May 30, 2012 • Athletic Administration

How athletic departments operate like organizations

While many athletic administrators may not realize it, their school and athletic department are organizations. Athletic directors also deal with other organizations, such as leagues, professional associations, booster clubs, community groups and boards of officials.

Even though you might not think about it, it’s important to understand how organizations are structured and how they operate.

All organizations have an official hierarchical structure and, often, an unofficial one. Simply put, this means that someone is in charge.

There can also be an unofficial structure within an organization. Sometimes, there is one person, perhaps with no title at all, to whom everyone looks or listens to in the unit. This individual may not speak loudly or often, but his or her influence and wisdom usually has a great impact upon the organization.

As part of the structure of an organization, it almost always has policies and procedures in place to guide the operation. Whether these guidelines are labeled a constitution, charter, mandate or another term, this document provides the rational basis for existence and operation.

With the help of policies and procedures, the administrators of an organization communicate with the members, staff and interested parties as to progress, problems and issues.

Just like unofficial leaders within an organization, who at times may actually be more influential than the actual person in charge, communication also has an unofficial aspect. In addition to the down-line official communication, a rumor mill, grapevine or water-cooler talk could exist. At amazing speed, this form of communication definitely plays a role in many organizations.

In addition to providing another perspective of developments and issues, this unofficial communication stream may not always be reactionary or accidental. There can be occasions when opposing points of view are circulated to disrupt an objective or course of action by the organization, which is not popular or embraced by all of the members.

As an athletic director, you are likely involved in several organizations and you lead your own athletic department. It’s absolutely imperative that you understand that your athletic department is an organization and it operates as most others do in our society.

Eight tips to manage the dynamics of your organization

1. Determine if there is an experienced coach in your department to whom most others look to and follow. If you identify this individual, you are in a better position to get his or her help to influence other coaches in the department to work toward common goals. This same principle and approach is useful with booster clubs and parent groups.

2. Think through the ramifications if you react to an unfounded, false rumor. Depending upon your style and personality, try addressing the situation, incident or incorrect assumption by quickly putting out an email to your staff. Simply start with, “In spite of the rumor that has been floating around, here is the actual explanation.”

3. Involve your staff and allow for their input when possible. When individuals feel they are being heard and are not being dictated to, they are more likely to buy into the course of action or policy.

Even if they don’t offer a suggestion, giving them the possibility of providing an option is a huge incentive and major step for developing staff loyalty.

4. You control the downward communication system. You provide instructions, reminders and, on occasion, directives. This isn’t an open dialogue and your wording and tone become extremely important.

Reactions to your directives don’t have to follow the official upward channel of communication.

5. Utilize your resources. Keep in mind that the “key to the success of any organization is the proper utilization of human resources (Mondy, Holmes & Filippo, p .230). While you may have other personnel such as a secretary, grounds crew or custodians under your direction, your largest and most important resources are your coaching staff. Your communication and educational efforts with your coaches are paramount to all of your responsibilities.

6. Change and improvement in organizations usually comes slowly and in small increments. With leagues, state and professional associations, the proposal and implementation of amendments to policy changes take time. This means that it is helpful to have vision and plan ahead to be successful.

7. Small changes are more palatable and, therefore, attainable. Huge sweeping changes are usually not embraced by the members of an organization because this causes people to suddenly leave their comfort zones. Small steps are less threatening and long-range solutions may be possible.

8. Are you meeting the concerns and decreasing stress? Stress may occur when individuals in an organization do not have control of their work environment. Try providing coaches with professional-development opportunities, support versus misguided parents and providing the best equipment and facilities possible.

As an athletic director, you not only head the athletic department, which is an organization within a larger one—the school district, but you also are part of several others. Your understanding of the dynamics of an organization is an essential ingredient to successfully fulfill all of your responsibilities and thrive in your career.


Mondy, R, R. Holmes & E. Flippo. Management Concepts and Practices. Allyn and Bacon, Inc. 1980.

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