Editor’s Note: The following is an interview with Susan Robbins, director of athletics at Yarmouth High School in Yarmouth, Maine; and Diane Shuck, athletic director at Air Academy High School in Colorado Springs, Colorado, and past president of the Colorado Athletic Directors Association, regarding the challenges that females face as high school athletic administrators.
Question: Since the hours and commitment involved with the athletic administrator’s position are extensive and unrelenting, what do you do in order to maintain a reasonable balance between your family and your position?
Robbins: When I started as an athletic administrator, I was very driven and wanted to represent women in the best way possible to prove that we can indeed be successful in a profession dominated by men. I worked very long hours and did all I could to learn about educational athletics. When my daughter was born, I made it very clear that I would not sacrifice being a good mom for the job. I was able to negotiate flexible hours so that I could fulfill both roles.
During this time, I tried a lot of different ways to provide balance to my personal and professional lives by coming in late, going home early and taking days off in between seasons. I try to limit the nights out at games to three per week, and on those days I pick the kids up at school and come home to make dinner, do laundry, help with homework and get them ready for bed before going back to school for game coverage. As my children grow, I am sure our family schedule will continue to change as they become more involved in activities.
Shuck: I will admit that for about the first seven to 10 years, I didn’t have any balance between work and my life. The beauty was that my children loved attending all of the events I needed to so that made things much easier. However, I learned that when I have a break (usually summer) that I commit to taking that time off. Plus when I get home, I really try to make my family the major focus which they deserve.
Question: As a woman, have you faced any special challenges or hurdles in the position because of your gender?
Robbins: I do think that women have to work harder to earn the respect of their male counterparts. Fortunately, we all share the same passion for athletics, which earns us instant credibility. Some other male colleagues may have been advanced at a faster rate, although I do think that is becoming a thing of the past. Gender aside, the common work we do with students every day is of the utmost importance. The relationships we build, the community support we generate will be the indicator of success.
Shuck: I have not. Thankfully, I have had the support of all the Colorado athletic directors – both male and female. There were some very strong female leaders in this state long before I entered the field and they paved the way for those of us to follow.
Question: Have there been any coaches or parents who have questioned your background as an administrator?
Robbins: Athletic administrators must earn trust and respect from all community stakeholders and this takes time. Everyone involved in the athletic program wants to know that their experience is going to be positive. Our jobs require us to create an atmosphere in which we can all work together to create the best possible experiences for our student-athletes.
Shuck: I am proud to say in my tenure, no one has ever done that. However, I will say that the old adage is true that you must give respect to earn respect. I treat everyone as I would like to be treated and am as transparent as they come. My coaching staff and I are the “model” of a team and we work together.
Question: Are there any special leadership techniques which you use to “win over” skeptical male coaches in your program?
Robbins: I believe as an athletic administrator it is essential that you have good interpersonal skills whether you are a male or female. As athletic directors, we are the “coach of the coaches” and it is my job to assist coaches to improve their skills for the betterment of the team and our athletic program. I tell our coaches in particular that there is a recipe for success in Yarmouth. Communicate well, listen and seek to understand, be organized, know your sport, and I will support you 100 percent.
Shuck: My answer is simple – Be who you are! Be confident in your decisions and make sure they are defendable. The GOLDEN RULE should always be your Rule of Thumb. I am proud of the coaches I have on my staff as some have been with me for 15-plus years and that is quite a feat.
Question: While it may be a generalization, are there any unique qualities that a woman may bring to the position which may be lacking from a man’s perspective?
Robbins: I believe that the approach to our job is more personality-driven than gender-based. Our most important work is creating relationships with all stakeholders in our community that allows us to coordinate a successful athletic program. Over the years, I have learned that the greatest source of personal and professional development for me has taken place in two forms.
First, by networking with colleagues, you can generate ideas on how to approach a difficult situation. Second, is through experiential learning which takes place by wading through that difficult situation and learning how to potentially do it different next time. Educational leadership at its best knows no gender.
Shuck: Possibly women may tend to be more sympathetic, but I don’t really know if there is anything that sets us apart. My philosophy has always been to hire the best person male or female to do the job. It is about the athletes, the families and the coaches. Your role is serving them in every capacity you can.
Question: Why did you decide on this career path and what aspects of your position do you find most rewarding?
Robbins: My parents encouraged me to pursue my passion in life and that was for athletics. It was logical, therefore, to become a teacher, coach and then an athletic administrator. The most rewarding part of my job is working with people to create an athletic program of which our community can be proud. The best part of my workday is after school when I can walk around our school grounds and see everyone engaged. This can be at practices or games, and it is the product of the organization and coordination that you put in on a daily basis.
Shuck: The most important aspect of the job for me is relationships – with kids, coaches and parents at a school which has amazing people. I rarely have phone calls from concerned parents, since our coaches do all the right things in the beginning to ensure the best possible experience. I require strong communication with everyone and this also saves a lot of heartache.
A wise principal once said that “you can have all the skills and knowledge in the world, but if you don’t have relationships you won’t go anywhere.” This is one of the most profound statements ever. Also, I pride myself on knowing as many young people and their families as possible and to acknowledge and celebrate successes with them. Kids don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care. I would love for this to be my legacy.
Question: What advice would you give to other women who may be considering the move into athletic administration?
Robbins: Be yourself, know your craft, work hard, be confident, always make decisions that put kids first – your own and those in your community – and smile. A sense of humor will get you through the tough times!
Shuck: Go for it! Athletic administration will be hard work and a lot of long hours, but it is the most rewarding job. I hate to keep sounding cliché but again “love what you do and you will never work a day in your life.” It is a job that is fun, challenging and allows you to make a difference every day. In addition, you develop lifelong friendships not only within your community and state but across the country. I have friends everywhere that I could call on to be there in a moment’s notice. Who else has that kind of opportunity?
Dr. David Hoch is a former athletic director at Loch Raven High School in Towson, Maryland (Baltimore County). He assumed this position in 2003 after nine years as director of athletics at Eastern Technological High School in Baltimore County. He has 24 years experience coaching basketball, including 14 years on the collegiate level. Hoch, who has a doctorate in sports management from Temple (Pennsylvania) University, is past president of the Maryland State Athletic Directors Association, and he formerly was president of the Maryland State Coaches Association. He has had more than 450 articles published in professional magazines and journals, as well as two textbook chapters. He is the author of a new book entitled Blueprint for Better Coaching. Hoch is a member of the NFHS High School Today Publications Committee.