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July 2, 2018 • Athletic Administration

The athletic director’s path to certification

When discussing or dealing with educational matters, most members of the community understand that teachers have to be certified in their subject matter. This makes perfect sense, because you want the best possible individual in every classroom and someone who is qualified to provide the instruction.

Those entrusted to lead a school or district have to earn a supervisory certificate in order to fill these positions. These certificates entail the completion of additional courses covering strategies, concepts and best practices in order to provide the skills and knowledge to serve successfully. This isn’t unusual, since most professions require some sort of certification or licensure to be considered qualified.

It’s imperative that athletic administrators earn their national certification, because everyone expects the highest level of expertise, regardless of the responsibilities involved with the position. Certification is the effort to ensure and demonstrate competency, quality and professionalism, and it represents a vital and essential goal for all athletic directors.

The National Interscholastic Athletic Administrators’ Association (NIAAA) created a program that allows high school athletic administrators to earn four levels of certification. This is accomplished by completing designated Leadership Training Institute (LTI) courses and completing an exam for one level while completing a project for the highest designation. There is an entry level, and also one certification that can be earned by middle school athletic administrators.

It’s important to note that the certification program created by the NIAAA has been recognized as one of the highest educational quality and is fully registered by the National Certification Commission. Meeting these standards attests to the quality, value and integrity of the NIAAA program.

There are several ways athletic administrators can take the required and elective courses needed for each level of certification. The LTI courses are offered annually at the National Athletic Directors Conference, which is co-sponsored with the National Association of State High School Associations, and at many state conferences. It’s important to note that athletic administrators can take courses at other state conferences, state institutes and state seminars in addition to their own, as long as they register and follow procedures.

Some courses are taught by webinar each fall, spring and summer, and these offerings will be posted on the NIAAA website. Also, LTC 501, 502, 503, 504, 506, 508 and 510 will be available as online courses, which include a digital manual, interactive instruction and videos. The online courses eliminate the need to travel, and allow you to complete them when it fits within your schedule.

For more information concerning the levels of certification and the process, visit the NIAAA website and refer to the NIAAA Professional Development Academy brochure. The cost of the LTI courses and the fee structure for the different levels of certification is covered by both sources. Also, your state LTI coordinators can answer many of your questions and put you in touch with someone at the NIAAA for items for which they don’t have a ready answer.

In terms of professionalism and individual professional growth — which benefits your student-athletes, coaches and program — taking LTI courses is an important first step. However, it’s just the beginning of your journey to earning national certification. And even then, to be the best that you can be, you need to continue by earning your CMAA. The time to get started is now.

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.


A breakdown of NIAAA athletic administrator certifications

The first level of NIAAA certification is the Registered Athletic Administrator (RAA) designation. To earn it, athletic administrators must:

  • Submit the personal data form and the registration fee.
  • Complete Leadership Training Courses (LTC) 501 and 502 courses. (Beginning in 2019, LTC 503 also will be required).
  • Read and abide by the NIAAA Code of Ethical and Professional Standards.

Middle school athletic administrators can earn their Registered Middle School Athletic Administrator (RMSAA) certification by:

  • Submitting a personal data form and the registration fee.
  • Completing LTC 501, 502, 504, 700 and 701. (Beginning in 2019, candidates also must complete LTC 503).
  • Reading and abiding by the NIAAA Code of Ethical and Professional Standards.

The next level of certification is the Certified Athletic Administrator (CAA). The RAA or RMSAA are not prerequisites for the CAA, but to earn this designation athletic directors must:

  • Submit the personal data form and the registration fee.
  • Complete LTC 501, 502, 504 and 506. (Beginning in 2019, LTC 503 will be required).
  • Contractually have served a minimum of two years as an athletic administrator.
  • Pass a multiple-choice exam covering a broad spectrum of relevant topics to secondary school athletic administration.
  • Read and abide by the NIAAA Code of Ethical and Professional Standards.

The highest level of certification offered by the NIAAA is the Certified Master Athletic Administrator (CMAA). To earn the CMAA designation:

  • Submit the personal data form and the registration fee.
  • Earn the CAA certification.
  • Complete LTC 501, 502, 504, 506 and 508. (Beginning in 2019, LTC 510 will be required).
  • Complete three of the Operations and Management courses selected from the 600 series.
  • Complete three Leadership courses from the 700 series.
  • Complete a graduate-level written project or a commensurate oral presentation.
  • Read and abide by the NIAAA Code of Ethical and Professional Standards.

Beginning in 2019, the new requirements for the Operations and Management, and Leadership courses will be: One in each of these two categories, and three additional electives from any level.

* Information obtained from the NIAAA’s 2017-18 Professional Development Academy brochure.


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