Q&A with Janice Kruger

University of Maryland

By Staff

Coaching Management, 13.5, April 2005, http://www.momentummedia.com/articles/cm/cm1305/qakruger.htm

She won her fourth Atlantic Coast Conference title and led her team to its sixth NCAA tournament appearance in 2004. She has mentored her squad to two perfect ACC seasons and in 1997, recorded an undefeated regular season. In 2003 she became the all-time winningest coach in ACC history.

Itís no wonder that Janice Kruger, Head Coach at the University of Maryland, is recognized as a force to be reckoned with in east coast volleyball. Heading into her 18th year at Maryland and 28th year as a head coach, Kruger has had winning streaks and losing streaks, made comebacks no one thought was possible, and inspired several former players to pursue their own coaching careers.

A former player at the University of Nebraska and two-time NCAA Division II coach of the year at Nebraska-Omaha, Kruger believes in involving her assistant coaches in team decisions. She also talks about how she keeps her team positive during a losing streak, what she looks for in recruits, and what itís been like to watch Title IX develop and improve the options available to female student-athletes.

CM: This past season, your team had a 12-14 regular season record and was the eighth seed in the ACC tournament. But you ended up winning the conference championship and almost upset Penn State in the second round of the NCAA tournament. How do you keep a team motivated through a tough season and in the end get them turned around?

Kruger: You just have to keep things positive. You have to show your athletes their potential for improvement, while making it very clear what youíre trying to accomplish. Once they understand that and start working towards it, even if there are more losses than wins, they can see the opportunity to improve.

This past year we had several runs where we would win, then we would lose, and it was quite challenging. You just try to improve every day, stay with the team, and hope they stay with you.

You received a yellow card during the NCAA playoff match against Penn State. In retrospect, do you think you should have acted differently?

That was a tough one. If I felt the penalty from the card had had a big impact on the game, yes, I would take it back. But in some ways, I felt as though it pushed our players. It let them know that we wanted them to fight, that it meant something to us, and we wanted the game to be officiated fairly.

How do you keep pushing yourself and your team without getting burned out?

I think you have ebbs and tides along the way, and I know there have been times that Iíve probably been a little more charred around the edges than Iíd like. But I try to surround myself with individuals who bring energy, knowledge, and enthusiasm to the game. You have to have fun in what youíre doing and try to constantly keep growing and changing.

How do you work with your assistants?

I really try to use my assistantsí strengths in the best way possible. I like them to be expressive, I like to hear their opinions, and I like them to challenge me. Because I really do encourage and ask for a lot of input, they are motivated to put everything they have into coaching the team and working for the betterment of the program. However, even though I want to know what my coaches are thinking, Iím still strong enough to know that in the end, itís ultimately my decision.

How much emphasis do you put on strength-training and conditioning?

A huge amount. I feel this has been an area that our staff has done a nice job with over the years. Our program focuses on injury prevention, but itís also strength- and power-based with an endurance component, so theyíre capable of participating in these ultra-competitive matches and practices day in and day out. We are also getting better at tailoring our strength and conditioning to each athleteís needs. Itís not just a one-size-fits-all program anymore.

What are some of the best and worst changes in the college game over the past 25 years?

I very much like some of the recent changes: rally scoring, the libero position, the let serve. With rally scoring, the game is a lot more pressure packed than itís ever been, and I think thatís been really good for the athletes. But I think we still play too many points. We play 30, and I think 25 would be enough. Playing shorter games puts a little more pressure on a little earlier.

No ACC team has ever won a national title. What needs to change for that to happen?

The league must embrace volleyball as much as the rest of their sports, and thatís starting to happen. I believe the coaching is in place and now itís a matter of getting the type of players who can take teams to the Final Four. The expectations of athletic directors are becoming higheróthey want volleyball to be on the national scene, and thatís starting to show.

Speaking of athletic directors, yours is one of the few females at the Division I-A level. Whatís it like having Debbie Yow as your boss?

She has a very clear vision of what she wants to accomplish. She brings a level of professionalism and expectation to the program, along with really high standards. Sheís a very strong role model and shows our female athletes what goals and hard work can accomplish.

You have several former players who currently coach. What do you do that influences your players to go into the profession?

I got into coaching because my college coach made the sport fun and allowed me to feel successful and enjoy the process. I try to do the same. I also try to teach the pleasure of having a goal and then figuring out the steps needed to reach it. Then, when players experience success through conquering goals, they have the mindset and the motivation to do it continually. Hopefully Iíve made it a fun process and something that they want to continue being a part of.

What do you and your staff look for in your recruits?

We look for athletic ability first. Then, as we dig deeper, we look at their competitive spirit. We also look at their character. How do they get along with other people? What are they like day in and day out? Are they willing to work for our common team goals? We also consider if, academically, they are the right fit for the University of Maryland. Are they capable of handling the competition in the classroom?

How do you emphasize the importance of academics to your players?

Academics are ultimately the reason why theyíre here. We talk about the fact that theyíve got to take care of their academics and their athletic responsibilities. We set pretty high standards for our student-athletes. Thereís a certain GPA they need to meet, thereís study hall, and thereís also a lot of communication about whatís going to happen down the road.

In the first couple of years, some of those things donít mean a lot to them, because theyíre just starting the process. But when they begin their junior year, they start to get more tuned in. All of a sudden that light goes on, and they dig in and blossom, hopefully in both volleyball and their academics.

Can you tell us a little more about the Janice Kruger Maryland Volleyball Camp?

I have been running camps here at Maryland for 17 years with my players, my staff, and assistant coaches from other schools. I see camp as a valuable tool in many ways. Number one, it prepares high school players for the Division I level. Number two, and probably more importantly, the student-athletes that teach and work at my camp learn a lot. When my players coach other athletes, it makes them better players. And the success my college student-athletes have at camp can motivate them to go into coaching later on.

What has it been like playing and coaching through 33 years of Title IX changes?

Itís been great to see all the positives. Programs are now able to recruit female athletes, and young women are now able to go to a university they may not have been able to go to before. Thatís been a real joy. I like that female athletes have crowds watching them, and the opportunity to do their very best is a phenomenal thing. But sometimes I catch myself saying every now and again, ĎBack in the good old days Ö í At times, Iím not as inclined to like the changes that have made womenís athletics more of a business. But I also understand those things sort of go hand in hand. To be able to afford some of it, sometimes thatís what you have to do.