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Athletic Directors: Balancing Time Between Work and Family Life

By Dr. David Hoch, CMAA on April 06, 2017 hst Print

Editor’s Note: The following is an interview with Andy Cardinal, athletic director of the Cardinal Local School District in Middlefield, Ohio, and Todd Gordon, CAA, activities director of Des Moines (Iowa) Roosevelt High School, regarding ways to balance work and family life.



Andy Cardinal and Todd Gordon

Question: If you don’t have an assistant, it is conceivable that you have game management responsibilities four evenings per week and some Saturdays. How do you find time for your family with this demanding schedule?

Cardinal: It’s a definite challenge. I am the athletic administrator, as well as 5-12 assistant principal, at a small, rural high school east of Cleveland, Ohio. We have athletic events nearly every night and most Saturdays and I really could work 70 hours a week (and do sometimes). Although I do not have a secretary or an assistant, I do have a faculty manager who covers a lot of games for me. Also, I am fortunate that he helps me with a lot of the details such as double-checking schedules and confirming contracts on Arbiter.

Both of our children are involved in their own events and I try to make as many of their games as I can. I have never missed a parent-teacher conference or a concert. Most days, I try to slip home to see the kids arriving home before heading to whatever game I have to cover. Evenings that we are all home together, we eat as a family. Fortunately, my wife is a former coach who knows what the time commitment is for my job. Since both our kids really like sports, they go to a lot of games with me. But it is very difficult to spend time with the family and some weeks are more challenging than others.

Gordon: Fortunately, I have an assistant athletic director who is also our head football coach. I don’t use him much at all in the fall, but lean on him for help in months outside of his season. He is very organized so I am confident handing off certain projects to him, and he is good about getting them done well in a timely manner. Also, I have two to three game managers with administrative degrees who I hire to cover certain events, mainly lower-level contests and some spring and summer activities.

However, evenings are part of the job and it is understood. It seems like even on those days or nights when you don’t want to go, you are rewarded with a positive interaction or a few smiles that make the time there well worth it.

Question: Do you have a system in place for occasional or emergency game coverage to provide you with a little reprieve? How do you get an evening off to watch your child’s game or performance?

Cardinal: In addition to a faculty manager, I am lucky to have a few people I can rely on at school to help me out and cover for me when needed. They do this voluntarily and I am extremely grateful. Without them, I couldn’t do it. I try not to take advantage of their willingness to help out, and go to them only when it’s absolutely necessary.

Gordon: I am blessed with an outstanding administrative team that includes two former athletic directors who understand the time and commitment that is required. They are very good about covering events if I am at conferences or other events. Our son coaches men’s college basketball at a nearby college, and we spend time supporting him and are encouraged to do so.

Question: Do you have mechanisms in place in your district such as flex time or comp time to provide a little relief from the taxing time demands of your position? Everyone needs meals, sleep and a little exercise to survive. How do you fit in these basic essentials?

Cardinal: In the past, I have been able to utilize flex time and many mornings did not go into work until the kids were on the bus. The last few months, I have not been able to do this since we are down an administrator in the district. It’s been rough. But with the spring season upon us, there will be a lot fewer really late nights.

Gordon: Yes, I have flex time. If I’m out late at an event, I may come in a little later and I’m also able to go home for a little bit before evening events as the schedule allows. I try to exercise early in the morning, but I also live two blocks from the school so I’m able to walk quite frequently if I don’t need a car to go to meetings. I also try to stay steady having some quite time in the morning to help start my day free from radio, TV or computer screens.

Living close to school, I’m also able to go home for lunch every day, even for only 20-30 minutes. In this way, I’m able to eat a little healthier and to get away from the building for a few minutes in the middle of the day provides a break.

Question:What techniques do you employ to ensure that your limited time with your family – perhaps on Sunday or holidays – is uninterrupted?

Cardinal: We get away a lot when we can for short weekend trips, even when it’s just to a nearby hotel with a pool for the kids, and I try to leave my phone behind. Also, we get away over spring break and a couple of weeks each summer for a vacation somewhere. If I’m home, I feel like I’ve got to at least check in at school daily. Therefore, the only way to really get away from the demands of the position is to get away.

Gordon: On Sunday and holidays, I stay off of email and I try to devote my time to my wife, kids and grandkids. If a coach needs me he can call. I always have my school email icon hidden on my phone and have to go to the entire list of apps if I want to open it. Therefore, I do not receive notifications of new emails on my phone for my school email. Even if I’m alone, I take the time away from email and administrative work on Sunday.

Question: What could your district do to help balance your responsibilities in your position in order to also have some quality family time? Are there any additional steps that you could take to decrease the number of hours you have to invest in your position?

Cardinal: Hire an actual assistant! But financially that’s not feasible. Actually, my district has been fantastic and the superintendent and other administrators I work with are great. I couldn’t work with better people. They are very aware and understanding of my position – as do our coaches, families and student-athletes. How to decrease my hours? I have no idea. It’s important to do the job well. Everybody’s watching. If I put in less time than I do, I’m afraid I will miss something. Technology is great and can really help make the job more efficient. But all my emails come to my phone, and everybody has my cell number. I can never really get away from it. My phone rings all the time.

Gordon: Our school district has multiple high schools and we are fortunate that the district administrators have an understanding of what we do and encourage us to take time away from the school to recharge. Just having that backing from the district and school level is worth a great deal. As I’ve gotten older, I’ve realized that you have to step away from the job and recharge yourself. We all know it’s hard to do but just staying away from email for a complete day and being able to leave the building for lunch most days makes a big difference in how I feel about the job.

Question: While you certainly have many things to accomplish in preparation for the start of the fall season, do you try to spend more time during the summer with your family to make up for limited opportunities during the school year? How do you actually plan your summer work schedule to accomplish this goal?

Cardinal: Absolutely! I try to finish things up by mid-June and then I’m back in the office every day starting in mid-July. We take a vacation between these dates. The rest of the time, I’m home playing with the kids or working in the yard. However, I still check in at the office 3-4 times a week even when I’m “off.”

Gordon: In Iowa, that can be a little more difficult to manage responsibilities in the summer due to softball and baseball. Our school doesn’t have lighted fields, which means that we start games mid-afternoon or have lower-level games in the morning and early afternoon. In these situations, I hire event supervisors to work these games so I can stay in the office more and get ready for next school year. I find myself taking breaks more in between the fall and winter seasons and then the winter and spring (spring break) to totally get out of town. Also, I learned to delegate some things now that I have a very good assistant AD who can take on projects and take some of those extra things off of my plate.