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Sport Culture: Why Your Role Matters

Athletic directors first emerged onto the scene as directors of physical education programs at various institutions. As sports evolved during the 1970s with the passage of Title IX, this position began to encompass various sports programs as well. Accordingly, the job title continues to evolve to include much more than logistics, such as scheduling and hiring. Today’s athletic directors must be effective communicators, in tune with risk management, connected with outside resources, equipped to pivot, and extremely organized forward thinkers.

Vicki Vaughan, Director of Athletics at The Colorado Springs School and a longtime contributor to TrueSport curriculum, shares her experiences as an athletic director, coach, and passionate fan of youth athletics while explaining why your role matters.

You hire the coaches

Whether you hire outside coaches with a sport-specific budget or you rally teachers to take on coaching roles, as athletic director, you create a culture with the people you hire and by how you set expectations, Vaughan explains. If you think kids should be playing multiple sports throughout the year rather than specializing, you should hire coaches who share that philosophy and who will accommodate students who need to juggle practice schedules, multiple sports, academic classwork, and extracurriculars.

If your school is known for making sports accessible to all students, not just elite athletes, you should hire coaches who are invested in nurturing athletes at all levels. “If I have a coach who puts winning above everything else, then that’s not a good fit for our school,” says Vaughan. “I really focus on finding coaches who align with our school’s philosophies. Yes, it can be difficult, but finding the right coach is worth it in the long run and improves longevity with the partnership.”

When a coach fails to meet expectations, an athletic director must work with the coach on potential improvements. Sometimes, Vaughan says, that means letting a coach go, which can be difficult. But if the coach is no longer serving the students’ needs, it is the athletic director’s job to find a replacement. “Hiring coaches who are a proper fit for our school’s setting is a priority, and when I find them, keeping them is important. I’m especially partial to hiring coaches who are enthusiastic, passionate about their sport, hardworking, proactive and solution savvy, communicative, and connected to young people.” She supports the concept that the athletic director must serve as the coach of all coaches.

Establish expectations

Our TrueSport Experts encourage coaches to create team mission statements and rules to live by, but as an athletic director, you can help shape a school-wide set of expectations and values for athletes and coaches alike. “It’s important to train coaches to send the right messages to athletes, those that reinforce your school’s philosophy and mission,” says Vaughan. For her, that includes selecting coaches who will prioritize helping athletes to meet their potential and learn through the process, not necessarily the outcome. “We work together to find that healthy, fine line between winning and learning,” concludes Vaughan.

Risk management is also a vital component in the job of athletic directors. Today’s coaches are required to be certified in CPR and concussion training while expectations around bullying prevention, heat illness, and safe environments for all athletes is increasing. “In addition to training coaches around safety issues, keeping facilities and fields safe, and designing emergency plans around all scenarios, today’s athletic directors must be prepared to accommodate all new segments of students,” Vaughan states.

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