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September 16, 2014 • Athletic Administration

Communication 101 for the athletic director

Is there a more important skill for an athletic director to possess than the ability to communicate effectively? We’re often judged, whether fairly or unfairly, on our proficiency to inform, explain, persuade or promote our program either verbally or in written form.

In either medium, several things have to be considered in order to be as effective as possible. First, you must consider your audience and setting. Your topic, vocabulary and approach could be vastly different when you are talking to a few coaches in the privacy of your office from when you are addressing the parents of your athletes at your preseason meeting.

The skill of communicating effectively does not usually come naturally or even easily to many. There’s often a misconception associated with the “natural gift of writing” as compared to the “natural gift of speaking.” Of course, this is complete nonsense.

Communication skills are, however, tasks that can be learned and improved upon. As an athletic director, you absolutely require this ability.

Some thoughts and tips that may help you do a better job of communicating:

1. Be clear and concise.

Obviously, we’ve all had to develop our vocabularies in preparation to tackle the SAT tests, but our ultimate goal is to be understood easily. While I’ve never worked as a journalist at a newspaper, I’m told that they write at the level of an eighth-grade student to be as clear as possible to readers. Also, take notice that newspapers reporters often write paragraphs of one or two sentences in length for their articles. They most definitely employ the KISS approach, and so should we.

2. Plan, prepare and practice.

Don’t count on your ability to speak off the cuff (extemporaneously), and don’t settle for one draft of writing. For most of us, that means that we do best when we put effort into either task.

3. Have someone check or proof your work.

Whether you are preparing a speech or producing an end-of-the-year report, have someone read through it to find mistakes and oversights and to simply offer suggestions for improvement. It always helps to have another set of fresh eyes to look at your project.

4. Use tact and discretion whenever possible.

While you may have an important, straightforward topic to deal with, you always want to consider how it will be received by your audience.

Another good word for tact is diplomacy. Is there a nicer, less abrasive way to express the same thought? Considering that you will probably still have to deal with your audience, you may want to consider the fallout from your message.

5. Understand the nature of perceptions.

Not everyone will see an issue, or understand it for that matter, in the same manner. One’s perception is often based upon experience, opinions, frame of reference and any number of other factors. It’s important for you to recognize that others may view things differently from you.

6. Consider the tone of your presentation.

You want to be careful that you don’t come across in a condescending, angry or abrasive fashion. Even when the topic concerns a problem or an issue that needs correcting, try to take as positive, encouraging and instructive path as possible. The general rule of thumb is to be critical in private and praise in public.

7. Make sure you cover all of the major points.

Misunderstanding occurs when part of the message isn’t covered thoroughly enough. If complex issues are involved, try to anticipate what questions may arise and cover them in your message.

8. Be careful not to make assumptions.

Not everyone may have the same level of experience that you do. It may be necessary to provide background information before jumping into your message, which usually may contain essentially new material.

9. Is the timing right for your message?

Unless it’s an emergency, there are some topics that are better received at a later time, under different circumstances. If your audience is tired, overwhelmed or aggravated, your message might not be not be well-received because the audience’s attention span is limited.

10. Make sure that you have your facts correct.

False or inaccurate information not only detracts from a message, it also puts your credibility at risk. It would also be wise and appropriate to reference any information that you use from other sources. This is absolutely imperative in order to avoid plagiarism.

11. Use humor only if it is applicable.

Some of us have a sense and feel for humor. If you can produce a laugh without detracting from the message, and it is natural and in good taste, use it. A little humor can actually make some messages and the accompanying information a little more palatable.

12. Understand there may be disagreement.

Even if you have carefully and meticulously crafted your message, not everyone will totally agree. This is just human nature or a built-in bias by some in the audience and not a reflection of your effort and ability. Don’t expect 100% acceptance. It isn’t realistic. But you do want to do everything to the best of your ability in order to create a sound message.

While communicating effectively can certainly be a challenge, it’s a skill that can be learned and improved upon. It’s vital for an athletic director’s success.


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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