How to Become an Athletic Director

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Man holding basketball while sitting at the desk

What does it take to build a great interscholastic athletic program? It takes many things—the right mix of coaches, sports teams, policies, and finances—including sports teams and their coaches being able to implement teamwork and dedication into their daily lives. However, the glue that holds a great athletic program together is an intelligent, driven athletic director. From directing events to managing finances, athletic directors have many roles as leaders in the sports field. As elementary, middle, and high school sports continue to motivate student-athletes to further their education, the athletic director’s role has a lingering impact on the lives of those they work with. Students and professionals looking to further their education, wondering how to become an athletic director and have an impact in athletics, can earn an Online Master of Athletic Administration.

What Does an Athletic Director Do?

The process of building a successful interscholastic athletic program relies on leadership from a qualified athletic director. Often an active coach already in the program earns the job because of having a good head for sports. Other times, the position goes to a school administrator who wants to help the school athletes to achieve their athletic goals. Sometimes a dedicated sports administrator who has the sole responsibility of running the school’s athletic program earns the job. Regardless of who ends up with the position, becoming a successful athletic director takes hard work and dedication.

Since sports is an integral part of the student-athlete experience, athletic directors have an impact on the lives of countless students. According to the NCAA, 8 million high school athletes are in the U.S. While these students primarily work alongside their teammates and coaches, their athletic directors make important decisions regarding the games they play and the recruiters they meet. Part of an athletic director’s job description is taking time to know the sports teams and making decisions that will benefit them in the sports season and the long term.

Athletic Director Job Description

Interscholastic athletic directors need to be passionate about education and sports. They should care about their student-athletes and make it their goal to give their athletes the best opportunity to succeed by creating the best athletic programs possible. An athletic director’s job description covers all aspects of the athletic program funded by a school or an institution. Building a championship program takes dedication and knowledge of not just sports but also business, communication, finance, safety, budgeting, human resources, law, and more. Athletic directors are responsible for hiring coaches and other staff members and selecting and purchasing equipment. They budget their allocated funds for practices, matches, meets, games, championships, and travel to various sporting events.

Sports teams’ administrative responsibilities fall to athletic directors who arrange the seasonal schedules for practices and games. They communicate with multiple sports teams and coaches to coordinate training, games, and equipment usage. Athletic directors are also responsible for staying up to date on sports policies. They can cultivate a space for their athletes to succeed, as well as welcome college recruiters and professional sports teams to watch their players.

Education, Salary, and Skills of Athletic Directors

Some athletic directors work primarily in administrative positions, while others also work as coaches and trainers. Based on the work they do, athletic directors have different qualifications. All athletic directors have an athletics or athletic education background. For some positions, it’s sufficient for athletic directors to have a bachelor’s degree in physical education. However, most athletic directors earn a master’s degree in sports management, education administration, or athletic administration. Since athletic directors have varying levels of education, their salaries may vary. However, according to PayScale data from January 2020, athletic directors make a median annual salary of about $60,000.

When questioning how to become an athletic director, it’s important to understand the skills of athletic directors. Athletic directors need to be able to demonstrate organizational leadership and strong communication skills. They need to be detail-oriented, as they arrange multiple schedules for several sports teams. They need to also be financially savvy and have basic mathematical skills, as they create and implement budgets. Since athletic directors work with athletic policies and public relations, part of an athletic director’s job description is being familiar with legal terms and policies. Athletic directors communicate with coaches, athletes, parents, administrators, and recruiters and thus need to demonstrate interpersonal skills. They need to be able to deal with conflict resolution between students, parents, and principals regarding sports issues. They need to also be prepared to communicate effectively across different media outlets regarding sports teams and their games. Overall, athletic directors must display leadership qualities across the board when it comes to the sports field.

Become an Athletic Director

When considering what it takes to become an athletic director, it can be helpful to know an athletic director’s job description and qualifications. For those who are invested in the athletics world and want to make a difference in student-athletes’ lives, an athletic director career can be particularly rewarding. Students and professionals looking to advance their careers as athletic directors can earn Ohio University’s Online Master of Athletic Administration. The program’s goal is to train and prepare coaches and administrators to become knowledgeable, forward-thinking athletic directors. Courses such as Sports Marketing, Athletic Administration Seminar, and Financial Administration of Sports Facilities and Programs can develop and expand your skillset.

Discover how the Online Master of Athletic Administration can help you to become an athletic director and prepare you for a career that guides your K-12 athletic program into the future.

Recommended Readings

Ohio University Blog, “A High School Athletic Director’s Guide to Pay-to-Play Sports”
Ohio University Blog, “Athletic Directors Encouraging Student Academic Achievements”
Ohio University Blog, “Sports Marketing: Winning Strategies, Wild Fans, and the Money”


Forbes, “Examining the Decade-Long Trends in High School Sports Participation” 
National Athletic Trainers’ Association, The Benefits of High School and Youth Sports 
NCAA, Estimated Probability of Competing in College Athletics 
NCAA, Student-Athletes
PayScale, Athletic Director Salary