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July 13, 2014 • Athletic Administration

Answering the question: What’s an athletic director?

Sitting in league meetings, attending state conferences or simply talking with a fellow athletic director, one of the most common refrains I hear is, “My principal is absolutely clueless what athletics is all about and what I do.” While all situations are unique and no one can be expected to know all aspects of an organization, reporting to an individual who doesn’t understand, and perhaps appreciate, what you do can be frustrating.

Since an athletic director needs the principal’s or superintendent’s support financially, philosophically and in action, it’s important that this person understands the program and your position. It’s vital, therefore, for an athletic director to fill in the blanks whenever, and as often as necessary, to overcome the gaps that may exist.

While it may not be germane to analyze why this gap in understanding has developed, it does stand to reason that the principal’s position has grown and evolved over the years. Twenty-five or 30 years ago, it was fairly common that a principal had been a coach before moving up the ranks into an administrative position. For whatever reason, this tendency seems to occur much less frequently in today’s settings.

Obviously, there’s a greater emphasis for a principal on improved instruction, meeting benchmarks of state-assessment tests, SAT scores, graduation rates and a host of other concerns. Almost all of these rankings and results are also posted in the media, which brings a greater focus and responsibility upon their shoulders. It’s obvious that the principal’s job is much more encompassing and pressure-filled today than in previous generations.

Educating administrators

Realizing that there was a huge gap in the understanding by principals of what athletic directors do, the Baltimore County Athletic Directors Association decided to help by producing a few informational documents. After all, the more that a principal understands about the role of the athletic director, the more appreciation and help that can be given to the school’s athletic program.

The first one-page flyer developed was simply titled “Get to Know your AD” and included 15 bulleted items. Each item was intended to explain and detail some of the responsibilities and tasks that an athletic director routinely performs. The bulleted points obviously reflect the AD position as structured in Baltimore County and should be tailored to individual settings around the country.

The following are a few of the items included on the flyer:

  • Hires, mentors, leads and evaluates a staff of 50 to 65 coaches and is responsible for a school program, which encompasses the largest number of students — 550 to 700.
  • Is a highly-qualified professional, even though athletics do not fall under the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001.
  • Fills game-management responsibilities, which includes working several evenings per week, Saturdays and over holiday breaks. This may mean missing family events such as birthday parties, and their own children’s athletic and school functions.
  • Becomes the central point of criticism when there is a rare problem, since the athletic program is often the most visible aspect of education.

While athletic directors certainly understand the immense value of athletics, a principal or superintendent, due to their background, may not. The second flyer — “Did you Know?” — was intended to provide some answers to support the view that athletics is education-based and vital for a high school.

Included in this handout were some facts about an athletic director’s position, athletes and a school’s athletic program. It’s important to point out that student-athletes:

  • Earn higher GPAs during the season.
  • Have better attendance rates while playing a sport.
  • Cause less behavioral problems as a member of a sports team.
  • Serve as positive ambassadors for the school.

To conclude this three-part handout, three bulleted points were included to state some unknown facts about athletics in general. For example, athletics:

  • Is the most visible, not the most important, because academic achievement is — aspect of education and as such, many judge the effectiveness of a school based upon athletics.
  • Provides learning opportunities for the participants, such as leadership, teamwork and goal-setting that can’t be found elsewhere within the educational area.
  • Can be a great motivational and binding agent for a community.

Do this for your program

Consider putting informational and educational documents together for the principals or superintendents in your area. Since all settings and situations are unique, analyze what your supervisor may not know and what would be helpful for him or her to understand. These simple documents might provide the help that you need to make improvements in the administrator-AD relationship.

These handouts feature quick-hit tidbits of information. While not every inclusive detail of your position or program can be included, using this approach may cause your principal to think a little. It may even spur your supervisor to ask some questions, seek more information and actually ask what can be done to help you.

Anything that you can do to help your principal or superintendent understand what you do as an athletic director and the value of athletics has to be beneficial. One should never assume that these supervisors are well-versed in these areas and your educational efforts may be vital to your future and that of your program.


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Steve Bridge

Very good information

Carlos D. Nelson

Great information for an aspiring AD to read, I Thank you for this thread! I have a follow up question? In the states that most of you reside in, is it a State requirement to be a teacher first before becoming an AD in the High school systems? I have a Masters of Education, BA in Physical Ed. (Non-Teaching)

(Coach Nelly)

Very good information, sounds like a big job that entails more responsibility and work then what I initially thought.