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7 Keys to Being a Good Athletic Director

Updated: Jun 13

athletic director sports software

High school athletic directors (ADs) are the real superheroes of school sports. 

Their responsibilities extend far beyond keeping an eye on the scoreboard;  they hire coaches, organize schedules, manage budgets, and ensure the smooth operations of the sports programs.  

For them, it’s not just a job - it's a passion for school sports that keeps them going! 

Curious how they keep on top of it all? 

We spoke directly to our clients to uncover what makes a successful AD. Turns out, they are ready and eager to share their insights and strategies, often referred to in sports as their ‘playbook’. This openness underscores the supportive and close-knit nature of the AD community. 

They do more than just manage teams - they build them up and encourage growth among coaches and players every day. Their enthusiasm and willingness to help are making a significant difference in the world of high school sports.

Throughout this blog, we’ll explore what makes a good athletic director and the qualities of a good coach in sports.


Ready to jump in? Let’s get started! 

What skills do you need to be an athletic director?

  1. Effective communication

Effective communication is non-negotiable for ADs. One seasoned AD told us “Successful athletic administrators are expert communicators.” 

In this role, you’re constantly interacting with coaches, students, parents, and staff, as well as managing a wide range of responsibilities. Therefore keeping everyone on the same page is crucial.

It’s essential to make your messages clear, engaging, and aligned with the goals of the athletics program. You must not only talk the talk but can also walk the walk.

This director emphasized the importance of clarity and consistency in communication, especially when managing logistics for events or addressing changes. For example, they managed a seamless transition when a key facility underwent unexpected repairs, ensuring clear and timely communication across all channels.


  1. Building relationships 

To be a great AD, you have to use your communication skills to build relationships. It’s not just about showing up; it’s about being truly present. 

“You have to be visible and accessible,” advised one AD. They make it practice to attend high-profile games but also smaller team practices, which has been crucial in building a supportive community. This level of engagement ensures that all participants, from star athletes to emerging talents, feel equally valued and motivated.

From football fields to swimming meets, being present at a variety of events shows your commitment to every sport, not just the ones grabbing headlines. 

One AD told us, “Being there for all the events is my way of saying ‘I support you’ to every athlete and coach.” Such commitment promotes a positive and inclusive sports culture that everyone wants to be part of.

  1. Effective time management 

Effective time management can make or break an AD, especially given the demanding nature of the role. 

One director shared their strategy for managing a packed schedule: “I review and adjust my calendar daily, prioritizing tasks and delegating where possible.” This method proved invaluable during a week filled with events, enabling her to attend important matches while keeping up with administrative duties. Utilizing digital tools to keep track of tasks and appointments has been life-changing, helping maintain order and focus.

Many ADs swear by using sports management software to stay on track. A useful tip is to dedicate 30 minutes at the end of each month to map out the next. Imagine facing weeks filled with back-to-back events - without a solid plan, you’d be lost. By mastering your schedule, you can significantly reduce unnecessary administrative hours and boost your productivity.

Remember, the choice is yours: either you manage your time, or your time manages you. Take charge of your schedule and lead with intention!

  1. Empathy and the Servant Mindset

Empathy, while tough to master, is crucial for building strong, lasting relationships with coaches, students, and parents. 

An experienced AD explained, "To really listen with empathy, you need to stop thinking about what you’re going to say next and focus entirely on understanding the other person’s perspective." This means genuinely understanding the concerns and feelings of others, not just waiting to speak.

C.S. Lewis famously said: “Humility is not thinking less of yourself, it's thinking of yourself less.” Adopting this mindset allows you to prioritize the needs of your staff and athletes, leading to a less stressful environment and encouraging better teamwork in your programs.

For example, during a stressful playoff season, instead of dictating solutions, consider opening forums with coaches and teams to discuss their concerns. This approach can transform how you handle stress and conflict. 

Embracing empathy and a servant mindset helps nurture a positive environment where everyone feels supported and valued, boosts morale, and drives everyone to greater commitment and accountability.

4. Don’t Take It Personally

Sports are inherently emotional, and it's easy for everyone to get caught up in the heat of the moment. The Athletic Director at BC High, Massachusetts, puts it plainly: "Sports are emotional, so you can't take things personally." 

After a tough loss, when emotions can cloud judgment, ADs need to remain calm and make decisions based on logic rather than emotion. This requires a significant degree of self-awareness with the ability to detach personally from the emotional ups and downs, which is essential for leading objectively and making sound decisions.

5. Show Some Vulnerability

Being an athletic director doesn't mean you have all the answers. 

AD Brennan, from The British International School of Chicago, USA, emphasizes the importance of seeking advice, "ADs should seek advice from each other. Often, a colleague has already faced a similar challenge and can offer valuable insights." 

For example, when faced with unexpected budget cuts, Brennan reached out to colleagues for strategies to manage reduced resources without compromising the quality of the programs. This willingness to show vulnerability not only helps in finding practical solutions but also strengthens your professional relationships. 

6. Promote Success

Highlighting the achievements of your students, school, and coaches is a key responsibility of an AD. 

Chris Hobbs, stresses the importance of this role, and explains, "Interscholastic athletics are often scrutinized. If we don't shape our own narrative, others will, and it might not reflect us positively." 

For example, you could create regular updates and highlight reels of matches and distribute them through social media and school newsletters, which keeps the community engaged and informed.

He adds, "Our athletic programs are highly visible. We aim to set an example of integrity and excellence." 

By actively promoting successes - whether they are breakthrough performances, academic achievements of athletes, or community service initiatives - ADs can ensure their programs are recognized positively, enhancing both morale and support.

These detailed approaches highlight how crucial emotional intelligence, openness, and strategic communication are and highlight the qualities of a good coach in sports. They offer a clearer roadmap for handling the many challenges of the job effectively.

Score big with smarter sports management

The life of an AD is invariably busy, filled with the hustle and bustle of managing teams, organizing events, and everything in between. 

While the role demands passion and dedication, it can also be incredibly rewarding. You get to watch young athletes grow, shape sports programs, and bring the community together - what's not to love?

To streamline these extensive responsibilities, sports management software like SportsKey is invaluable. Designed specifically for the needs of ADs, it simplifies scheduling, facility management, and event coordination, making day-to-day operations more efficient. 

Imagine coordinating multiple sports activities without breaking a sweat. Or better yet, being able to celebrate your teams’ successes, not catching up on paperwork.

By minimizing administrative burdens, this platform ensures optimal use of facilities, reducing downtime and preventing scheduling conflicts. It’s not just about maintaining smooth operations;  it’s about enhancing the effectiveness of your athletic programs.

If you’re looking to elevate your professionalism and streamline operations within your athletic department, embracing sports management software is a smart move. By doing so, you’ll; no longer have to worry about the heavy lifting of 

facility management and scheduling, freeing you to lead your teams toward excellence. If you need a hand getting everything set up or just want to learn more, get in touch with a member of the SportsKey team to book a demo of our software - we can walk you through it!


What makes an athletic director successful?

Here are the five essential dimensions of being a successful athletic director:

  1. Informed, ethical, and fair decision-making: Success starts with making decisions that are well-informed, ethical, and fair. This means staying updated with the latest in athletic regulations and educational policies and applying this knowledge to make choices that benefit the whole sports community while upholding high moral standards.

  2. Hiring and maintaining great staff: A great athletic director knows that the strength of any sports program lies in its people. They focus on bringing in people who are not only good at what they do but also really care about their work and stick around for the long haul.

  3. Supporting their team: Addressing the educational, resource, and motivational needs of both employees and student-athletes is vital. This means giving them the right tools, education, and a little inspiration to do their best.

  4. Leading by example: Great athletic directors lead by example. They set the standard high for themselves which motivates everyone else to aim high in their roles, too.

  5. Setting up good rules and systems: Finally, they create clear rules and effective systems that help everyone do their jobs well. This makes sure things run smoothly and helps prevent problems before they start.

Is being an athletic director stressful?

It can be. Athletic directors handle many tasks and sometimes face unexpected challenges. But with the right tools and good skills in time management and communication, they can manage their stress well.

What is the future outlook for athletic directors?

The future outlook for athletic directors is generally positive. As long as there are sports and educational institutions, there will be a need for athletic directors to oversee and manage athletic programs. The role might evolve with technology and changing educational policies, but the core responsibilities are likely to remain important.

What are the personality traits of an athletic director?

Here are some of the key personality traits you should have to become a successful AD:

  1. You need to be a good judge of character to put the right people in the right roles. 

  2. Whether it’s speaking or writing, you must convey your program’s vision clearly to different audiences so it's important to have excellent communication skills.

  3. A genuine love for athletics. You should support a diverse range of sports and embody the sportsmanship and values that come with them, inspiring everyone around you.

  4. As a leader, you must demonstrate resilience, vision, and the ability to unify your team, especially during challenging times. 

  5. You'll often need to make tough decisions on resource allocation and problem-solving. This requires a strategic approach and the ability to manage projects effectively under constraints.

  6. ADs will guide their programs in new directions, so you will need to understand the broader needs of the community and set long-term goals that go beyond the sports field.

  7. It’s important to maintain perspective and inject fun into the program. Remembering that student-athletes are there because they love the game will help you create a supportive and enjoyable environment.

These traits help athletic directors manage their programs effectively, leading to successful outcomes both on and off the field.

What is good about being an athletic director?

Being an athletic director is rewarding, especially for those who love sports and education. 

They get to make a big difference in the lives of young athletes and play a key role in their community. 

The job offers chances for personal growth, dealing with a range of challenges from budgeting to team management. 

Plus, it's a chance to work closely with others, creating a team spirit that's both fun and fulfilling.

What are the expectations of an athletic director?

An athletic director is expected to: 

  • Manage sports programs: they oversee all athletic activities, making sure everything meets educational and sports standards.

  • Handle budgets and resources: they ensure resources are used wisely to support all aspects of the programs.

  • Lead and develop staff: they offer leadership and help their team grow professionally.

  • Connect with the community: they build strong relationships within the community and advocate for the success of student-athletes in sports and school.


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