The Highlights & Pressures of Being A High School Athletic Director or Coach

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Rooting for a sports team or criticizing its coach from the bleachers is easy. However, being a high school athletic director or coach is an oftentimes grueling process involving hours of sweat equity and frustration. Winning a game or championship relies on the science of coaching, while running a successful high school athletic department relies on strong managerial and administrative skills. This overview of U.S. sports explores the science behind high-pressure performance and lists takeaways for coaches and ADs.

To learn more, check out the infographic below created by the Ohio University’s online Master of Athletic Administration program.

How ADs can utilize certain strategies to create successful programs in the face of budget concerns and involved parents.

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Sports in the U.S.

Watching sports live or on TV is a popular American activity. For instance, 57% of U.S. adults are pro football fans, and Super Bowls account for 19 of TV’s most watched programs of all time. It’s also estimated that 103.4 million Americans watched Super Bowl LII. College football (56%) and pro baseball (51%) are also watched by more than half of the American population. These stats demonstrate coaches are under constant public scrutiny.

Youth Sports Participation

When adults aren’t watching pro sports, they may be watching their children playing youth sports. 14.7 million kids play basketball, followed by baseball (13.2 million), outdoor soccer (8.9 million), and tackle football (3.3 million). These sports are primarily coached by volunteers.

Historic Win

When a memorable victory like a big comeback occurs, a team’s performance – and the coach’s strategy – can live forever. For instance, the Toronto Maple Leafs erased a 3-0 series deficit to win the 1942 Stanley Cup Final 4 games to 3. This feat was repeated by the Boston Red Sox in 2004, when they defeated the arch-rival New York Yankees.

Crushing Defeats

On the other hand, a team that suffers a blowout loss could have its poor performance live on in infamy. Classic examples of this include: the 1940 NFL Championship, where Chicago blew out Washington 73-0; Super Bowl XXIV, where San Francisco downed Denver 55-10; and Game 3 of the 1998 NBA Finals, where Chicago defeated Utah 96-54 – the biggest blowout in NBA Finals history.

The Challenges for ADs

High school ADs use leadership skills to verse a school’s athletic program, but this role is often complex and requires wearing numerous hats at once. For example, ADs may be called upon to schedule games, practice times, and facilities. They must also find qualified coaches. While most hire teachers already at school, some hire non-teachers or may even assume the role of coach themselves. Some ADs also serve as teachers or as vice principal.

Major AD Issues

ADs typically must deal with various budget concerns. While studies indicated 22% of schools raised budgets in 2017-18, 58% of budgets stayed the same, and 20% had decreased budgets. Some ADs are too depleted to run programs adequately and need to turn to fundraising to make up the difference. Some ADs also feel they lack the power to make budget decisions.

ADs also must deal with parents, who are more involved than ever. Parents may spend a lot of money on athletic travel programs and be quick to use tech to confront an AD about their kids.

Potential Solutions to Challenges

There are several technological advances that can provide aid to ADs. For example, rSchoolToday is a digital scheduling tool designed to make scheduling easier, while Remind is an automated mobile communication tool that connects ADs with players and parents.

ADs can also advocate for the hiring of an athletic trainer that can help prevent minor injuries and assist in major potential issues like concussions. Additionally, ADs can use interpersonal skills to develop an in-person rapport with student-athletes and meet concerned or angry parents face to face. They can also rely on staff to help with paperwork or bring in parents for game-day volunteerism.

Tips for Athletic Directors

While being an AD is challenging, incorporating several guidelines can minimize the difficulties that may disrupt the profession’s goals. These guidelines help new ADs get comfortably established in their position and gives veteran ADs the chance to re-evaluate the current work conditions.

Building relationships with coaches and staff can be vital to making an ADs job run smoothly. This can be achieved by sharing concerns and ideas regarding each sport, welcoming feedback and encouraging solutions to get coaches more involved off the field.

It’s also important to develop strong organizational skills. ADs must multitask, so learning how to prioritize and asking others for help where appropriate can make this workload more manageable.

Additionally, it’s important for an AD to differentiate the concept of life lessons versus wins. Developing life skills at the high school level is more important than victories, ADs can work with coaches to incorporate life skills into daily practice plans.

ADs can also be open to seeking feedback. This can include being open to evaluation from head coaches, and it can also stem from being in a group of fellow ADs to share job frustrations and learn about fresh ideas for their program.

Finally, it’s important for ADs to realize their limitations. This includes striving to maintain a steady work-life balance, learning from mistakes, and trying not to do too much by themselves – all while staying positive.

Winning can bring a coach or AD glory. However, the off-the-field duties often make the greatest impact. These duties can sometimes account for the most challenging aspects of a high school AD’s job. ADs can overcome these difficulties by building strong relationships with staff and student-athletes, developing strong organizational skills, and being open to evaluation from coaches and peer groups.

Learn more about earning your online Master’s in Athletic Administration from Ohio University.