Prospective students interested in a career in interscholastic sports should first determine what type of role they would like to play after they graduate. Some prefer a concentration in a particular sport with lots of student interaction. Others are more interested in organizing and overseeing an entire sports program, managing teams and coaches, promoting events and scheduling activities.
High school coaches typically concentrate on a single sport, be it football, baseball, lacrosse or volleyball. They work closely with student players, helping them to hone their skills, stay in shape and develop the discipline to be part of a successful team. Coaches work hand in hand with administrators to make sure students are properly taken care of and have access to safe, effective equipment, training and facilities.
Athletic administrators, on the other hand, oversee an entire sports program and all sports activities at their school. They are responsible for keeping the program within budget, ensuring that coaches and students have safe facilities and proper safety equipment, and seeing to the administrative tasks required to keep an athletic department going year after year.
Students interested in working directly with athletes can pursue a master’s in coaching education (MCE). Those who prefer to lead and organize athletic departments may lean toward a master’s in athletic administration (MAA). Online programs for both majors can help prepare graduates to pursue their career goals.
Master of Athletic Administration (MAA) Degree
The objective of an MAA degree is to prepare graduates to manage sports programs, ranging from primary schools to secondary schools and colleges.
One of the primary duties of athletic administrators is to administer their school’s sports budget to cover salaries, equipment, facility management and travel expenses, according to Michael J. Krueger, Ed.S, and Michael J. Hughes, CAA, in their article, “Athletic Directors – Leading From the Middle,” on NFHS.org.
“Athletic directors strive to be strong leaders for coaches and teachers,” write Krueger and Hughes. “They have the freedom and flexibility to set policy, create procedures [and] establish a vision and mission for the athletic department.”
Managing a high school athletic department requires attention to detail and an ability to multitask effectively. Athletic directors (ADs) need to coordinate with their staff and with various conferences and leagues to schedule games and events. When teams from different sports require the use of the same field, the athletic director must allocate equal play and practice time for each group.
Because participation in a sports program requires that a student maintain a minimum grade point average, administrators should communicate constantly with teachers to ensure that athletes keep up with their studies while playing sports.
“Athletic directors must keep track of quickly changing rules,” explains sportswriter Frank Angst in “Learn What Athletic Directors Do” on TheBalanceCareers.com. “They must have the interpersonal skills necessary to work well with coaches in their program as well as school leaders and the public. At the high school level, athletic directors may also have to address the concerns of parents.”
Athletic directors must not only be well versed in state and school board regulations and requirements, but also understand the logic behind the rules, according to Ohio University’s MAA staff member Al Sersland. Managers in other fields may be concerned with enforcing rules, but ADs must understand why the rules exist and how they safeguard the well being and growth of student-athletes.
Athletic director and coach responsibilities are quite different, despite the fact that both operate in a school’s sports department. Athletic administrators may have less one-on-one time with students, but they actively maintain the foundation upon which teams depend for success. Without an athletic director, high school athletes might not have access to safe facilities and equipment, they could constantly run into scheduling conflicts, and they might find themselves without the funding needed to continue playing throughout the school year.
Master of Coaching Education (MCE) Degree
Interscholastic coaches are generally assigned to only one or two sports teams and are responsible for scheduling practices, developing guidelines, monitoring students’ progress and cultivating a sense of teamwork, according to Learn.org’s, “What’s the Difference Between a Coach and an Athletic Director?” Most coaches also are expected to have firsthand knowledge or experience in the sport they are coaching.
Sersland explains that since coaches interact with students far more frequently than their athletic directors, their duties involve enriching the students’ experience. Coaches conduct practices, utilize proper educational methods, set long-term and short-term goals, supervise student-athletes at all times and exhibit a sensitivity to the well-being of their athletes.
Rich Englehorn, Ph.D., describes some of the most important facets of a career in interscholastic sports coaching in his IAHSAA.org article, “Legal and Ethical Responsibilities of a Coach.” They include:
- Create a healthy and safe emotional environment, free of fear, discrimination, abuse and harassment.
- Teach and more importantly model good citizenship and sportsmanship.
- Respect the spirit of a rule as well as the letter. Respect the difficult job officials have in enforcing the rules of any game.
- Be fair in selecting players for teams and in allocating practice and playing time. Empathize with the young athletes attempting to gain a place on your team.
- Respect the role of sports in the life of a child and the commitment the athlete has to family, friends and other interests outside of sports. Athletes should be allowed to experience other sports as well as to participate in the arts if they desire.
Coaches are teachers, first and foremost. They are responsible for the development of the students in their care. Although they may occasionally be responsible for some administrative tasks, their primary focus is the day-to-day education of student athletes. Coaches should aim to help their students grow physically and emotionally into well-rounded, responsible adults.
Learn More About Ohio University’s Online Master’s In Athletic Administration Program
Ohio University created one of the first sports-related degrees tailored specifically to the field of sports administration: the Master’s in Athletic Administration program (MAA).
The online 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. For more information, visit Ohio University’s MAA page.
Leading From the Middle – NFHS.org
What Athletic Directors Do – TheBalanceCareers.com
The Difference Between a Coach and an Athletic Director – Learn.org
Legal and Ethical Responsibilities of a Coach – IAHSAA.org