Athletic Directors: Planning for the Season

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ADs have a number of responsibilities when organizing and overseeing a school’s sports programs.

Athletic directors (AD) are responsible for organizing and overseeing an educational institution’s sports programs. Depending on the size and scope of the school and its athletic offerings, an AD may have to manage dozens of different sports, each with its own student-athletes, coaches, facilities, and logistics.

This Herculean task is accomplished in large part through effective planning. Dr. David Hoch, who spent 16 years as a high school athletic director and 12 years as the executive director of the Maryland State Coaches Association, explains that the planning process has clearly quantifiable results. “I’ve heard that for every hour you invest in planning, you save two. That’s a pretty good exchange rate, and it goes a long way toward improving what you want to accomplish in your position,” he says in a recent blog post. “Planning may be your key to success.”

The particulars of this process are highly specialized to the athletic field and encompass many details that would be unfamiliar to a layperson. To succeed, an athletic director therefore needs specific knowledge and skills that can be obtained through programs such as Ohio University’s Master of Athletic Administration online. Featuring targeted athletic director courses, OHIO’s online MAA can provide the background needed to prepare candidates for rewarding and successful athletic director careers.

A Winning Season

The AD’s most immediate task is planning an institution’s yearly sports cycle. Hoch highlights a few of the key events and items that ADs are responsible for preparing in each sport they oversee:

  • Preseason meetings. These meetings for parents and coaches should include PowerPoint presentations, agendas, and handouts. Refreshments, projectors, sound systems, and additional aspects also must be arranged.
  • Invitational tournaments would typically include inviting the teams, scheduling officials and contest workers, preparing a program, and producing advertisements.
  • Student-athlete reports. Eligibility reports and other required paperwork for each student, such as permission forms, physical exam documentation, and signed codes of conduct, must be collected and verified to ensure that they meet all regulations of the AD’s school, district, or state.
  • Team gatherings. Awards evenings or banquets require gathering the names of the recipients, ordering the awards, arranging the sequence of speakers, scheduling the venue, and creating a program for the event.

In addition to these predictable duties, unexpected issues inevitably arise that also require planning. Hoch mentions two such issues:

  • Difficult conversations. Meetings with a problematic parent or a high-maintenance coach require thought and preparation. An AD must gather pertinent materials prior to the meeting, such as copies of policies and procedures.
  • Cancellations and rescheduling. Inclement weather or other problems may force contests to be postponed or canceled. This development requires many changes and communication with a host of individuals.

Facilities and Event Management

Along with sporting matters, ADs are also charged with planning for and managing an organization’s athletic facilities. Some of these duties are institution-specific, but many are common to most, if not all, athletic director positions. Academic athletic director courses can be very helpful in learning the basics of this type of planning, which may include:

  • The strategic management of athletic facilities
  • Planning for facility construction and renovation
  • The maintenance of athletic facilities and equipment
  • Event planning and management for school and non-school users
  • Emergency planning considerations

Master’s-level courses such as Ohio University’s Facility Programming and Management class cover these topics and others, preparing candidates for this aspect of an athletic director career.

Strategic Planning

Strategic planning is another aspect of the AD’s job. Although strategic planning is broader in scope than seasonal planning, it should be revisited during the preparation stage of each year’s season to ensure that the program’s overarching goals are still appropriate.

According to the National Interscholastic Athletic Administrators Association (NIAAA), a strategic plan is essential in helping ADs to focus their energy, resources, and time; guide day-to-day decisions; gain funding for projects; communicate direction to staff; and spell out where a program is going and how to get there. “The better you understand your wish list, the better plan you can create,” the NIAAA says.


The NIAAA explains the major points of the strategic planning process for athletic directors:


  • Identify your program’s strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats.
  • Key issues. Identify items within your athletic department that need to be addressed, and who or what can help with them.
  • Define your department. What are your athletic department’s values, vision, and mission? Write a mission statement.
  • Goal setting. What do you want your athletics program to achieve?
  • How, specifically, will you achieve these goals?
  • Action plan. Develop and then write out an action plan for the athletic department.

Once these steps are complete, the plan must be reviewed constantly to stay on track. “The plan is a living document, not a fancy book for your shelf,” says the NIAAA. “Hold regularly scheduled review sessions at least four times annually to assure your focus on the future of your athletic department.”

The Big Picture

There is no denying the importance of this type of planning. “Details matter. Checking and rechecking [things like] your schedules, transportation plans, and officials and game management schedules on a daily basis is critical to your success and running an effective program,” explains Kevin Bryant, former president of the Oregon Athletic Directors Association.

However, Bryant also reminds ADs to look beyond the details. Sure, a sports lesson plan is important, but administrators must keep their eyes on the prize. “Your most important job is not paperwork,” he says. “We must not get caught up in the daily tasks to the point that we miss impacting the lives of those with whom we work.” In the big picture, planning is merely a tool that helps athletic directors push their student-athletes, coaches, and programs to greater heights.

About Ohio University’s Online Master of Athletic Administration Degree

Ohio University’s online MAA program is designed to teach professionals how to manage the many changes in interscholastic sports. The university launched the nation’s first academic program in sports administration in 1966 and continues to be a leader in sports business education.

Ohio University’s online MAA program is housed within the university’s College of Business, underscoring its dedication to providing world-class sports business education.

The program works in collaboration with the NIAAA to prepare graduates for certification and is accredited by the Commission on Sport Management Accreditation (COSMA). For more information, contact Ohio University’s online MAA enrollment team now.

Recommended Reading:

2019 Trends in High School Sports Administration

An Athletic Director’s Responsibilities and Career Outlook

7 Essential Traits of a Successful Athletic Director


Importance of the planning process – Coach & A.D.

Season planning – Coach & A.D.

Facilities and event management – Ohio University

Strategic planning – National Interscholastic Athletic Administrators Association

The big picture – Athletic Business