Five Keys To Succeed As An Aspiring Athletic Director

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There are many benefits to becoming an athletic director (AD), but none more important than the impact made on the growth and development of young minds through sport.

This statement rang true during last week’s Aspiring Athletic Directors Networking Conference live Zoom event, hosted by Endicott College’s M.S. in Sport Leadership program, on Thursday, October 8, 2020.

The networking conference lasted for about an hour and featured insights, advice, and industry knowledge from the panelists featured below on the real-world competencies and educational preparedness needed to become a successful athletic director.

Meet The Panelists:

Amanda Alpert M'16, Director of Athletics, Chelsea High School
Jennifer Hammel M'20, Director of Athletics & Activities, West Bridgewater Middle/Senior High School
Bruce McCrary, Executive Director of Athletics, Ector County Independent School District
Jameson Pelkey '07 M'09, Director of Athletics, St. John's Preparatory School
Moderator: Robert Morris, Head Football Coach & Instructor in Health at Phillips Exeter Academy/former AD at Phillips Exeter Academy for 28 years

Here are the five biggest takeaways from the conference:

1. Education. Education. Education.—Immerse yourself in school athletics anyway you can, whether it’s coaching a sport at any level or interning in a high school or college athletics department to put yourself a step ahead of the competition.

2. Networking & Mentorship—Attend networking conferences well before seeking an AD position. Doing so will allow you to not only make inroads with potential future employers, but also create opportunities for establishing a mentor/mentee relationship with a current AD.

3. Be Ready for the Grind—Working nights, weekends, and holidays are the norm. Alongside that, the path to becoming an AD isn’t as simple as other professions. Aspiring ADs must be prepared to take on post-graduate internships, coach, and/or work other important jobs within an athletics department, such as equipment manager or contest management supervisor, before acquiring a director-level position. Experience related to athletics administration can also come from working in a recreation center, at camps, or guidance counselor office, etc.

4. Know Your Mission & Vision—Define your goals, expectations, and overall philosophy as an AD well before applying to jobs. Having a clearly defined personal mission and vision will allow you to discuss how you would run a successful athletics department to a potential employer.

Ways to achieve and implement these initiatives include creating student-parent and coaches’ hand-book, which outlines expectations for both groups; share the department’s philosophy in preseason meetings for all coaches and staff members to set the tone for the year; and establish a department mission statement to guide all decision-making processes.

5. Success Isn’t Always Displayed on the Scoreboard—A lot of wins don’t appear on the scoreboards, especially when it comes to student-athlete character, sportsmanship, and skill development. The most important aspect of an AD’s job is to create a culture that empowers coaches and staff members to nurture student-athletes in becoming successful and contributing members of society.

From Aspiring Athletic Director to Landing the Job, What’s Next?

Alongside sharing their insights, advice, and industry knowledge on what it takes to become an AD, the panelists also offered up plenty of helpful tips on what happens when you finally land that dream job.

Amanda Alpert M'16
Building relationships within your league and within your own building is a key to success. For example, having good relationships with your principal, teachers, support staff, etc., will allow an AD to connect with students on a deeper level.

Additionally, creating great relationships with your supervisor(s) will allow an athletic director to maintain a better work-life balance scenario if supervisors and administrators are more aware of their schedule. This comes into play regularly as the routine nature of an athletic director’s schedule consists of starting early days, late nights, weekends and holidays.

Jennifer Hammel M'20
When applying to a potential athletic director or athletics internship position your resume must meet the following standards: 1. It’s up to date and showcases what you have done from an athletic administration/leadership perspective; 2. It’s easy to read with precise and clear sentences. Remember that hiring managers will receive many applications.

When interviewing for a potential athletic director or athletics internship position consider the following: 1. Be as knowledgeable as you can about the school you are interviewing with before getting in front of a job search committee; 2. Conduct research with anyone who has knowledge about the school; try and find out what the school is looking for and/or looking to change; don’t overlook the simple things like knowing the school’s mascot or the league they play in, etc.; and 3. Be yourself and stick to your philosophy.

Bruce McCrary
As an athletic director, the research process in hiring a potential coach or athletics employee should go beyond their resume and references provided within their application. Dig deeper than the provided references from the candidate by calling additional colleagues at their current or former place(s) of employment to find out how they truly treat people, how they communicate, etc. This will give you the truest sense of the candidate being considered for hire.

Jameson Pelkey '07 M'09
Create relationships and get involved with other departments early on in your athletic director tenure. Being involved with others from the get-go will allow your colleagues to learn and understand who you are as a person and administrator. It also betters your chances of helping your coaches be-come teachers at your school. This is key for your coaches to help recruit and retain student-athletes within their program(s).

Patience, and understanding of others, and astute listening skills are all important characteristics to have as an athletic director, as you will come across several different personalities over your career.

If you feel being an athletic director is the career path for you and want to learn more, take a look at Endicott’s Master of Science in Sport Leadership program. Meanwhile, the Fifth Year program offers Endicott students a 20% tuition savings on their master’s degree.

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