The turnover rate in high school athletic administrator positions is alarmingly high, and, in many instances, the individual filling the position of athletic administrator is not only new to the position, but also new to the school and its community.
Athletic administrators who are transitioning into a new school would be wise to take some time to prepare not only for what they would like to accomplish, but, perhaps more importantly, how they will go about accomplishing it.
The following recommendations may help the athletic administrator’s new school feel like a “Casa” (Spanish word for ‘home’) sooner rather than later. Consider the following four concepts in the acronym C.A.S.A.
1. CONNECT with People. The familiar statement, “People don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care,” has existed for a long time for a reason – it has great truth. Before an athletic administrator can make changes to programming or structuring, he or she must impact people on a more personal level.
Creating a connection with as many people as possible should be a priority for an athletic administrator at a new school. Supporting a team by traveling to one of its away games, attending one of the school’s fine arts presentations or having a cup of coffee with a building principal are just a few of the ways that an athletic administrator can build connections with people.
Efforts such as these are not a magic formula for connection. The interactions that take place before, during or after these efforts are where the magic exists. Being able to complement a coach on how he or she handled a tough call, or share a laugh with a principal during the school day creates connection. The totality of these individual connections demonstrates to the school community that an athletic administrator wants to be part of the community – and not just lead the community. It is important to remember that the best leaders never force people to follow; people willingly decide to follow based on their connection to the leader.
2. ASK people. Robert Greenleaf (2011), the educational leader who pioneered research on servant leadership, once stated that, “wisdom comes from listening.” An athletic administrator with success in the past will inevitably feel the urge to convince people at the new school that he or she knows what to do in all cases.
A sure way to open people up to the athletic administrator’s ideas or leadership style is for the athletic administrator to ask questions. The athletic administrator should demonstrate an inquisitive nature, constantly searching for information about the department, school and community. Coaches, janitors, secretaries and building principals can be tremendous resources for information when they are asked sincere, information-seeking questions.
The previous athletic administrator can also be an incredible resource, particularly if that individual’s departure was a peaceful one. “What do you think?’ is a powerful question that can be asked to nurture connection with people. Knowledge in many ways is power. The constant collection of all of this information and opinion adds to the new athletic administrator’s knowledge base, which then empowers the administrator to lead for the benefit of the department, school and community.
3. SERVE people. Cheryl Bachelder, chief executive officer of the resurgent Popeye’s Chicken organization, stated in her book Dare to Serve, that people who are well-served are more likely to give their best to an organization (2015).
An application can be made from this statement for athletic administrators and the effort that coaches give to the student-athletes they lead. An athletic administrator should always be on the lookout for ways that take just a few moments to demonstrate an attitude of servant-leadership. Assisting a coach in cleaning up from a practice, helping a booster club member unload cases of soda from a car, or helping a lunchroom supervisor clean up a spilled trash can are examples of tasks that should be high priority for an athletic administrator at a new school.
Veteran leaders who are effective do these things almost subconsciously because they have developed a relationship with people in the community over the years. A new athletic administrator can be so overwhelmed at trying to execute the day-to-day responsibilities that he or she misses these important servant-natured interactions that are available daily. If a new athletic administrator makes serving people a priority as the leader of a department, he or she likely will have plenty of assistance with the department. (Bachelder, 2015)
4. AIM for the benefit of the people. Transitioning into one of the most intense positions in education can be overwhelming and could keep an athletic director from considering the big picture (Judge & Judge, 2009). The greatest investment athletic directors can make is in themselves, and this is especially important when taking a position in a new school (Maxwell, 2012).
The best way to add value to the institution is to lead a strong department and the best way to lead a strong department is to enhance one’s own effectiveness (Perman, 2014). An athletic director who creates and sticks to systematic goals of professional development has multiple benefits.
First, an athletic director who is growing personally can grow a department (Perman, 2014). Second, intentional professional growth creates consistent self-evaluation, and this can be very important for helping an athletic director process all of the new experiences at his or her new school (Maxwell, 2012).
The experiences of transitioning into a new school filtered through intentional professional development can create an intense time of new growth for an athletic administrator. Professional development should not be set aside during this time of transition. The pursuit of a new degree, obtaining certifications and attendance at state conventions are examples of things that should be a priority – even in the first year at a new school. This demonstrates “big picture” thinking on the part of the athletic administrator that is necessary to effective leading of his or her new department and community.
The transition of a veteran athletic administrator into a new school can be a very exciting and successful experience. The more effective the athletic administrator is at applying the C.A.S.A. suggestions, the quicker the new school community will feel like casa (home).
Bachelder, Cheryl A. (2016). Dare to serve: How to drive superior results by serving others. Oakland, CA: Berrett-Koehler Publishers Inc.
Blackaby, H., & Blackaby, R. (2011). Spiritual leadership. Nashville, TN: B&H Publishing Group.
Furr, J. (2015). Athletic director job turnover is alarming. USA today sports. Retrieved from http://usatodayhss.com/2015/athletic-director- job-turnover-is-alarming
Judge L, & Judge I. (2009). Understanding occupational stress of interscholastic athletic directors. Journal of Research. 4(2), 37-44.
Maxwell, J. (2012). 15 invaluable laws of growth. Live them and reach your potential. New York, NY: Center Street.
Perman, M. (2014). What’s best next? How the gospel transform the way you get things done. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan
Chris Hobbs, CMAA, ED.S, is the associate athletic director at The King’s Academy in West Palm Beach, Florida. He has served as an athletic administrator and varsity basketball coach at three schools for the past 12 years. He can be reached at coachchrishobbs@ gmail.com or followed on Twitter @coachchrishobbs.