10 Early Season Success Principles for Athletic Directors; Jim Burson blog: www.jimburson.com

Athletic directors must build their team just as coaches must.

Early Season Success Principles, Part 3. See Part 1 and Part 2.

How to save money for your school by not firing your head coach

1. Be professional and be proactive!

You must be a mentor as well as a boss. That’s not always an easy balance.

2. Talk to the coach frequently.

Really talk. Not just this:

Athletic Director: “How’re ya doing?”
Coach: “Great.”
Athletic Director: “Great.”

That’s not talking. You must purposefully discuss the state of the program. Whether your coach is a veteran or a beginner, she or he needs to know that you really care!

3. Discuss potential or real concerns.

What have you heard from other people? Is your coach soft or hard? How is her language? How does he get along with others, both internally and externally, and within the athletic department and in the rest of the school? Does she have to win this year to keep her job?

4. Go to practices or send someone to the practices.

Evaluate the practices. Create an evaluation strategy and process. Get feedback from the head coach and the assistants before putting your evaluation into practice. This is part of a total program and coach evaluation process. If this is difficult for you, ask for help for yourself – this is really tough for some people. A professional might make the process better and easier.

5. Who has your ear?

Do you dare talk to the players? Have you spoken with parents? The assistants? The boosters? Who has your ear? Who makes your decisions? Is your own job on the line? Does your president get involved? Do you keep her or him up do date?

6. Hire a private coach to work with the coach.

Corporations hire executive coaches to help their managers improve. Players hire private coaches to help themselves improve. Your coaches are the lifeblood of your department’s success. You must invest in their professional development. Do you know of anyone who could help prevent volatile situations?

7. Don’t wait too long. Reach out and help.

Help in areas of communication, relationships, media reactions, officials, etc. It’s hard to be a buddy and also make good strategic decisions. Being proactive and being decisive are difficult indeed. Be a friend, be someone who lifts, supports and cares. Be a mentor and the boss. These are the really difficult parts of being an athletic director, but what a great chance to be a positive force in your school!

8. Success = Good Relationships + Good Communication.

Ask your coach, “How are you getting along?” Will she or he really talk to you or are they afraid? Conversation starters include questions like these:

  • “How do you feel about losing [winning]?”
  • “How do you feel about money?”
  • “Talk to me about your relationships with players. What are some of the good things that are happening? What are some of the more complicated things that are going on?”
  • “Tell me about your players’ parents. Who do you know well? Are you struggling with any of the parents? Who do you wish you knew better?”
  • “How are things going with your family? Are there any concerns about your long hours, time away from home, being off-duty while at home?”

Required part of every conversation:
“How can I help you?”
“How else can I help you?”
“Are there better ways that I can help you?”

The more transparent you are the less chance you have of being surprised.

9. The days of Sink-Or-Swim management are over.

It’s just too darned expensive to hire a head coach, send them out, and then wait to see what happens. It’s expensive to recruit and hire coaches, new contracts usually have higher totals, you’re never bringing in just one coach. It’s expensive in time and energy regarding team morale, team adjustment, recruiting that is in process, integration of a new person. In many cases you need to have a new teacher, there are costly payouts or buyouts, the list can go on and on … it gets very expensive.

10. Create a Termination Prevention management strategy for your department.

  • Can you see problems coming?
  • Can you help the coach steer toward making better choices and decisions?

Most firings and “poor” performances are a result of relationship or behavioral issues, not from X’s and O’s. A good leadership/management/personal development program can be your best friend.

This is really a team thing – the AD, the coaches, the school administrators, the players and everyone else involved must be working toward the same thing and be on the same page. Make the program classy, make the players winners on and off the court, and make everyone involved proud of the efforts involved. Athletic directors must build their team just as coaches must build their team.

The athletic directors have a vital role to play. The better you listen, communicate and lift, the better all your programs, coaches and players have of becoming and remaining successful.


[box style=”rounded” border=”full”]Athletic Directors: You might have a very specific situation that you’re trying to improve that I haven’t addressed here. Perhaps I can help. I offer program and departmental advising services and I also offer one-to-one private coaching; you’re invited to have a discovery session to see whether that’s right for you. The session is free and lasts about 20 minutes. Click here to learn more and schedule your discovery session.[/box]

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