March 20, 2011 • Athletic Administration

Balancing the athletic director job with family

Our position as athletic director is extremely time-intensive, demanding and unforgiving. It’s not uncommon to have contests scheduled every day of the week, some during the evening in either the stadium or gym, and even some on Saturdays.

Our one free day of the week is Sunday.

If lucky enough to have an assistant or game manager, we might consider squeezing in a little relief. But most of us won’t have that kind of luck and will be forced to attend the event. On those rare occasions such as attending a national or state conference, we have to prepare detailed, step-by-step instructions for one or two days of coverage in our absence.

Many of us unintentionally short-change our families. With all of our school and athletic department obligations, we really have little time for anything else.

It might take weeks of juggling our schedule and making allowances just to celebrate a birthday for a family member. Quality time? What’s that?

Since establishing a balance between your family and position is a difficult and delicate problem, you’re not going to find athletic directors offering any special insights. But are there any good solutions out there for the rest of us caught in this trap?

Advice from ADs

Bill Bruno of Brick Township, N.J.; Jon Vanilla of Burgettsown, Pa.; Patrick McHugh of North Shore, Ill.; David Lutes of Kent, Wash., and Mike Ellson of Nashville, Tenn., are ready to share their experiences.

If you have children of your own, it may be next to impossible to attend their games or musical performances. Game management and various meeting responsibilities may create huge hurdles in your attempt to be supportive of your offspring.

Bill Bruno, for example, relies on assistants, game managers and friends to be of help so he can partake of his son’s activities.

Since Jon Vanilla’s and Mike Ellson’s children attended the school where their fathers were the athletic director, they were often in attendance at the games with their dads. As a matter of fact, Jon used his children’s interest to make them unofficial assistants. Since Jon didn’t have an adult assistant, it was a great way to keep his children involved and to share time together.

Of course, both Jon and Mike were also present at all of their children’s own home athletic events.

Another benefit that Jon and Mike stressed about having their children right there whenever they were needed: They both got to know their children’s friends and are generally privy to what is going on in each of their lives.

Even if your children attend other schools, you can take them to your contests, let them get involved and spend time with you. If you are attending to game management responsibilities, it’s important to establish predetermined meeting points and a method to get in touch in case of an emergency.

For non-athletic activities, Patrick McHugh tries to develop “shared activities” with his children. For example, he and his oldest son play the same musical instrument and take lessons together in order to improve and to spend time together.

Patrick McHugh was quick to add that regular exercise is important because it makes him more cheerful and energetic around the house. However, the trick is to find the time to work out in an already packed schedule.

A possible solution is to find an activity that your wife or kids can also enjoy and take part in, enabling them to accomplish two goals — quality family time and a workout.

Explaining the job

All of the AD’s expressed their appreciation of supportive and understanding spouses and how vital this was in their survival. But what if your wife or husband does not have an appreciation of athletics and is clueless as to what your position involves? What do you do?

As obvious as it may seem, you have to sit down and explain your position and what it entails to your spouse. Bring them along to some contests to actually see what is involved and show them that not just anyone can be thrown into your position during a game.

As you know, your position involves planning, details, decisions, and possibly dealing with emergencies, all of which takes training, years of experience and perhaps a little luck.

Everyone quickly and clearly expressed that they loved what they did and understood the limitations and pitfalls of the position. Bill Bruno pointed out that it also helped to have his wife as a coach and, therefore, totally comprehensive about his involvement and responsibilities.

Of course, you also have to do your part to create quality time with your family by thinking ahead and finding someone to cover for you on special family occasions — a time without cell phones and other distractions. This time must be totally devoted to your family.

I never answer the phone at home. My wife and children developed a fail-safe system many years ago in order to preserve my time at home. Even if I am sitting right there, the standard response is, “We are sorry, he isn’t home.” In addition, they never offer to have me return the call.

Protecting Sundays

We disconnected from our Internet server several years ago out of necessity. Coaches, parents and even fellow athletic directors began expecting me to answer their email messages on Sundays. They became an enormous intrusion into my limited family time.

Everyone can expect a fairly prompt reply from me during the week, and that’s reasonable. But I will guard my time at home, and that means not replying to off-hour emails.

In David Lutes’ words, “Sunday is a special day” for his family and they try to always make the evening meal the center place of the week for them. Not that they don’t try to have meals together throughout the week, but on Sunday there are no interruptions, games to attend or other responsibilities.

This is strictly family time. While it might mean going to school an hour earlier on Monday, David does not even bring paperwork home to cause a distraction to this family on their one day together.

After talking with this group of athletic directors, it became very clear that establishing a balance between their position and family is a constant battle.

It takes effort, creativity, and a commitment to avoid short-changing your family. But it’s a battle that you can’t lose. You have to find a way to spend some quality time with your family.

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