Many coaches want to become athletic directors at some point in their career. For those coaches, this article is for you. This detailed advice is from a long-time high school athletic director who was previously a head football coach for nearly 20 years.
Advice to a coach that wants to become an athletic director...
The first step on the journey to become an athletic director seems trivial but is super important, and that is to make sure it’s something you really want to do. It sounds almost silly to say but there can often be a misconception about what athletic directors actually do. So, spend as much time with your school’s athletic director as possible. Most ADs are very willing to sit down and answer questions about the job. Also, volunteering in your athletic department and/or shadowing your athletic director is important. This can be anything from offering to set up or take down for games, working the scores table, announcing, working crowd control or taking tickets. Doing any of those things will help provide insight about game day demands of an athletic director.
Another step is to join the NIAAA (National Interscholastic Athletic Administrators Association). Through the NIAAA you will have access to a plethora of helpful material but also have the ability to take Leadership Training Institute courses. From there you can complete your RAA (Registered Athletic Administrator) certification. This certification is important because it will increase your credibility and provides a solid background on what an athletic director does.
Join your state’s sports specific association and join your state’s athletic association governing body. Once you are involved, volunteer to be a part of any committee. Any opportunity for you to represent your school at the state level through those associations is always a good idea. Attend clinics and conferences hosted by your sport’s association. This reflects that you are more than just an “in season” coach.
Becoming a head coach (if you are not already) is imperative to becoming an athletic director. One of the most important jobs that an athletic director has is selecting and evaluating coaches. It’s EXTREMELY difficult to evaluate coaches if you’ve never been a head coach. Once you become a head coach (or if you already are), one of the biggest pluses or minuses is the way that you are perceived as a coach among the other athletic directors at schools in your area. When you’re seeking out opportunities to be an athletic director, if other current athletic directors in the area know you as a coach with good character, they’re likely to do what they can to help you access those opportunities.
In some places, schools will not consider you for an athletic director position if you do not have experience as a teacher. (Again, this doesn’t apply everywhere but is common). If you know that's the case in the area you are in, then begin the process of becoming a certified teacher. It’s harder to understand that high school sports are educational athletics if you haven’t explored that. Generally, the politics, functionality, rules and governance are different within high school athletics then they are in AAU or club athletics.
If you are already a teacher, it is important to seek out leadership opportunities within the school. For example, if the school asks for teachers to be on a special topic committee- do it. Additionally, begin to work towards earning your Master’s degree (if you haven't done so already). More education is only going to help you.
Developing your personal/professional philosophy is important as well. This is particularly helpful as you move towards preparing for the interview process. Being able to articulate what your vision is for the athletic department and the guideposts you plan to work from will set you apart from others. This includes your mission statement and action plan.
Lastly, and arguably most importantly, truly spend more time talking to your athletic director. He/She can likely provide insight about what it the job requires in terms of time commitment and whole family commitment. It is easy often times for coaches to not have a full understanding of how many tasks an athletic director has and the amount of time required. With that, you also have be willing to have a conversation with your significant other about you becoming an athletic director. Just like coaching, being an athletic director takes a family commitment. It means a ton of late nights. A great and committed head coach knows that they’re going to have long hours prior to season, during season and shortly after for season wrap up. BUT, the athletic director is “in season” before practices even start and remains “in season” for a long time after seasons conclude. There isn’t really an “off season”. This means a lot of time away from your family, MANY late nights and rarely being home for family dinners. There are many ways that an athletic director can include his/her family at work, but it is still a big family commitment.
Thank you to Scott Robertson, my dad, for his in-depth insight on this topic.
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