Born: Lowell, Indiana, 1955
Education: Purdue University, 1978—B.S. Physical Education
Western Illinois University, 1979—Master’s degree in Psychology and Sociology of Sports
Business: Head coach, NDSU women’s basketball
Community Volunteering: Breast cancer awareness, speaking engagements, United Blood Services leadership council, Bison Booster events, Bison clinics, participation in benefit golf outings
On leadership, “[A leader] has to have vision, compassion, conviction strength, and understanding.”
We all know of Amy Ruley - the living icon in women’s basketball. But, what were her early years of coaching like, what is her leadership philosophy and what is a typical work day like for her?
At the time that Amy started her coaching career at NDSU, things were just opening up for women in the coaching profession. The year was 1979; Amy had just graduated with a Master’s degree and immediately started at NDSU, half-time as a phy ed teacher and half-time as the women’s basketball coach. She said that the timing was right at that point in time to pursue a job as a female coach—she started coaching just as sports were accepting the idea of and looking for women coaches.
At that time, Amy remembers that even though the doors were opening for female coaches, somewhat of a bias existed against women coaches. She said that it was a message of ‘how could you possibly know about coaching?’ and it was an obstacle that Amy worked to overcome as she gained credibility to teach and coach the game.
Once she proved herself in this area, the next challenge for Amy was to manage her time well as demands grew while she built her career and the NDSU team. At the beginning of her career at NDSU, Amy did it all as a teacher and a coach. She was a one-person team—coaching, recruiting players, serving as the program’s public information officer and more. In short, she was doing everything that she could to build NDSU’s women’s basketball into a solid and nationally known program.
The rest is history as Amy is now well known and recognized for being an outstanding basketball coach who leads winning teams year after year.
Outside of coaching women’s basketball her next love is teaching. Before Amy became a coach her favorite job was teaching swimming as a Water Safety Instructor and life guarding at county lake beaches in Wisconsin. It is easy to see Amy’s teaching passion still at work, as great coaching requires instruction, guidance, understanding and encouragement.
Besides her love of teaching, Amy really enjoys water sports – anything to do with water such as boating, fishing, wake boarding and water skiing. As a kid, Amy spent the summers at her grandparents’ cabin on a Wisconsin lake. Now, a lake cabin owner herself, her property fondly reminds her of childhood summers since her wooded acreage sits right next to the water.
A typical day for Amy changes according to the time of year. The summer months bring days filled with work on the Internet, making notes and writing memos, recruiting activities that include a lot of travel and communications with potential players, organizing and evaluation of her program, overseeing basketball camps, staying in contact with her team and preparing for the fall season.
Once school starts, she spends the mornings in her office with paperwork and visiting with her staff and athletes along with focusing on training for her players. Her door is always open and potential basketball athletes also stop in with their parents while they are visiting the NDSU campus.
October 15 is the official start date of this year’s basketball practice season when Coach Ruley, staff and team can spend 20 hours a week on the court and in strength training. As the playing season unfolds, along with coaching games, Amy monitors the athletes’ grades and everyday lives to make sure they are living up to their best abilities on and off the court.
The season includes playing two games per weekend, and Amy reviews lots of video tape to study game performance of the team and individual players, as well as their opponents. The end of the season brings the national convention, the Final Four and the start of high school recruitment efforts. Amy usually finds a little down time during the month of May to travel for enjoyment or to take vacation time.
While discussing the sport of basketball, Amy said that she is more aware of issues or changes happening rather than trends actually taking place within the sport. A change that will take effect next month is that text messaging from schools to potential recruits will no longer be allowed by the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA). It had become an issue within college recruiting efforts that texting potential team members was too intrusive into the lives of young athletes. However, emailing and writing potential athletes for recruitment possibilities will still be allowed at the high school junior year level and up.
Amy added that another important development in athletic recruiting is the use of software that captures a lot of feedback from potential athletes and provides more personalized information. Current technology also allows for sending video streams of women’s basketball games out to people so they can view games.
Another added benefit of technology in the sports world is that it is now much easier to stay in touch with athletes—current and past. Amy said that in the early days of playing and coaching it was easy to lose track of athletes over time due to the limits within communications.
Amy’s plans for the future include moving through the Summit League transition, winning in that league, getting into the conference tournament and winning outright, getting into the Women’s National Invitation Tournament, continuing to make improvements in her program and winning the NCAA tournament.
Amy’s favorite saying has followed her since she was a child as an athlete with a small build. It says, “It isn’t the size of the dog in the fight; it’s the size of the fight in the dog.”
It is easy to see the fight in Amy’s actions as she has paved the way for female coaches, proved herself as a coach, overcame breast cancer, persevered to build and maintain the best women’s college basketball program possible, and as she sets new professional goals that will take her and her team to the next level in women’s collegiate basketball.