July 19, 2021 • Athletic Administration

9 Tips for First-Time Athletic Directors

After the interviews were concluded, you were offered the position. You are now ready to step into your first athletic director’s position. Now what? Beyond wondering if you are crazy, which you should have pondered before the interview, how do you get started?

While you may never have been an athletic administrator, you probably do have some background in athletics. After all, what you have done was listed on your resume and it came out during the interview process. You probably fall into one of the five following categories or perhaps a combination of two or more.


  • Served as a coach and in this position, hopefully, you observed what your athletic director did and how he handled certain situations. Of particular help is if you can identify and emulate his positive traits and strengths.
  • Helped your athletic administrator with some off-season game management tasks for other sports and this should have given you a little insight into one aspect of the position.
  • Earned your Registered Athletic Administrator designation from the National Interscholastic Athletic Administrators Association. The three required courses for this certification include Leadership Training Course 501, 502, and 503 and they provide a good overview of many of the tasks, duties, and responsibilities of an athletic administrator.
  • Possibly served as an assistant athletic director and was able to gain some practical experience with some of the duties of the position.
  • Completed a few college sports management or other related courses which helped to expand your knowledge and background.

Regardless of your background and experience, there is much more to learn. The athletic administrator’s position is extremely complex and even for experienced individuals who may have served for years, there is always something more to learn. You are never done learning in this position!

The following suggestions, therefore, should help as you try to get acclimated to your new position.

  • Contact the outgoing athletic director and ask questions, and then follow up with more questions. For example, where are things stored? Does a list of the current coaches on the staff exist? Are the schedules set for the fall season? Immediately after being informed that you have been appointed, start jotting down questions.
  • Reach out to the athletic administrator who served when you were an athlete at your high school. You will need a sounding board and resource, and this person would be a good starting point. If this individual is no longer available, brainstorm and come up with another administrator who can fill this role.
  • Also recognize that colleagues in neighboring schools can be very helpful because they probably have similar settings, some of the same problems, and a host of solutions developed over the years. Because of their familiarity with what you may be facing, they represent a great resource for questions and when you require advice.
  • Listen and observe as much as possible within the school to get to know your coaching staff, your principal, your superintendent, and also teachers. You are going to have to deal with these individuals and the better that you understand what makes them tick, the more effective it will be to work with them. In addition, you are also trying to understand the culture of the school and community.
  • Dr. David Hoch

    Pinpointedly ask your principal what expectations he or she has for you and is there anything that should be tackled first. This conversation should occur as soon as possible after you start and it should provide you with a good initial roadmap and to help ensure a good start. Keeping your principal or superintendent, depending upon the organizational structure in your setting, informed is critically important.

  • Avoid making immediate large, sweeping changes if possible. Try to first gain a sense of how things are operating and develop a priority list of improvements that need to be made. Change can be extremely unsettling for some and unless something ranks as an emergency or needs urgent attention, go slowly. Start by explaining to your coaching staff what you have in mind and then proceed with one item at a time. Give your coaches a chance to adjust and don’t overwhelm them. 
  • Try to set up a weekly meeting with your principal, even for just a half-an-hour, and make this a regular occurrence. During this session, quickly review the major aspects of what has occurred in the past week and what is on deck for the next week. This briefing is a good foundation for transparent, effective communication.
  • Save your weekly planning documents, meeting agendas, important memos, checklists, budget proposals, and other essential documents, because they can become references for succeeding years. This step alone – having documents that can be revised and updated instead of starting from scratch – can greatly help your efforts in the future and, therefore, make things easier.
  • Step back occasionally and try to enjoy working with your coaching staff and watching your student-athletes grow and develop. After putting in 15-hour days, dealing with problems, and trying to meet perhaps some unrealistic expectations, it is easy to forget why you do this job and the purpose and value of education-based athletics. Take time to remind yourself.

Be realistic and patient with yourself. You will not and cannot accomplish everything needed or desired immediately. Make it through the first year in one piece mentally and emotionally and build upon your efforts in the second. Rome wasn’t built in a day and the same can be said for your new athletic program. Take one step at a time, even if you stumble occasionally, get back up and keep going. 

Being an athletic director takes a great deal of work, but it is also one of the most important, vital positions within the school.