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October 2, 2009 • Athletic Administration

How athletic directors can overcome, survive mistakes

As an athletic administrator, we don’t want to work overtime to avoid making mistakes. But to err is human, and every once in a while everyone will make a mistake.

This is what happened to a friend and fellow athletic director. Despite being conscientious, hard working and dependable, he made a mistake. And since athletics is the most visible aspect of education, he had nowhere to hide.

The young man was devastated, embarrassed and couldn’t be consoled. In order to survive and prevent the problem from reoccurring, he decided that changes had to be made.

What do you do when you make a major, clearly visible mistake in your handling of some work problem, a personal relationship, a leadership slip, or any other kind of incident?

1. Admit to the mistake. After all, you are the head of the program, and good leaders take responsibility for their actions. Although most athletic directors would automatically take this step, they should be reminded of it.

2. Correct the mistake as soon as possible. While not everything can be immediately repaired, try communicating via email or phone everyone who might have been involved or affected by the incident. Alert them of the problem and what steps are being made to take care of it.

3. Analyze why the mistake was made. Were you too busy or perhaps unduly distracted by someone or something? In our daily schedule, this happens all the time, and determining the reason for it remains the initial step.

4. Develop procedures to prevent the mistake from reoccurring. While you will always be overworked and frequently interrupted, you should always try to make a quick note before focusing your attention on the source of the interruption. Perhaps you can also set up a system of checks and balances.

This is exactly what my friend did. He began copying his memos for his assistant so that he’d always have a second set of eyes to catch a potential mistake.

5. Work off the stress caused by the frustration of making a mistake. Exercise is a great source of relief. Whether you run, bike, or swim, do something that will help you relieve the stress and tension.

Since my friend couldn’t sleep, he arose at 3 AM to work out. While exercising is an important step for coping, I’m not sure that doing it at this time of the morning is a good solution for everyone.

6. Forgive yourself. Remember that you do work hard and are conscientious. No one can be expected to be perfect, and that includes you and all the responsibilities and associated tasks that you are responsible for.

Your coaches and program need your focus on the next issues at hand. The mistake that was made is now history, and you have to move on with the present.

7. Rely on other athletic directors for advice and support. While they may not have made the same mistake, chances are that the experienced AD’s have been in similar situations. Our colleagues can be a great source of inspiration and help, because we have a special, unique position that only fellow athletic directors would understand and appreciate.

With email, we are seconds away from a national support network. You are no longer limited to a few AD’s in the neighboring schools.

8. Consider this visible mistake as an opportunity to update your supervisor (principal or superintendent) with regard to your increased workload and the scope of your position.

There is probably no more demanding, overworked position in the entire school than yours, and this may not always be evident to your supervisor. The reason for this oversight is that you do your job well, and a mistake is extremely rare.

With help and more time, chances are that the mistake wouldn’t have occurred. Your supervisor can’t offer you help or make improvements to the structure of the position without knowing the facts.

9. Seek out forums — preseason parents’ evenings, booster club meetings and similar events — to educate your parents with respect to the enormity of your responsibilities. The more that they know about the magnitude of your position and the time constraints, the more likely they are to understand your predicament.

10. Consider the source of any criticism. Since most parents, coaches and administrators will support and appreciate what you do, you shouldn’t allow a few misguided naysayers to affect all of the positive things you do.

You help more young people in the school than perhaps anyone else. Take solace in the fact that probably no one in the school comes close to doing what you do daily, much less doing better.

Since the possibility of making a mistake always exists, don’t let one destroy your confidence and focus. Thinking through the problem and following these suggestions should help.

Good, conscientious individuals can survive a mistake and continue to excel in a most demanding position.


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