October 2, 2009 • Athletic Administration

Professional Involvement

At a recent regional athletic directors’ meeting, a colleague of mine from another state not only announced his retirement but, between all the well wishing, felt obliged to tell us the secret behind his long and distinguished career.

Quite simply, he felt that his career with his state association and the National Interscholastic Athletic Directors Association were the keys.

As time went on and I completed my two-year term as president of the MSADA (plus the related two-year 2nd and 1st vice-presidencies that accompanied the president’s position), I realized that I had actually made a six-year commitment.

All that time and effort convinced me that I totally concurred with my friend’s assessment of professional organizations and the beneficial effects they have on one’s career.

In our positions, we deal daily with complaints, problems, mounds of paperwork, and very little appreciation. When things go well, coaches often get a huge amount of the credit. When things go poorly, it is our fault. Even though what we do is extremely important, the job may lose a little of its luster as time goes on. It often becomes difficult to get enthused about the daily grind, but this is where your involvement with professional colleagues can provide the excitement, encouragement, and inspiration to continue.

Fellow athletic directors will occasionally hit you with statements such as: “You must be crazy to do all that extra work. Aren’t you busy enough?”

The answer, of course, is obvious. Of course you’re too busy. Like most ADs, your days and weeks will often overflow with responsibilities and hectic schedules. It is the nature of the job. People involved with professional associations understand what the benefits are and why they work so hard at their job.

It is not difficult to get started. All you have to do is volunteer. Most AD associations are constantly looking for willing contributors. There are enough of them to fill all of the openings.

In the MSADA, we actually have created positions to take advantage of athletic directors with special talents who have expressed interest in serving. Since individuals willing to serve are in such limited supply, we don’t want to lose anyone who can contribute.

Your primary objective should be to get your foot in the door. Perhaps your first position might be as a committee member or a representative on the executive board. This isn’t unlike the process of climbing the corporate ladder. You usually start at an entry-level position, gain experience and let others get to know you. When you “prove” yourself, other doors will usually open.

If you’ve thought about getting involved on the national level, it would be helpful to start on a state level. After all, you need to show that you have some experience – and that’s most often and naturally developed first on the state-level.

Since you are probably already overworked, how do you take on more? The answer comes down to time management. Understanding and complying with deadlines are important for anyone contemplating involvement on a state or national level.

In order to get everything done, you may also want to ask others to help. This is also a very good way to get more inviduals involved in professional organizations.

We all have heard the expression, “If you want something done, ask a busy person.” Even though that sounds like an oxymoron, there is something to it. Assuming that a busy person also accomplishes something, there are logical reasons why he succeeds.

A busy person probably has good organizational skills. Most likely, he is also driven, efficient, motivated to succeed and a “Can do” type of person. This also means that he is optimistic and positive.

Regardless of the demands on his schedule, he will find the time to do something that is important to him. He can be busy…but he will still contribute to state and national professional organizations.

On the other side of the ledger is a great deal that can also be personally gained from serving in professional associations. Ages ago during student teaching, my mentor explained that when you have to teach something, you have to truly and substantially learn the material.

Not only do you first have to present new material to the students, but you will also be expected to answer questions and anticipate their needs. That’s pretty heady stuff, and it also applies to leadership positions in professional associations.

Even though I’ve been an athletic director for 11 years, I gained valuable insight into leadership and additional skills by serving as president of the MSADA.

Everyone on our Executive Board, either as an officer or District Representative, obviously leads his own high school program and perhaps serves in other leadership roles. These ADs are very capable individuals and, for me, that means having to utilize a different style and continuing to learn.

In my position as the president of the MSADA, following are a few of the things that I learned.

It is important to understand and appreciate the diversity of settings, demographics and concerns throughout the state. From end to end in our state, our schools and their leaders vary greatly. No single answer or approach will fit everyone.

It is necessary to build a consensus in order to move initiatives and proposals forward. Perhaps in part due to our diversity in the state, alliances and partnerships have to be formed in order to accomplish most things on the agenda. Simply taking a hard-line approach, even if it is logical and reasonable, may not necessarily work.

It is imperative to involve others in order to achieve success. It is absolutely essential to give credit to individuals in order to have them continue coming up with creative ideas.

By encouraging input and then acknowledging it, you will encourage greater participation in the future. It becomes everyone’s association instead of simply the agenda outlined by the president.

In the purist sense, all athletic administrators should devote all their efforts into making their high school program the best it can be. There can’t be much argument with this approach, but on a state or national level it might give you the opportunity to make an even greater impact.

In cooperation with similar individuals, you can make a difference that will affect thousands of young people, coaches, and athletic administrators in your state or perhaps the nation.

While I am not exactly in an objective position to judge what the MSADA gained from my leadership during my two-year stint, I know what I got in return: an unbelievable opportunity for me to learn and grow.

You won’t find a better way to develop and thrive professionally than by being involved with your state and national professional associations.

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