A.D.ministration: Leading your program in times of change
In the world of high school athletics, or life for that matter, change is a constant. While it can be good or bad, something is always changing.
Former Chrysler CEO Lee Iacocca once said, “You are either moving forward or falling behind, because there is no such thing as standing still.” This statement pretty much sums up your athletic department, and it’s not intended simply to focus on wins and losses.When you consider your situation, you may face the start of the school year with a new principal, new student-athletes and their parents, and perhaps a few new coaches. Your budget may have been cut and you now have to raise additional funds. There also may be new state or district regulations, and there’s always something new with respect to technology.
There is always change.
In the business or corporate world, change brings about several predictable reactions. Normally, change creates shock and possibly even anger by those affected. Most individuals don’t like the unknown and want to remain in their comfort zone — “The way things have always been done.” But many things are out of your control and change is likely to happen.
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After the initial reaction of shock or anger, the next may be that of rejection. “No, I’m simply not going to use that new technique or new technology. It’s not going to happen.” Chances are it’s going to happen, because someone with authority — your principal or superintendent — made the decision. And this quickly brings most individuals to the point of acceptance.
Once many realize that a change will occur, the next thought usually revolves around, “Oh my, I’m in trouble. I don’t know how it works and I need help.” The transformation has finally gone from acceptance to seeking assistance. And this is where you, the athletic administrator, come into focus.
As the person in charge of the athletic program, you also are the change agent or person responsible for managing change. In the corporate world, there may be a department or individual who helps employees to facilitate new technology or provide training for new regulations and methods of doing business. At your school, you are the one who has to help coaches, athletes and parents with all changes that are involved with your program.
Here are nine suggestions to help you fill this vital role.
1. Get adjusted.
Make sure that you confront your own trepidation before you attempt to guide and help your department. You need to be calm, confident and a steady influence for everyone. If you exhibit anger, skepticism or reservations, it will be difficult or impossible to inspire and guide others. As the leader of the program, you need to lead.
2. Layout the vision.
Always start with those affected by supplying the vision for your program and why adapting to this change is important and necessary. This step may include reassuring everyone involved that everything is going to be be fine. It will just take time to learn and adjust.
3. Don’t fight it.
Communicate that once a decision has been reached by the state or district, it’s normally beyond your control. And once something reaches this point, it’s usually a waste of time and energy to worry about it. Therefore, it’s time to move forward. Control what you can, and don’t allow what you can’t to dominate your thoughts and efforts.
4. Plan the transition.
Determine what practical steps you can and should take to help your stakeholders adjust to any impending change. This could include hosting informational meetings, providing links and materials, and generally doing whatever is possible to help everyone understand what’s involved. Your efforts may also necessitate bringing in an individual — an athletic trainer, a computer technician — to provide training.
5. Explain yourself.
Explain to your coaches, student-athletes or parents why you are providing information, materials and training. You can’t expect everyone to immediately understand or even embrace your efforts. Even though you have determined what should be done, you have to provide the how and why for your efforts to work.
6. Offer assistance.
Be available to answer concerns and questions as your stakeholders work through and adjust to the change. If you can’t help with a specific issue or detail, provide a contact person or link that can. While you don’t personally need to have all of the answers, you do want to direct individuals to where they can get the needed help. Make things as easy as possible, and avoid adding to the frustration.
7. Seek feedback.
Actually ask your coaches, athletes or parents how they are progressing during the adjustment period. They may need an additional dose of encouragement and reassurance that everything will be fine. Of course, this step ties into the next suggestion.
8. Evaluate progress.
Periodically gauge how well those associated with your program are learning new skills, techniques or adapting to regulations. This step may determine if more education or training is necessary to move forward. Or, perhaps it’s simply a matter of needing additional time to make the adjustment. It’s important to remember that everyone progresses at a different rate. It’s your responsibility to ultimately get everyone at the same point and on the same page.
9. Re-evaluate and modify.
Constantly evaluate how things are operating after implementing any change with technology, regulations or expectations. As with most aspects of athletic management, updating and tweaking existing procedures is always a prudent thing to do. Actually, this should be done periodically — annually if possible.
Once you and your department adjust to any particular change, you may not have long to rest on your laurels. The next challenge or hurdle may occur at any time. Then, you start the process all over again.
Why? Remember, change is constant.
While each impending change associated with your department will bring difficulties, these aforementioned suggestions will be extremely useful as each one unfolds. As the athletic administrator, managing change is one of your key responsibilities.
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.