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January 15, 2013 • Athletic Administration

A.D.ministration: ‘No’ isn’t a bad word

Soften the blow of having to say ‘no’ by following these eight suggestions

Even though an athletic director’s schedule is jam-packed and crazy at times, most do anything possible to fill a request or to help someone — an athlete, coach, fellow athletic administrator. Perhaps the desire and approach to help is engrained and part of the personality of those who serve as athletic directors.

The efforts to be of assistance aren’t limited to those individuals who actually stop into your office. Phone calls, email messages and letters also add to the number of requests you see in a day. And this doesn’t always mean you’re assisting by physically helping the individual with forms or materials, it also can involve providing advice and possible solutions to problems.

It almost seems the more that you do for others, the more is expected of you. When an individual continually says “yes” to every request without considering existing responsibilities, they run the risk of becoming overextended. This creates even more stress and can cause you to miss deadlines, short-change your athletes and coaches, and make mistakes.

While an athletic director may not like to say “no,” sometimes this is the best answer to offer at times considering your schedule and responsibilities. Politely add, “I can’t help at this time, but would be glad to when there is a break in my schedule.” Use this approach when needed and most individuals who are requesting your assistance are sure to understand.

In addition to using “no” to prevent creating an unworkable or difficult schedule, an athletic administrator also uses this word to ensure compliance with district or state regulations and policies. As the athletic director, you are the gatekeeper and person responsible for your teams and department personnel to meet deadlines, responsibilities and requirements. Occasionally, you just have to firmly say, “No, we can’t do that. It simply isn’t possible.”

By all means, provide an explanation whenever possible detailing why you can’t undertake or do something. Provide the rationale, criteria and a copy of the regulations. But, ultimately, even after trying to provide the basis for your decision, you are responsible and have to stand by your firm “no.”

Don’t be a ‘yes person’

As an athletic director, you usually also serve as a middle manager. Since individual settings and organizational hierarchy vary greatly around the country, you may report to your principal, a supervisor or the superintendent. And in your position, there are times you are called upon for background information, proposals, ideas and advice.

In this informational or supportive role, the individual to whom you report may not want a “yes person.” Your supervisor typically is looking for a straight-forward response from you. Sometimes this includes, “No, I don’t think this is the best option or direction to take.”

This does not suggest you must be blunt or demonstrative in your use of the word “no.” Try to employ tack, discretion and take into consideration the tone in which you use it. The word is simply the alternative to “yes,” and it may negatively affect individuals on the emotional level.

Eight suggestions for saying ‘no’

Every athletic director has to use the word “no” at times, so here are eight suggestions to make the task more manageable.

1. Use this response judiciously and only when necessary. It’s understandable most individuals are not happy and are disappointed to hear the word — so expect a reaction.

2. Have the courage, however, to use ‘no’ when it’s warranted. An important element of leadership is to ensure compliance and to maintain control even if others do not agree. This advice also extends to offering your professional opinion to your supervisor.

3. Try to offer a logical and documented reason for any ‘no’ response. While the person you’re dealing with may not like your answer, it’s important every effort is made to help him or her understand it.

4. Avoid using the word with any accompanying emotion, emphatic voice inflections or punitive tone. An answer expressed in a calm, low volume manner makes it a little more palatable to receive.

5. Offer to consider helping with a request in the future, if you are unable to assist at the present time. In this fashion, you communicate it’s simply a scheduling problem and not due to unwillingness on your part.

6. Suggest another person who might be able to assist if you are unable to at this particular time. A secretary or another individual in the school can serve as an alternative.

7. Understand there may be an individual who goes over your head when you have to respond with ‘no.’ When your answer is based upon established regulations and policies, you should have the total support of your supervisor. For items based upon your overtaxed schedule, a brief explanation may be necessary.

8. Always make sure your answer is consistent with previous interpretations or decisions. It’s understandable that everyone wants and expects to be dealt with in a uniform and fair manner.

In the life of an athletic director, “no” is not necessarily a bad word. It’s necessary and useful at times. Learning when and how to use the word is similar to others in your vocabulary arsenal — it just happens to be short and to the point.


David Hoch, CMAA, has 16 years of experience as a high school athletic director and served for 12 years as the executive director of the Maryland State Coaches Association. In 2000, he was named Athletic Director of the Year by the Maryland State Athletic Directors Association. His column, A.D.ministration, focuses on issues in athletic administration and appears regularly in Coach & Athletic Director magazine.


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