It should be no surprise that participation in athletics is on the rise in the USA. The rapid growth of students participating in sports at the high school and college level is at an all time high according to NFHS. One of the primary reasons that it has been proven that students who participate in school sports do significantly better in school and in life. As a result, the increase in need for athletic directors has never been greater. So a degree in physical education is a solid career choice, but comes with some logistical challenges.
From scheduling, to sports apparel, fundraising and dealing with “challenging” parents, the life of an athletic director can be stressful and overwhelming. Since we provide custom sports apparel for directors every day, we have some first hand experience about what they deal with on a daily basis.
We felt it was time to put together a list of the challenges and some helpful tools or strategies to support the thousands of overworked athletic directors.
What are the challenges…and solutions?
1. Finding The Right Coaches.
Challenge: Probably the number one issue is finding qualified coaches. It’s one thing to have knowledge of a particular sport, but the best coaches are leaders first and sports experts second. Legendary coach John Wooden said, “A coach is someone who can give correction without causing resentment.”
This is true, but dealing with the players is a small part of the overall job. Fundraising, scheduling and dealing with parents are just some of the skills needed beyond the sport. So how do you find quality candidates outside of the typical job posting sites?
Solution: We recommend having your hiring manager become really good at Facebook Groups. You can find hundreds of groups specifically related to sports coaching. Groups like Coach Up has over 53,000 members and their website is robust with features. While it is not a coach hiring site, its a good place to start. They even have a “find a coach” section filled with expert coaches who provide courses and coaching tips. The main the goal is to identify the networks where potential coaches are, and utilize those resources to try and recruit. You will have a greater chance of finding the right person compared to a job board type of site.
2. Budgeting & Fundraising.
Challenge: This one is pretty obvious. If you have ever had your son or daughter in a high school sports program you know that fundraising is an essential part of the experience. It pays for the “extras” like new uniforms, shoes and training equipment. This is especially a challenge with public schools who are limited on budget. On a positive note Coach & A.D. found “that fewer schools say fundraising makes up more than half of their budget. Only 14.5 percent of athletic directors indicated fundraising accounted for the majority of their budget — the lowest since 2013-14.”
Solution: Build a team. What’s the statement? “Many hands make light work?” The point is that there are many available options for delegation in this area. The most successful athletic directors use a host of resources, more specifically people to accomplish the task of fundraising. Here are few strategies that we have seen to be effective:
- Appoint a team parent to help set up a booster club or oversee the fundraising efforts.
- Open a free online school store where parents and students can purchase custom made apparel centered around your program.
- Have parents and students visit local businesses, contacting the local news, make announcements during games, post to social media, and make announcements on the school website.
- Partner with a skilled school fundraising company to handle contacting local businesses to promote the program.
3. Scheduling & Communication.
Challenge: Coaches tell us that at least 60% or more of their time is spent on scheduling. Scheduling practices, games, and communicating with parents takes up the bulk of their time. This explains why most athletic directors and coaches work 12-14 hours a day. At least 6-8 hours is spent just staying organized with communication and scheduling.
Solution: Use an app. Thankfully the 21st century has provided some amazing tools for just about everything including apps for sports programs.
Our top pick for scheduling is Team Snap. This app is pretty robust while surprisingly affordable. According to their website, “Administrators report saving 15 hours every week. Coaches report saving 12 hours every month.”
You can schedule practices, games and even send bulk emails and notifications to parents and players. If they have the free app installed they get real time notifications on their smart phone.
For budgeting we recommend Every Dollar. While it’s not sports specific it is free and super simple to use. It was developed by Dave Ramsey’s team of financial tech gurus and has a robust budgeting tool. Staying on budget with apps has never been easier.
4. Outfitting the team with custom apparel
Challenge: According to athletic directors getting the team outfitted in hats, jerseys and custom apparel is one of the most time consuming parts of the job. Collecting order forms, collecting money, organizing the order, finding the right print shop are all at the top of the list of things coaches do not want to do.
It’s especially difficult at the high school level where large budgets and staff are not available to assist with the daunting task of outfitting the players. Sports apparel is such a need, but it is also the primary frustration associated with running a sports program.
Solution: Free Online Stores! No you don’t have to be a web designer or even build the store. Your Official Gear has solved the problem of outfitting teams in an easy and streamlined way. There is no cost to the school and the prices are the same as bulk order screen printing and embroidery. Here is how it works…
- Athletic department supplies program logo.
- Upload email list of parents/students. These emails are used by the system to send out purchase notifications and updates, but are hashed (email address blocked from view). Only the coach can see the email in full.
- Your Official Gear builds out the store with the required custom products for your team, plus fun extra gear for fundraising.
- The team has two weeks to place orders for their required items like hats, jerseys, etc.
- The store sends out regular reminders to parents to order their required gear.
- Everything is printed and delivered to the coach for distribution.
5. Difficult Parents.
Challenge: This has to be the most well-known issues facing coaches and program directors today and studies show its only getting worse. We’ve all seen the crazy parents berating coaches because their kid didn’t get the play time they expected or because the team lost the game. Everyone now a days seems to be an armchair quarterback when it comes to youth sports. As a parent of a son in a high school baseball program I hope to never be one of “those parents”.
One article wrote about this issue and interviewed 30 coaches and administrators. Several coaches declined interviews, fearing retribution from parents or administrators. They know the new reality in high school coaching, no matter how many championships your teams win, is this: “If parents complain enough, they know they can get rid of coaches,” said Benham, who is also a father of three children. “It’s become such a thankless job.”
Solution: Set the expectations and boundaries up front.
We cannot stress this enough. Not only as a coach but in everyday life boundaries and expectations are crucial to managing stress and relationships. We strongly recommend a parent meeting at the beginning of the season where you lay out clear expectations. From our research we found these are the most effective expectations to set.
- We don’t do equal playing time. Your child will get to play, but some kids will play more especially in tight games.
- Don’t try to engage me before or after games please. Before games I am prepping the team and need to focus and after the game I’m processing the results and making notes for the future on players.
- If you have a problem email is the preferred way of communicating and I can call if needed.
- Please do not call or text me directly as I have another job or obligations to fulfill.
If you want some practical knowledge on setting boundaries we recommend the book Boundaries by Dr. Henry Cloud and Dr. John Townsend. We also found an informative article on dealing with difficult parents at statechamps.com