October 2, 2009 • Athletic Administration

Surviving the slings and arrows

People who have seen me doing more of our family shopping at a Target store wonder if it has anything to do with the prices or the brands that the store carries.

arrowsIt really doesn’t. I’m simply hopeful that by going in frequently, I might be rewarded with a promotional T-shirt. You know, the one with the red bull’s eye. It is the corporate logo and they even put one on the dog in their ads!

Why would I want a bull’s-eye T-shirt? Because, as an athletic director, I am often the target of criticism, complaints, and finger pointing – a phenomenon that seems to increase year after year. If I wrote an “AD” above the bull’s-eye, I might eliminate any doubt about my credibility as a professional teacher.

The placement of “blame” seems to have become a standard approach in our society and the ADs have become easy and natural targets.

How come?

  • Athletics is the most visible aspect of education. The contests are open to spectators, subject to instant review, and often covered extensively in the media.
  • Most fans – parents and graduates – consider themselves experts. Whether due to cable TV and the explosion of coverage for many sports, the proliferation of websites or involvement in youth sports as coaches, almost everyone at a high school contest believes he or she knows more than our coaches and athletic directors
  • Reason and logic will usually be disregarded by demanding, unreasonable parents when addressing concerns about their son or daughter. As the athletic director, you often have to stand up to the way parents’ demands and, for good reason. You may get the blame.

The real secret of survival for athletic directors is to develop some helpful strategies against these unwanted and unwarranted attacks.

1. Try to develop an understanding of why you are often the target. While this may not be comforting, it is the reality, usually unavoidable, and it is going to happen quite often. This is an important first step for survival.

2. Realize that most attacks are unsubstantiated, could stem from emotional issues, and usually have no validity. But this will still call for a lot of work to counter these assertions.

3. Take every opportunity — at preseason and booster club meetings — to explain and educate what really occurs within the athletic program. These efforts should help minimize the number of future attacks and should become part of your ongoing approach.

4. Develop a thick skin if you can. Most of the time, you will be the target based upon your position, not you personally. Of course, there are exceptions to this generalization, but criticism and complaints are usually directed at policies, procedures, and the program.

5. Consider the source of any attack. Does this person have the knowledge, experience, or education that you do? Anyone can claim that he is an expert, but most of the time he’ll simply be voicing a biased, opinionated point of view with no validity.

6. Resist the urge to publicly confront and counter-attack all finger-pointing individuals. While retributions may be immediately satisfying, maintaining your dignity, poise, and composure will help your leadership profile in the long run.

Continue to set the record straight and to inform all the shareholders of all the facts involved.

7. Keep your principal informed of all developments within the athletic program. This is necessary in order to ensure his support vs any unfounded criticism. Support should never be assumed and you should take every opportunity to reinforce it.

8. Rely on a strong network of fellow athletic directors. Chances are that they have experienced similar problems and will be a good source of advice. At the very least, these colleagues will be able to lend an understanding and supportive ear.

9. Read professional magazines, take courses, and attend state and national conferences. These proactive activities will often provide the help, insight, and solutions, which could ultimately be your salvation.

Being the target of unjust criticism is disturbing and uncomfortable. By understanding the dynamics of this phenomena and taking some proactive steps, you will survive nicely.

Remember, most athletic directors have or will face the exact same problem. You are not alone.

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