Strategic Planning in Sports Organizations in Interscholastic Athletics

View all blog posts under Articles | View all blog posts under Online Master of Athletic Administration

A smiling woman in athletic clothing stands holding a clipboard in front of a group of students on a basketball court.Strategic planning plays an integral role in the development of an effective interscholastic sports program. Schools need professionals who can create and expand programs to meet both their expectations and students’ needs. Athletic directors with an advanced degree in athletic administration are well-equipped to use strategic planning in sports organizations as an effective tool in developing policies and procedures to shape an interscholastic sports program.

Why Strategic Planning Matters

Strategic planning in sports organizations requires athletic directors to develop a systematic plan to meet a sports program’s goals, as well as roadmap the different phases leading up to them. These professionals should also chart and note milestones that are reached at the four stages of development: formulation, implementation, evaluation, and modification.

Formulating a plan requires athletic directors to set objectives and deadlines for the department to meet. Examples of such objectives include hiring coaches, obtaining access to practice fields, and fundraising for transportation and uniforms.

The next step of strategic planning is to implement strategies to execute the objectives. An athletic director can lay out a financial strategy to acquire funding for new sports programs by holding fundraisers or applying for grants. When hiring coaches, the director should work closely with school administrators to ensure the hiring process is fair and seek qualified candidates who embody the athletic program’s goals.

The third step of strategic planning is evaluating results. This step allows athletic directors to analyze the progress made versus the areas that need to be reevaluated.

Effective directors implement gap analysis to acquire these results. Essentially, gap analysis evaluates the differences between desired and actual performance. Moreover, the last step requires directors to modify their strategies to manage any weaknesses. The completion of all four stages of strategic planning provides athletic directors with the foundation necessary to develop effective policies and procedures to build effective interscholastic sports programs that take into account the development of student-athletes.

Key Policies and Procedures in Strategic Planning

Strategic planning in sports organizations allows athletic directors to institute policies and procedures to help them develop effective programs that meet an academic institution’s guidelines. It is important that athletic directors develop and act on their plans every year to provide students with an athletic program that builds on what they learn in the classroom and promotes mental and physical development. An effective athletic program produces student-athletes who excel in the classroom and on the field.

Athletic directors work closely with the faculty and administration to ensure athletic activities don’t interfere with a student’s academic performance. Certain athletic programs require students to maintain a particular GPA and have impeccable classroom attendance. The California Interscholastic Federation (CIF), a sports governing body, requires California students participating in CIF-sanctioned sports to maintain a 2.0 GPA. Athletic directors can use the policies of organizations such as CIF to monitor student participation in athletics. Moreover, they can work with the school board to institute stricter policies requiring a higher threshold of academic performance prior to allowing a student to participate in sports.

In addition, athletic directors need to address issues pertaining to the athletic department as a whole. Such issues may include a lack of equipment, run-down facilities, a lack of practice space, and staffing shortages. They can address these obstacles in a strategic plan that involves the school board, faculty, parents, and students. For example, if a program does not have enough money to hire coaches, the director can make a plan to recruit faculty members to coach or parents to volunteer in that capacity. To deal with equipment issues, they can establish fundraiser events that actively engage parents and the community to support struggling sports programs.

The Skills of Strategic Planning

Running a successful athletic program requires a specific skill set. Effective athletic directors exhibit advanced leadership, analytical, problem-solving, and communication competencies.

  • Advanced Leadership: All athletic directors must be able to effectively run the athletic department, as well as oversee the hiring of coaches who embody the program’s values.
  • Analytical: Athletic directors should be able to analyze and develop strategies to help the organization overcome challenges and evolve.
  • Problem-Solving: When problems arise, it is pertinent that athletic directors have the ability to find solutions quickly.
  • Communication: It is also important for these professionals to be able to communicate policies and regulations effectively so that faculty, parents, students, and coaches are all on the same page.

Explore an Advanced Degree in Athletic Administration

To hone the skills required for strategic planning in a sports organization, professionals may want to consider a degree program that prepares them to be effective leaders in their field, such as Ohio University’s Online Master of Athletic Administration. Having established the first academic sports program in the nation in 1966, Ohio University has helped prepare countless students for careers in interscholastic athletic administration. Discover how Ohio University’s Online Master of Athletic Administration can set you on a path toward a career in a leadership role.

Recommended Readings

Thinking Outside the Box: Revenue Sources for Athletic Departments

Challenges of Adding New Sports to Athletic Programs

Legal Protection for Athletic Trainers


California Interscholastic Federation, A Message to Student-Athletes

Forbes, “The 7 Critical Skills of Successful Strategic Thinkers”

Houston Chronicle, “Four Phases of Strategic Management”

National Interscholastic Athletic Administrators Association, Developing & Implementing a Interscholastic Athletic Strategic Plan

Ohio University, Online Master of Athletic Administration