September 27, 2016 • Athletic Administration

A.D.ministration: Maxims for athletic directors to live by


At a recent conference, a new athletic administrator was overheard saying to a fellow attendee, “While I coached and had a background in athletics, I never realized the time, details and exactly what was involved in the position.” Amen.

There are times that even experienced athletic directors find the job hectic, frustrating and intense. There are so many responsibilities and headaches that it can be overwhelming. And, if this occurs on a Monday, you still have to worry about the week ahead.

It should be obvious that all professionals continuously try to become more organized and efficient in handling their responsibilities. This effort includes embracing and utilizing new technology and constantly trying to expand one’s knowledge and background. But despite all efforts to improve, an athletic director’s position is very complicated and demanding.

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Athletic directors may need to develop an operational mindset and understand that subtle intricacies that come with the position are not always technical or skill related. The following maxims for athletic directors provide a good perspective and basis to survive and thrive in your job.

1. Control what you can, don’t dwell on what you can’t.

While this is not always easy, it’s a vital tenet to follow. In the athletic director position, you are middle management. You deal with the daily operations of the department and make some decisions. You may even be asked for input or create and fine-tune proposals. However, the major decisions are made by either principals, superintendents or school boards, and they are beyond your control.

2. You will never make everyone happy.

While you should try, pleasing everyone can be a difficult task. You always have to make decisions that are fair, consistent and based upon factual information, and this means that some individuals will agree and some may not. Your basic mantra should be to do what’s right regardless of how it may be perceived.

3. Offer supervisors advice only when asked.

While you don’t have to agree or like every course of action that your principal or superintendent takes, once a decision is reached, fall in line. The choice has been made and it’s no longer in the discussion or consideration stage. This ties into the next maxim.

4. Always publicly stand behind your superior’s decisions.

While you don’t have to be a “yes man” or “yes woman” and you may not always agree, you do need to support your superiors. They expect and need your help to set the direction of the organization and implement changes with coaches, athletes and parents. Call it loyalty, but you work for this person and your future depends upon this relationship.

5. Choose your battles carefully.

While you can disagree with your supervisor when asked for input, it isn’t wise to constantly challenge his or her decisions. This person may want diverse points of view in order to frame a proposition, but they may not like a constant barrage of confrontations and arguments. Stand up for important issues, but let many others alone. Otherwise, you might be replaced with someone more agreeable and less of a headache.

6. Always be courteous.

Even when you are in charge of a group of individuals as you are with a coaching staff, administrative assistant, athletic trainer and others, two phrases work wonders for developing good working relationships — “please” and “thank you.” You are never too busy to use them. And remember that “I need” is a demand, and no one appreciates this approach.

7. You will never accomplish everything that you want or should in any day.

While you should employ a to-do list to organize and prioritize your tasks, you will never have enough time to finish everything. Work hard and smart, and the remaining tasks will be waiting for you the following day.

8. Be correct and prompt in all responsibilities, but nobody is perfect.

The pursuit of perfection can be disabling because there is always one more thing to add or correct, making deadlines difficult to meet. This creates uncontrollable stress and it becomes a mad, vicious cycle. Plan, work hard, do your best and move on.

9. Everyone makes mistakes.

Even with planning, preparation and focus, mistakes happen. In your position, you deal with hundreds of tasks, details and deadlines. You oftentimes work long hours with pressing deadlines. While you want to avoid slipups, it’s equally important to correct them, learn from the situation and move forward.

The coaches also might make a misstep now and then. It’s your job to provide reminders, guidance and help them when there is a problem.

10. Never forget why you became an athletic administrator.

Athletics provides an aspect of education that is invaluable and can’t be found anywhere else in the school. You create a positive environment and opportunities to help young people and coaches develop life-long qualities. While much of what you do is behind the scenes, you have a huge role that affects countless lives.

11. Follow the one ultimate guiding principle.

In all decisions, do what is right for student-athletes and coaches. It’s not a complicated mission, but it provides all the direction that you need.

These tips should help you navigate the crazy, hectic and demanding life of an athletic administrator. It’s important to continue learning new skills and gaining more experience, but to succeed in this position it’s essential that you understand these truisms. The sooner, the better.

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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