Every day, high school athletic departments work to coordinate sports contests to ensure student-athletes meet their fullest potential. Everyone involved—from students to administrators—are stakeholders in the ultimate success of a sporting program and its athletes.
Prior to winning championship games and earning hardware for trophy cases, interscholastic athletic departments work collaboratively to help student-athletes reach their goals within the best interests of the program. At the center of the efforts are athletic directors (ADs), who work as athletic administrators.
“Great interscholastic programs model successful techniques and management styles long before any championship seasons are recorded or won on the field of play,” Bruce Brown, executive director of the Ohio Interscholastic Athletic Administrators Association, said. “In other words, success that is sustainable and meaningful doesn’t happen by accident.”
Roles in athletic departments act as a hierarchy of authority or a chain of command, which allows for effective communication management.
Athletic Department Roles
Within high school athletic departments nationwide, the job duties and responsibilities of each person largely depend on the size of the school. Smaller schools may just have an athletic director and coaches who oversee various sports. Larger schools may have secretaries, assistant coaches, coaches, assistant directors, and an athletic director.
A typical high school athletics department chain of command may be structured as follows:
1. Player and parents
As the beginning level in the hierarchy of authority, players and their parents are responsible for bringing concerns, problems, and grievances to the coaches. In general, student athletes are expected to follow the rules set by coaches, the athletic director, and the school. Students are tasked with demonstrating good citizenship and sportsmanship, playing by the rules, and being open to constructive feedback. Student-athletes must also maintain academic standards set by the school.
Coaches are responsible for providing guidance and direction, advancing skill levels, and fostering teamwork among student-athletes. Coaches work with athletic coordinators or athletic directors (depending on the organizational structure of the school and school district) to schedule games, practices, and associated activities.
Coaches enforce academic policies for student participation. They are responsible for maintaining a strong moral code and acting as role models for students. Coaches keep an open line of communication with the athletic coordinators or directors for the wellbeing of the students and in the best interest of the school. In many schools, coaches are in charge of physical education or academic courses during school hours.
3. Athletic Director (AD)
ADs oversee all components of a school or school district’s athletics program, provide guidance for the sports programs, and handle administrative duties that include hiring, scheduling, budgeting, compliance, and facilities management. Some days ADs act as counselors to coaches, and other days they spend time answering questions from parents.
When working at schools, ADs act as intermediaries between the coaching staff and the principal, provide administrative support and oversee all sports programs. They interview and hire coaches, schedule sporting events, and offer behind-the-scenes encouragement.
When working as a district-wide administrator, ADs provide leadership, prepare budgets, schedule facility usage, arrange district interscholastic events, and conduct meetings as necessary.
Within the purview of high school sports, principals are expected to maintain contact with ADs and hold them accountable for the school’s athletics program. Principals work to ensure athletics programs balance education and competition to provide a well-rounded learning experience. They bridge the gap between athletics departments and school administration.
The relationship between the principal and the AD is crucial for a shared vision for the success of campus athletics programs. They must work cooperatively to create a robust coaching staff.
As a school district’s chief administrative officer and the executive head of the school board, the superintendent’s primary role is to oversee the school district’s operations. Superintendents run the school district on behalf of the school board, so they take direction from school board members.
Superintendents understand the importance of sports programs. While they actively support the programs they usually do not play a significant role in the daily operations. Bruce Law, the Hinsdale Township High School District 86 superintendent, said having a dependable staff running sporting departments is essential.
“I have found that if you hire great people, especially a great athletic director and a strong principal, most of your worries will be taken care of,” Law told the National Federation of State High School Associations (NFHS).
6. School Board
School boards are made up of elected and appointed officials who make critical decisions regarding the future of district schools, educators, and the administration. They function as a link between the public and administrators in compliance with federal and state laws.
The main role of the school board in high school athletics is to work to provide students with the tools to succeed, longtime Oklahoma school board member Willa Jo Fowler told the NFHS. Fowler, who has been a school board member for more than 40 years, said elected and appointed officials must support all students equally and ensure the public understands the crucial role sporting activities play in education.
“Also, the awards and recognitions given to teams and individuals by the board is great, and board member attendance at activities also shows support and encouragement,” Fowler said.
Learn More About Ohio University’s Online Master’s In Athletic Administration
Ohio University is a leader in sports education, creating the first academic program in the field of sports administration. The online Master’s in Athletic Administration (MAA) program focuses on preparing interscholastic Athletic Directors to nurture student-athletes and run athletic departments.
Ohio University’s MAA program is accredited by the Commission on Sport Management Accreditation (COSMA) and prepares students for National Interscholastic Athletic Administrators Association (NIAAA) certification. Learn more today.