the country and walking in the woods is a tremendous stress reliever. I can clear my head—and it’s also good exercise.
You and your husband, David, have three kids in elementary school. What’s your favorite family activity?
We are busy with the kids’ school activities, sports, dance, and church groups. I love bonfires in our backyard and also family trips. Our kids are good travelers.
Any sports allegiances besides the Hawkeye?
No, but because of marriage, I have to be a Bears and a Cubs fan.
By Sara Epstein Moninger