Collected Wisdom is a series of interviews featuring insights from Small College athletic administrators around the country. Thanks to Drew Watson
, Athletic Director at Southeastern University for agreeing to participate this week.
How did you get started in College
As a student-athlete in college, I volunteered for the athletic department, lining fields for soccer and baseball along with other odd jobs. I ended up as the assistant men’s basketball coach, then a head women’s basketball coach, assistant athletics director, and finally the athletics director at that same school.
You started your career at Southeastern as
a Women’s Basketball coach. What led you
into the Athletic Director’s position?
interviewed for the women’s basketball position at SEU, I was asked if I ever
wanted to be an AD again, since that was the position I was coming from in
Pennsylvania. I actually laughed and
emphatically stated that I wanted to coach and never again return to the AD’s
chair. A year later, the AD left and I
was named interim and eventually to the full time position, and stepped away
from coaching. God has a sense of humor,
How do your experiences as a coach impact
the decisions you make as the A.D.?
experience as a coach impacts my decisions daily. Being on that side of things
for 15 years gives me an appreciation for the challenges coaches face on a
daily basis. As a result, I encourage
them to dream big and keep asking, even when the initial answer is “no.” I also know firsthand how coaching can
negatively affect a family and encourage them to make sacrifices to ensure that
area of their life is healthy.
What was the one thing you were least
prepared to do when you became an Athletic Director?
became an AD in 2007, I wasn’t prepared to help the athletic department realize
its full potential because I insisted on continuing to coach. You couldn’t have convinced me of this at the
time, but I now believe that coaching holds an AD back from investing all they
can in their department. Perhaps most
consequential is that there aren’t enough hours in the day to allow an AD/coach
to fully engage in the relationships that are essential to meaningful success.
What advice do you have for
SID’s, Asst. A.D.’s that desire to someday become an Athletic Director?
Ask lots of questions, even about topics you think you already know the
answers to. The information you receive
will provide a reference point for you, even if you don’t particularly agree. Be willing to volunteer on committees and
special projects then work hard to contribute to the group. Doing so will expose you to more ideas and
broaden your perspective, which is essential to you as you develop as a
The NAIA has been exploring creating
one division for basketball and you have been a visible part of the committee
that has worked on this question. What
has that experience taught you?
The experience on the task force has reinforced in me the importance of
listening. Whether in support or
opposition, people have very passionate views on this issue. One of the things about the process of which
I am most proud, is that both the task force and the NAIA have provided an
avenue for expression of those opinions, they have been considered, and it has
led to genuine compromise.
You are an active member of the
NAIA Athletic Director’s Association.
What are the priorities for this group?
I’m relatively new in my position on the ADA board, but in my short
time there I’d say that the facilitation of communication between athletic
administrators and the COP for the betterment of the NAIA has been a priority
for the group.
Can you remember a program/idea
that you tried that just didn’t work?
When we started football I was convinced that the fan experience
merited a $20 general admission ticket price.
It seems obvious now but at the time I didn’t think about the fact that
if the ticket price is too high, the fan experience won’t matter because no one
will be there to see it. The process
reminded me to recognize that the excitement of starting a new program can cause
you to overvalue the product. As leaders
we shouldn’t allow emotions like these to distort our view of reality and lead
to unrealistic expectations.
What is your favorite part of your job?
I love what
I do so there are probably a number of answers to this question. The one that
sticks out the most is that as an AD I get to hear the struggles coaches are
going through in their season. Student-athletes that are challenging,
discipline issues, budgetary speedbumps, and everything else that they go
through. In essence, I get to see behind
the curtain. The part I love is I then
get to see the same coaches and teams who are facing challenges overcome those
things and find success as a team. It’s
never fails to inspire me.
Who are some of your
mentors/people that have encouraged you along the way?
Dr. Chris Owen, the executive vice president at SEU. From the very beginning of my time with the
Fire, Chris has always challenged me to be a leader who is “real.” “Try, fail, learn” is one of his mottos and
that philosophy has given me the margin to be creative while having the
confidence to know that failure is the genesis of learning, not the end of the
process (or my employment at Southeastern).
Best career advice that you
Learn a number of different systems and philosophies on how to
lead. When you have a wide array of
systems at hand, you will inevitably have one that fits the people on your team
perfectly and, if effectively implemented, provide you the ability to maximize
their potential for the benefit of both the team and the organization.
What advice do you have for
young people that are looking to start a career in college athletics?
Be honest. Be humble. Be kind.
Listen respectfully to those with differing opinions and be willing to
respectfully explain yours. Be willing
to admit mistakes. Don’t be outworked by
anyone. Be willing to volunteer for
camps, clinics, and service projects that you may not want to do because in
doing so you will meet people. Do these
things and your name will pop into someone’s head when they have an
opening. Continue to do them and you will
ensure you are perpetually employed.
What is the most challenging
part of your job?
Leading effectively at any level requires you to get to know what
motivates each of the members on your team.
What drives them? What is the
most effective way to coach them? What
are the issues in their past that affect their perception of leadership? Figuring those things out is by far the most
challenging part of my job because the answers to these and other questions are
different for each person. However, when I am intentional about investing time
into finding the answers, then lead people accordingly, the results are
What are 1-2 qualities that
you look for when hiring a head coach?
Tough to narrow this to two qualities but I would say people with a
great work ethic and a high degree of integrity in their personal and
professional lives are two vital traits I look for when hiring a coach.
How do you balance your
personal and professional life?
I have to remind myself daily that my identity shouldn’t be based on
what I do professionally. It should be based on my faith and my family. When I
keep this in mind it’s easier to shut the computer down and leave the office,
preserving some level of balance in my life.
You have attended the Business
of Small College Athletics (BOSCA) workshop in the past. What would you tell someone who was
considering attending this event?
The BOSCA workshop is a great opportunity for professional
development in a setting that is more relaxed than many of the seminars and
workshops out there which are connected with major conventions. The sessions were relevant to current issues
and the relationships I cultivated there have been instrumental in my
development as a professional.
One of the keys to a successful career in collegiate athletics is access to professional development. We work in an industry that sees us compete against other institutions on the playing fields and in recruiting. Despite our on-going efforts to beat the competition, the best part about working in collegiate athletics is the willingness that folks have to share ideas. Networking (growing the list of people that you know and can call on for advice and insight) and exchanging ideas(finding out the details of how others are doing things) are critical to your continued growth in this business and your ability to deliver the results that your department needs.
I’m proud to announce that we are bringing #scachat back. #scachat is a weekly Twitter chat that I hosted with Paul Smith, Kirby Garry, and Ryan Ivey from 2014-17. The chat will be starting back up on Sunday, January 14, 2018 at 8pm CST. To join the chat merely plug the hashtag #scachat into the search box in Twitter and hop on in. The chat will last one hour and hopefully attract administrators from around the country to add insight, ask questions, and connect with one another.
There are lots of opportunities for professional development in college athletics. I will detail these more at the end of this post. Most of these opportunities require a financial investment, time away from the office, and some luck in “bumping into” the right person. I have attended and benefited from hundreds of these events over my career.
The great thing about the chat is that it is completely free of charge and you can participate from the comfort of your own living room or den. If you could regularly sit down and talk about issues that relate to your small college athletic department with other administrators from around the country, without having to leave your house…wouldn’t you do it? That is the basic concept behind the chat. Rather than waiting for the “annual” convention or workshop, why not just participate in conversations regularly and make connections with others who understand the challenges that you face?
I’m hoping that the chat will once again inspire idea sharing, networking, and professional growth. It really is just one more avenue in which to do this. Other areas for professional growth in collegiate athletics that you should be participating in include:
1. DI , D2 , D3 , and NAIA Ticker – This is a free email service and there are separate emails for each collegiate division. Each email includes articles highlighting events, shares breaking news, and announcements specific to that division. I work for an NAIA institution but I read all four of these each time they are delivered in a given week and find them as a great resource of information.
2. Workshops and Conventions – The traditional form of professional development and networking is attending annual conventions. There is a plethora to choose from with lots of great sessions and presenters:
I hope that you will join the conversation when #scachat starts back on January 14th. Regardless, make growing your network and growing professionally a priority. The impact it will have on you personally and professionally will be significant!
My Cousin and I both went to small colleges with about 1000 students. My alma mater happened to be in a large metropolitan city and his was in a small community with a population of approximately 5,000.
During a recent golf outing I was talking to my cousin about the pressure that I face to raise money as an Athletic Director at a small college. I told him about our approaches to booster clubs, special events, and that we were generally always looking for ways to generate revenue.
His response? “At least you’re in a big city where there are lots of resources to be found, the athletic department at my poor alma mater is falling to pieces and hasn’t made any upgrades in years.” I promptly told him that everyone has challenges, for me the challenge is that I’m in a city(Oklahoma City) that now has an NBA team with 18,000 fans showing up every night. I’m also surrounded by two major universities(Oklahoma and Oklahoma State), and I face significant challenges in raising funds. Raising money isn’t about your location.
There are lots of things that make raising money for college athletics hard.
I asked my cousin, who has done quite well in life, how often his alma mater has reached out to him to give to athletics. The answer…”hardly ever.” Therein lies the problem !
I have no doubt that raising money at some schools is more difficult than it is at others…but that’s no excuse for not trying. Fundraising, like any form of sales, requires a belief in your product, a willingness to ask others to share your belief, a plan, and action.
Belief in Your Product – It should go without saying that every member of your staff believes in the importance of what they are doing and the mission of the athletic department. They should be able to share this mission and your needs easily with anyone.
Willingness to Ask Others to Share Your Belief – We are all selling. Every recruit that we approach is a sales opportunity. Fund-raising is no different. Every staff member has to be willing to share the story with others. The story must be consistent.
A Plan – This doesn’t have to be hard. At a minimum for a small college the plan includes a strategy for approaching alumni, parents, and local businesses. The key is to get them in the habit of giving. Don’t worry if the first gift is only $50. The idea is that the donor will continue that gift for the next 20 years(did I mention that this is a perpetual process?).
Action – Sometimes this is the hardest part. Every other effort is for naught if you don’t take action. Set up meetings with prospects in your community. Invite them to a game or special event. Create a monthly “Athletic Luncheon.” Send letters or create a Phonathon for prospects that aren’t in your community. You must be committed and set aside time each day and each week to complete this task. It may take you 3 calls to get one response…but this is time well spent.
Success in fund-raising isn’t based on luck and location. Like sports itself, success in this area is based on effort, strategy, commitment, and belief. At small colleges, every member of your staff has to understand and participate in this endeavor. The results will speak for themselves.
I’m a big fan of annual performance evaluations. Our evaluations start with a self-evaluation that requires an employee to evaluate their effectiveness in areas like leadership, communication, etc. The self-evaluation also allows the employee to list highlights from the year, areas that need improvement, and goals for the coming year. The self-evaluation itself tells me a lot about the employee as some folks are much too modest (rating themselves too low in numerous areas) and others are overly confident in the jobs that they are doing. Once the employee completes the evaluation they submit it to me and I add my ratings and comments about the employee’s performance. I give the completed form back to the employee and then we meet to discuss it. I want employees to have a chance to see and contemplate my written comments before we meet in person. This gives them the opportunity to be better prepared to discuss the details.
Here are some of the goals that I keep in mind when completing annual performance evaluations:
Stick to the Mission
– Throughout the hiring process and the
academic year we spend a lot of time talking about the expectations of our
department. These expectations are
closely tied to the mission of the university and the performance evaluation
should reflect this. My evaluations
always have a primary focus on 1. Academic success. 2. Social success. 3. Competitive success. And 4. Financial
success. We expect teams to enjoy
success in each of these areas and each area is relatively easy to evaluate in
an objective way.
Be Specific – A coach recently listed “become more active on campus” as a goal. Honestly, I applaud this goal but I want something more specific. When I met with the coach I brought this point up to the coach and we worked together to find specific campus committees and opportunities that would help the coach reach this goal. Similarly if a coach lists “improve academic performance” as a goal, I want to know the specific steps that a coach is going to take to achieve this. This gives me items to follow up on during the year and deeper understanding of the programs a coach plans to initiate.
– Take the time to discuss in-depth the positives of an employee. Don’t just gloss over the good with a comment
like “You’re doing great.” Back it up
with a list of positives and the impact that this employee is making on your
department. Coaches/staff want to know
that you pay attention to the details.
When I can, I like to point out positives that the staff member didn’t
think to include themselves when they list their accomplishments.
Bad(Opportunities for Improvement)
– Many think that evaluations only exist so
that you can nit-pick the deficiencies an employee has or take the necessary
steps that will allow you to terminate the employee. It’s important that evaluations are an honest
assessment and if an employee is falling short in some area then it must be
openly discussed. This doesn’t have to
include an overly critical approach but it should end in mutual agreement that
improvements must be made and some effort to assist the employee in making the
The conversation that takes place during the performance evaluation often leads
to additional thought and action for me. I regularly ask employees to submit a plan of
improvement, submit a financial overview, or to give me specifics that relate
to goals that they have set. Similarly,
when I see them initiating new programs to reach their goals I address it with
them throughout the year and offer any advice that I can.
How do we
– This is a theme for every
evaluation meeting for me. The meeting
offers a real opportunity to look back at the year, evaluate what worked and
what didn’t, and then set the goals that will propel the program further. This year my softball team won the National
Championship and finished the year 68-1.
Naturally, there isn’t much more that we can do to be better
competitively. Regardless, improvement
is a goal of every meeting.
can I do?
– I always ask coaches for their assessment of the administrative
functions of our department. Getting
their feedback on athletic training, compliance, sports information…even our
administrative assistant, helps me as I evaluate these employees as well. I also encourage their frank assessment of
the job that I’m doing and what more I can do to serve the needs of their
evaluations offer a great opportunity to pat an employee on the back, celebrate
success, evaluate opportunities, and set goals for the coming year. Generally, these meetings don’t offer many
surprises to employees. Department heads
should be communicating with employees and working with them toward goals
throughout the year. Consistent
communication leads to on-going evaluation, goal adjustment, and reflection on
the university mission. While I
encourage administrators to have a thorough annual evaluation with each
employee, these meetings are less productive if you haven’t been communicating and evaluating success
throughout the year. Make sure that you are consistently communicating throughout the year and this annual meeting will be much more productive.
Near the end of each Spring semester I get a laugh when students ask me what I’m doing for the Summer. I tell them to enjoy this time in life when “summer” really means 3 months off from school work and practice. Like many, I look forward to the summer if only because it means that I will go home from work each day while the sun is still shining. I have also always seen Summer as a time to get re-charged, evaluate where we are and “dream up” new ideas for getting better. At the same time, summer is still filled with important tasks that keep our department running.
Here are some of the ways I spend the summer months.
Evaluations – The end of every school year also brings an opportunity to complete performance evaluations. In my case this involves evaluations for 15 head coaches and 4 administrative staff members. Our approach with the evaluation is to let each employee evaluate themselves first followed by an evaluation and meeting with me. The process can be time consuming but provides great opportunities to celebrate success and discuss future opportunities.
Budget Clean-Up – At OCU our fiscal year ends on June 30th each year. Throughout the year I monitor 50 or so budgets(each sport has an operating and scholarship budget) and 30 or so Restricted Accounts(these accounts hold revenue from fundraising, sponsorships, etc). My job at the end of the year is to make sure that every budget account balances. To do this, I send instructions to our Business Office to transfer funds from Restricted Accounts into the budget accounts that are in deficit. Almost every sport budget is in deficit at the end of a given fiscal year. I tell my coaches that I don’t mind them going over their budget, provided that they can cover their deficits with funds from their Restricted Account.
Professional Development – I am a big proponent of professional development. So much so that I created my own workshop….The Business of Small College Athletics. Summer professional development starts with the NACDA convention. The annual convention covers every level and angle of college athletics and is unmatched in providing opportunities for growth. Hundreds of sessions covering every topic imaginable and opportunities to network and share ideas with others in the profession. I also like to reach out to other administrators, whether I know them or not, to pick their brains about how they are doing things. One of the best things about working in college athletics is the willingness that administrators have to share ideas and help solve problems. I also participate in a weekly chat on Twitter known as #scachat. #scachat brings together administrators from around the country “virtually” each Sunday night at 8pm CST to share ideas and has been a great source of information and networking for me.
Hiring/Human Resources – A big part of my job is hiring coaches and administrative staff. Generally, openings occur at season’s end or in the summer. Hiring involves working with Human Resources to get jobs posted promptly, communicating with team members to reassure them and help them understand the approach to filling the position, evaluating resumes, conducting interviews, and ultimately offering and filling the position. Hiring is a challenging experience that can easily eat up 4-6 weeks of time. As an Athletic Director I’m only as good as the people around me. I don’t particularly enjoy the hiring process but I know how important it is to my department’s success.
Revenue Generation - In my role as Athletic Director I am also the head of our External Relations efforts. During the summer I meet with all of our sponsors to evaluate and renew our partnership agreements and make calls on prospective new sponsors. I also spend the summer planning our annual giving efforts for the coming year, planning our annual golf outing, making calls on donors, organizing efforts of our Athletic Advisory committee, and helping plan special events like athletic alumni gatherings. In a given year we generate $700,000 - $900,000 in outside revenue. We rely heavily on these funds to support our student-athletes.
Prepare for Next Year – Planning and scheduling are major activities in the summer. Finalizing competition dates, scheduling outside events, planning alumni gatherings and fundraising efforts all take time and organization. Every summer we review our student-athlete handbook and schedule a staff retreat and student-athlete orientation. We also look at the new ideas that we have and figure out which ones to try to integrate for the coming year.
Relax – It’s not all work. Summer is the perfect time to read a good book, play golf and take trips with the family. I encourage our staff to get away and recharge during the summer and I follow that advice as well. Make no mistake, working in college athletics is a lifestyle that involves working nights, weekends and holidays. Enjoy and make the most of the downtime.
Working in college athletics is more than ball games and activities that occur when school is in “session.” It is a year round endeavor! The truth is that summer goes by very quickly for a small college athletic administrator. Despite the lack of games and students….some days can be downright hectic and issues/opportunities can take on a sense of urgency all their own. That having been said, the work you accomplish in the Summer just makes you that much more prepared when students return in the fall and the games resume. Make the most of this time!
Late last week members of the NACDA Executive Committee received an email from NACDA Executive Director Bob Vecchione about the health prognosis of Mike Cleary. Mike had returned home from the hospital and was under hospice care. Saturday morning we got the bad news that Mike had passed. What happened next was a deluge of responses to the email from members of the Executive Committee. Each shared their condolences at Mike’s passing, prayers for the Cleary family, and a testament to the impact that Mike Cleary had on them personally and professionally. In a humble and steadfast way, Mike Cleary impacted thousands of people. You can too!
I didn’t know Mike as long or as intimately as some of the others. Although, the few times we talked he treated me like an old friend and on more than one occasion he sent me a note to congratulate me on some success. What I knew about Mike and what I glean from the news reports of his passing, the tweets and email responses, is that he is a guy we should all seek to emulate.
Here are a few attributes of Mike’s that we can all strive to attain.
See the “Value” in Everyone – Mike genuinely loved people and saw their potential. His contributions to helping athletic administrators grow in the profession are unmatched and still growing. NACDA grew from 300 members to over 12,500 under his guidance because he embraced the idea that anyone seeking to grow should have that opportunity. Mike created growth opportunities within NACDA through the wildly successful intern program. A program that has developed hundreds of collegiate athletic administrators. He helped develop and chair the John McClendon Minority Scholarship Foundation to provide opportunities for minority students interested in careers in athletics. In short, Mike saw value in everyone and helped them understand and realize their own potential . You should too.
Make the Big Time Where You Are At – Many of us are in such a rush to advance in our profession that we don’t embrace the opportunity right in front of us. Mike didn’t seek out greatness…he simply was great. Part of what made him great was that he embraced where he was and who he was. Mike went to a relatively small college, John Carroll University, and was proud of that fact his entire life. Mike’s early career included jobs in the American Basketball Association, the NAIA, and the NCAA. Starting NACDA in 1965 gave Mike the opportunity to follow his passion by working with Athletic Director’s. He embraced this passion and grew the profession for the rest of his life. Mike’s example shows us that the great opportunity you are looking for in life might just be the one you are engaged in now. Make the most of the opportunity in front of you today .
Never Stop Growing – The danger in life is when you reach the point that you can’t get any better. Mike never did. He devoted his life to growing and helping others grow. While serving as the NACDA Executive Director Mike also served a stint as a Conference Commissioner, was active in the USOC, and the National Football Foundation to name a few. He saw endless opportunities to grow and contribute. Each opportunity shaped who he was, expanded his base of knowledge, and made him better at what he did. NACDA provides the ultimate opportunity for growth in college athletics. Mike not only built NACDA but sought every opportunity to keep growing personally. You should too.
Live Your Life to Serve Others – Like all great leaders, Mike was a servant first. His professional career was devoted to serving others. He did so in a humble, gracious, loyal, and unwavering way that is a great example for the rest of us. Devote your life to lifting others….and you will be lifted .
Mike Cleary was a larger than life person that was proudly just a good Jesuit kid from Cleveland. He built success by making others successful and never missed a chance to provide opportunities for others. A simple blueprint for a life that we should all seek to emulate.
My good friend Trip Durham talks about “casting your shadow” in the sense that athletic administrators should be seen and recognized around campus. I think this is great advice and a particularly important reminder to get out of the athletic department and expand your influence on campus. This creates exposure for you, good will around campus, and positive influence for the department.
Similarly, it is important to “cast your shadow” as you work to continue to grow in the profession of sports. Just as mentioned above, this implies increasing your personal visibility and stature while at the same time enhancing the reputation of your university and department. Make no mistake that you are always representing your department….meaning that as people meet you and form opinions about you, they are also forming opinions about your department/university. What I am suggesting is that you actively seek out more opportunities to do this beyond your campus and local community.
Here are some ways that you might grow your stature and reputation in college athletics.
Be Really Good at What You Do – Let’s face it, the folks that we admire the most are the ones that show up every day and earn it. First and foremost be dedicated to your job and institution. Seek out opportunities to develop and improve your skills and freely share your knowledge to help others grow. If you have the skills, opportunities will come your way.
Professional Development – Never stop learning! There exists a plethora of great opportunities to improve your skills by participating in conventions and workshops designed to help you grow. NACDA, BOSCA, CASE, NCAA & NAIA convention to name a few are chock full of sessions designed to share best practices and exchange ideas. Attending these events exposes you to these ideas and enables you to interact with others in the profession that you can add to your network of contacts. In the early stages of your career you should be intent on attending and soaking up as much knowledge and as many relationships as you can. Eventually, you should be the person presenting at the workshop or leading the meeting. Actively seek out opportunities to be at the front of the room sharing the idea. What better ways to show your stuff, share your ideas, and increase the visibility of your department.
Networking – While conventions and workshops offer great opportunities to meet others in the profession, it’s not the only way to do this. Frankly, sometimes conventions can be overwhelming with so many meetings and so many people swarming around. A natural place to start is within your conference. If you are an Athletic Director you probably meet with other AD’s in your conference on a regular(quarterly) basis to discuss league-wide issues and business. I advise others, Asst. A.D.’s, Directors, etc to do the same thing. Reach out to peers in your conference to share advice and ideas. Make plans to meet and engage socially at the conference tournament or some other event. Build your own “affiliation” group. Kelly Perry is the Asst. A.D. for Compliance on my staff. She is one of only 15-20 people that hold this position full-time at an NAIA Institution. Kelly has taken this advice and begun working to coordinate this group, bringing them together to discuss issues and exchange thoughts and ideas. The end result is that Kelly will have more connections in her field and more people will know Kelly and the work that she does at Oklahoma City University. My advice to Kelly was: “If the organization doesn’t exist to meet your needs or to give voice to your group….create it.”
Leadership – I once heard Dan Parker tell a group of aspiring AD’s, “Prospective employers aren’t impressed that you are a member of an organization…they are impressed when you are the President of the organization. Aspire to lead…and remember that leading means serving. Don’t just join NACMA and expect to gain the benefits of membership, seek to become a presenter, and then a conference rep, and eventually an officer in the organization. Keep in mind that you have to earn these leadership positions by giving of your time and by doing your job well. Leaders of these organizations cast a nationally prominent shadow that benefits them, the organization, and their department. Guys like Jeff Bain(former NACMA President) and Matt Donovan(former NAADD President) are great examples of this. Their leadership of these organizations cast an incredibly positive light on their campuses (Martin Methodist and the University of Indianapolis) while inspiring people like me to follow their lead.
Utilize Twitter – Notice that I am specifically pointing out Twitter as opposed to Facebook, Instagram, or other forms of Social Media. I think that Twitter is an excellent way to send your message and build a following. Plus it’s free. Follow industry leaders; share your thoughts, ideas, insight into new things that you are working on. Join in on chats like the weekly #scachat that occurs on Sunday nights at 8pm CST. Chats like this bring together folks that want to share and learn and they are a great way to make an initial connection and share your insight. Why not take advantage of them. The primary decision to make here is using Twitter as your professional social media outlet. It’s obviously fine to share personal items on Twitter but make a concerted effort to use this to share thoughts that help your followers shape their opinion of you professionally.
It’s important to remember that none of this is easy! It requires you to handle all of the aspects of your day job while looking for other opportunities to grow(you should be doing this anyway) and share your personal experiences. The key is to add value to your position and university while also growing your personal and professional stature.
Around my junior year in college it became clear to me that I had no idea what I wanted to do professionally. By then, it was obvious that I wouldn’t be a professional athlete. Proctor and Gamble wouldn’t be calling to offer me a start in their “Executive Development” program. On the advice of a professor I picked up a 2nd major and started thinking about going to graduate school. These were the early days of “Sports Administration” degrees and I ultimately got my Masters degree from the University of Oklahoma in this very field.
These days I am often contacted by young people that want to work in sports. I always take these calls and feel a responsibility to share advice and insight. I doubt that the people that I talk to compare notes, but if they did they would realize that I almost always hit the same points.
Network – If you think that you want to work in sports then you should spend some time talking to people that do. Reach out to professional and college sports administrators in your area. Ask them for 15 minutes to talk about “getting started” in sports. In addition to hearing their story and getting their advice, find out if they have any internships or volunteer opportunities. Be “pleasantly persistent” in this area and work to get the appointment. Make sure to follow up the appointment with a thank you note. You’ll find that some folks are harder to get an appointment with than others and some offer better advice than others. Regardless, this is your start to meeting people that can give you insight into getting started. They can also give you a sense of the various specialties in terms of positions within athletics. Social media is another way to get introduced to sports professionals. Twitter in particular offers numerous opportunities to “connect” and these connections can prove beneficial. Eventually you will also want to consider attending conventions like NACDA which provide innumerable opportunities to meet administrators and learn about opportunities in sports. Keep in mind that attending events like this can be expensive…especially if you are paying for it yourself.
Education – If you want to work in college athletics you need a minimum of a bachelor’s degree. This degree can be in just about any field, it doesn’t have to be sports administration or sports management. You don’t have to have a Master’s degree…but if you want to be an Athletic Director then the more education you have the better(most AD positions require a Masters). In my case, I immediately went to grad school after finishing my bachelors(I didn’t have any other options). Many people that I know in college sports worked on their Masters degree while working in a college athletic department. You have some flexibility here.
Experience – At the end of the day, I value experience working in sports over education. Any experience is better than no experience. You can find opportunities to gain experience in a variety of places. The NCAA marketplace online is a great repository of full-time positions, GA opportunities and internships. Most Major League and Minor League sports organizations have internships or seasonal opportunities. Working in the Athletic Department at the school you are attending is another great place to start. My start came as an intern in Minor League baseball. This opportunity turned in to a full time position and set the foundation for my career in sports. Keep in mind that this is a highly competitive market and there are thousands of people vying for these opportunities. Be persistent and make the most of any opportunity that comes your way.
Geography – Depending on your position in life you may have finite geographic boundaries. There are literally opportunities in all 50 states in the country if you are open to living and working anywhere. You’ll have to answer this question for yourself. If you are limited to working in a specific state or region that’s fine…just understand that this might limit your opportunities.
Starting at the Bottom – Just about everyone working in sports starts at the bottom. The bottom is necessary but not glamorous. You’ll have the opportunity to work your way up the ladder provided that you bring a great attitude and work ethic. Getting the opportunity is hard enough…once you get it make the most of it and grow from there. The menial tasks that you’ll perform as a “beginner” are the same tasks that the Athletic Director or General Manager performed. You’d better believe that they think these tasks are important and will evaluate how well you do them.
Working in Sports is a Lifestyle – I learned this quickly during my internship in Minor League baseball. The “off-season” (January through March) featured 12 hour work days and every other Saturday and once the season started we rarely had a day or night off. We routinely worked 80-90 hour weeks for the princely sum of $600 per month. Working in sports involves lots of nights, weekends, and holidays spent at ball games….this isn’t for everyone! Similarly, there aren’t any high paying jobs available for beginners. Can you afford to take this step?
The hardest part of working in sports is getting started. Understanding the business of sports and having a plan for how you can prepare yourself to enter the business can make “getting started” easier for you.
Fundraising is a necessity in Small College Athletics. Whether it is raising funds to enhance facilities, building endowments, or merely covering operating expenses of a program we are all looking for more revenue. Unlike our peers in the “Big 5” we can’t just rely on increased TV revenue, million dollar partnership agreements, or our “nation” of fans to provide the resources that we need to be successful. Just as the Big 5 have been more creative in generating more revenue, those of us working in Small Colleges have to make efforts to take the same comprehensive approach.
I spend a majority of my time with my “revenue generation” hat on. As such, that theme trickles through to everyone in our department. I don’t have a development officer in athletics so I have deputized every member of our staff to make revenue generation part of their responsibility. When I interview a prospective staff member for any position there is always some discussion about their experience in fund-raising or their willingness to participate.
This is particularly true for Coaches. At Oklahoma City University our sport budgets probably cover about 70% of the expenses a program will face. Some coaches stretch their budgets further and other coaches less. The point is that one of the questions that every coach here faces is how can they run the program with the allotted resources? Most often, the answer to that question is….I can’t. Knowing that up front, our coaches embrace the idea that they will have to fund-raise to make up the difference. Similarly, when I hire a new coach I make sure that they understand that we don’t just suggest that they be active in raising funds….it is a requirement.
I meet regularly with my head coaches and just about every meeting touches on fund-raising in one way shape or form. Following are some of the items that I discuss with coaches when brainstorming about fund-raising.
As the Athletic Director, I also play a role in raising funds for each of our 21 sports. I have designed our booster club in such a way that any donor can give their gift to the sport of their choice. I fund the booster club materials and mail them to each prospect in our system. I have also created our department-wide fund-raising events in such a way that any program can participate and generate revenue from them. Finally, I often call on prospective donors on behalf of specific sports. At the end of the day, the donor makes the decision on which sport will get their money. My experience is that the sports led by coaches with a vision, an ability to communicate that vision, and a willingness to ask others to participate in that vision, are the ones that come out ahead in the long run!
At the recent Business of Small College Athletics (#BOSCA14) workshop much was made of the fact that administrators working in Small College Athletics need to be versatile. Very few of us just focus on one area within our department. Heck, even coaches wear multiple hats. When I interview prospective employees for my department (including coaches) I always ask the question “What else can you do?” Sometimes this question is met with a quizzical look but often prospects understand immediately that what I’m really asking them is “How else can you contribute to the success of our department?”
Being versatile is generally the result of two things: Experience and Attitude. Most skills can only be refined through practice and effort. That having been said, attitude is absolutely critical. Many necessary tasks in athletics are completely unglamorous. The best way to get the experience that increases your versatility is to approach every task as an opportunity to grow. Some will be more fun than others and some will more obviously affect the bottom line…but all are important. Here’s a look at some of the roles that I play in my department.
Problem Solver – I’ve discussed this at length in a previous blog, but one of my most important skills is solving problems. I’ll admit that I wasn’t very good at this when I started and have learned that only experience can help you here.
Capitalist Pig – I have often described myself in this way over the years. In truth, I am a Capitalist Pig out of necessity. We need resources to support our teams and I am the “Director of Sales” for our department. I spend a significant amount of time strategizing, cultivating, and selling in an effort to generate resources that improve our department. On one level or the other I expect every member of my staff to be a salesperson. I also think that if you can sell you will always find a job.
Coach – It took me some time to realize that I am the Coach of our coaches. Just as coaches work with student-athletes to improve their performance, I do the same with our coaches. My job is to clearly and consistently communicate the direction of our department and the expected role that each coach will play in meeting our goals. I meet regularly with the coaches on my staff and our meetings involve brainstorming, questioning current approaches, goal setting, encouraging, congratulating, and in some cases removing a coach from his/her position. Never has it involved running wind sprints!
Recruiter – I am frequently involved in our recruiting efforts on campus. I like to meet with prospective student-athletes and their parents to give them my view of our department and their specific sport. I also want to make sure that they know that part of what they get at Oklahoma City University is me. I also do a fair amount of recruiting to fill open positions in our department. We take application for every open position but I often activate my network to find other prospects that might be a good fit.
Stepfather – I often tell recruits that “I have two children….and 400 step-children.” I don’t have the daily interaction with our student-athletes that coaches have but I appreciate in my role that I can get to know our students and offer insight and wisdom that might impact their lives. Similarly, I appreciate having the opportunity with our staff to get to know them as more than just my employees. While there remains a “professional distance,” I enjoy having the opportunity to get to know my staff personally and provide advice where needed. They do the same for me.
Everything Else – This category is where attitude is so important. I know how to pop popcorn and change out a bag of nacho cheese. I have carried stray dogs off of our Soccer field. I’ve pulled tarps on the baseball field(not a skill per se). I know how to set up the sound system in the gym and set up the bleachers for a game. The fact is that I know how to do a lot of little un-glamorous things that are critical to the success of our athletic department. I’m a big believer in the idea that “I wouldn’t ask you to do anything that I wouldn’t do myself.” On one level it’s critical that necessary tasks get done to make sure that the games can be played. On another level it’s important that other employees understand that I’m willing to step in to do the little things and I expect them to do the same and have a great attitude about it.
We all tend to start at the bottom in the sports world. Enjoy the skills that you develop in the early stages of your career and commit to build on these skills and add others. The more that you can do well the more marketable you become and the more productive you are for your organization. Learning doesn’t stop when you graduate college and enter the working world…its only just begun! Make a plan today to build on your skillset and become more versatile. What else can you do?
The leader in professional development for collegiate athletics is NACDA. NACDA encompasses multiple levels of college athletics and multiple areas within the profession (from marketing and development to compliance and academics). I’ve had the pleasure of presenting at multiple NACDA sessions over the years mostly in the realms of marketing, development and my role as an Athletic Director. NACDA, held every year in June, brings together more than 2,000 collegiate athletics professionals and an unmatched opportunity to network and learn.
Last week I hosted my third BUSINESS of Small College Athletics Workshop (#BOSCA14). I started the workshop because I believed that there was a need for more professional development opportunities geared toward administrators at Small Colleges. I desired more opportunities for professional growth….so I created them! BOSCA isn’t intended to replace what NACDA provides, far from it…it’s merely one more opportunity to exchange ideas, build your network, and find new approaches to doing your job.
As Morgan Freeman says in Shawshank Redemption …”get busy living…or get busy dying.” More to the point of this blog….focus on getting better at what you do year round…or get left behind. You can’t attend a single convention or workshop once a year and hope to cover every area that you need help in. Develop your own plan/approach to consistently grow professionally.
Here is a look at how I have approached year round professional development:
NACDA and Affiliated Groups : I’ve been a member of NACDA for several years. NACDA provides excellent growth opportunities through their annual convention, monthly magazine, live chats, daily email updates and affiliated groups like NACMA (marketing), NAADD (Development), and many others. Learn more about NACDA at www.nacda.com
Get Involved Nationally or in your Conference : Seek to actively participate in your National governing body be it the NAIA, NCAA or NJCAA. Join a committee or group within the organization. This is a great way to stay abreast of current issues, meet and network with other professionals, and represent the views of your university. Similar committees exist within your conference. If a committee/group doesn’t exist…create one. For example: If you are the compliance coordinator at your university it would make perfect sense to organize, share ideas, and communicate on a regular basis with the other compliance coordinators in your conference. Every organization started with 3-4 folks that understood there is strength in numbers and more to be learned from the group.
Social Media – We all know the potential negatives of Social Media. Don’t let the negatives outweigh the positives. Social Media is a great way to tell your story and support/promote your teams. It also provides many opportunities for growth. Every day collegiate professionals post items on Twitter, Instagram and other Social Media outlets that give an inside look in to how they are running their department. Social Media also offers numerous opportunities to connect/follow (if only virtually) these pros. I have a number of relationships with other administrators that initially started as a “follow” on Twitter. Social media chats are another great way to share ideas and a great variety of them occur on a weekly basis. If you had an opportunity to interact with other sports pro’s from around the country on a weekly basis would you take it? Chats offer this opportunity and are plentiful.
Network – It is critical to have a network of folks that you can call on for advice. This isn’t nearly as hard as you would think. Collegiate athletic administrators are quick to share advice and opinions. Seek out 1-2 folks that you respect and reach out to them for advice. Use Social Media, attendance at workshops and conventions and every other opportunity to expand your network. As you grow in your profession…keep in mind that you will be counted on to share your wisdom freely as well.
Start Your Own : As I mentioned above, my desire to grow led me to create my own opportunities.
BOSCA – The Business of Small College Athletics workshop focuses on External Relations at small (NAIA, D-II, D-III, and NJCAA) colleges.
#SCACHAT – A weekly Twitter chat that takes place Sunday nights at 8pm CST. To be honest, my co-founders Ryan Ivey (AD at Texas A&M Commerce) and Kirby Garry (AD at Cal State Monterrey Bay) were the ones that really gave me the courage to get this started. It’s important to note…that I met both of these guys in sessions at NACDA and through Social Media. Every week I learn something during this chat that I can use.
Small College Athletic Administrators on LinkedIn - To view the page click here . I started this group about 3 years ago and it has grown to more than 500 members. The original idea was to create another forum to exchange ideas. While the group has grown, the traffic and participation level on topics posted hasn’t grown to the level that I had hoped.
I hold myself to the same standard that I hold my coaches and student-athletes to. Find a way every day to get better. There are many opportunities that exist to grow and develop your skills as a collegiate athletic administrator. Get involved, network, seek out advice, engage others and if all else fails…create your own avenues for growth.
I get a fair number of calls from people looking for a career in college sports. Honestly, I think that talking to people that work in a position that you might be considering is a great idea. Many of the folks that I talk to ask me if there is anyone else that I recommend that they visit with and I almost always recommend people like Kevin Steele at Mid America Nazarene or Matt Donovan, my good buddy at the University of Indianapolis.
In these conversations I am often asked “what do I need to be doing to prepare/position myself to become an Athletic Director. I generally respond to this question by recounting my own journey to this position which started in Minor League Baseball, took me to three different universities, and included 6 consecutive years that I did not work in Athletics that led directly to my appointment as an Athletic Director. In short, there is no specific route to take….there are, however, some experiences that will make you better at your job and make you more attractive as a prospective A.D.
External Relations – The most important thing that I learned in the early stages of my career was how to sell sports. Presidents, particularly at small colleges, worry about finances more than anything. They make the difficult decisions but most of them would tell you that their primary task is raising money. Similarly, I believe that the fast track to becoming an Athletic Director is developing fund-raising/revenue generating skills. Get involved or start the revenue generating programs in your department. Sell a sponsorship, contribute to the fund-raising events that your department hosts, or seek individuals that might join your booster club. There is a science to External Relations but the most important thing to remember is to Ask and Ask Often . People that can generate revenue will always be in demand. Take a few minutes to look at the bios of Athletic Directors that you admire and you will almost always see some reference to their fund-raising efforts.
Human Resources – AD’s spend more time than they would like dealing with Personnel. Whether it’s hiring, firing, evaluating, or reprimanding H.R. is a definite part of the job. To get this experience, ask to be involved in coaching searches, see if your A.D. is willing to give you some “sport responsibility,” and clearly understand how your A.D. approaches evaluating program success. This year I asked my administrative staff to complete a one page evaluation of each head coach. I did this because I value their opinion and recognize that their experience with the coach might be different than mine. I also did it because I thought that they would personally benefit from the experience of evaluating others.
Budget Management/Operations – Being a great budget manager doesn’t guarantee you a job as an A.D. but it is an expected skill. Similarly, experience in game/event management and operations within the department shows the breadth of talents necessary to run the department. My point here is this, the A.D. is responsible for every aspect of the department…he or she must have a broad knowledge of each aspect.
What Else Can You Do ? – I ask just about everyone that I interview this question. Versatility is critical at Small Colleges in particular. How can you show your versatility? Involve yourself in other campus committees, join a service organization, teach a class, or join a professional development organization like NACMA or NAADD. Importantly, seek to lead these organizations. Presidents aren’t looking for members….they are looking for leaders.
The truth is that there is no clear path to the Athletic Director’s chair. This year alone I know of three Sports Information Directors that were hired as AD’s and, as I mentioned above, I had been working outside of Athletics for the six years immediately preceding my hire as an A.D. That having been said, there are deliberate steps and actions that you can take that will better prepare you for the position. Each of these experiences will make you better in your job whether you ultimately become an Athletic Director or not.
One of the roles that athletic administrators must take on is the role of problem solver. I will admit that I was naïve when I became an Athletic Director….I had no idea how critical it was for me to be able to solve problems. In fact, I really lamented the fact that coaches kept bringing their problems to me. It just didn’t seem fair that they would continue to pile things on my desk and ask me to deal with them. Ultimately, one of my coaches told me that “we thought that (solving problems) was your job! It dawned on me that she was right.
The most obvious way to get better at solving problems is to face a lot of problems. While this doesn’t seem very appealing, it’s true. I’m not suggesting that you go looking for problems to solve for practice…don’t worry they will find you. There are, however, a few things that you can consider that might help make you a little more prepared than I was.
Not All Problems Are BIG Problems – Problems are not like fires. Meaning, not every problem requires that you drop everything to solve it immediately. It is critical to be able to assess each issue and understand which ones must be dealt with quickly and which ones can wait. Some problems really aren’t pressing at all. Learning to delegate them allows you to maintain focus and attention on the issues that are critical to your success.
Don’t Compromise Your Integrity – Sometimes the easy solution to an issue isn’t the right solution. Whatever the problem, I encourage you to try to find the right answer. Even if that answer puts you or your department in a difficult or embarrassing situation. A few years back I had to send out notices that our school was forfeiting some basketball games because we realized after the fact that we had played an ineligible player. I was disappointed at the mistake having been made and embarrassed to have to admit it publicly….but it was the right thing to do. The fact is that our integrity in handling the situation was appreciated and noticed by others.
Phone a Friend - It is critical in sports administration to have friends and mentors within the profession. I encourage new administrators in particular to seek out veteran administrators. Veterans have faced their share of issues and bring a wealth of knowledge and EXPERIENCE that will help you when things seem the hardest. Keep in mind that this arrangement is reciprocal…you will also be called on to share advice and wisdom and you should do so freely!
Keep Learning and Growing – Even our most successful teams strive for improvement every year. Similarly, so do I. I am a big proponent of professional development including opportunities at NACDA, the NAIA Convention, and my own workshop, The Business of Small College Athletics. I’m also prone to just call an administrator “out of the blue” when I hear about something interesting that they are doing. Growing within the sports administration profession means that you’re striving to be your best and the better you are, the more prepared you will be to capitalize on opportunities and solve problems.
Encourage Staff Growth – It’s so important to empower those people around you to solve problems on their own. I spend a fair amount of time “counseling” my staff, which is a habit that I picked up from my former boss. I spend this time giving them my thoughts and opinions…and then let them choose their course. The more you surround yourself with capable problem solvers….the less time you’ll have to spend solving problems. Importantly, I also encourage my staff to participate in professional development programs that help them grow.
There is no easy way to improve your skills in solving problems. However, taking a proactive approach, holding tight to your values, and being open to advice from trusted advisors will go a long way toward preparing you for the challenges that lie ahead.
In my first year as an Athletic Director it’s safe to say that I flew by the seat of my pants quite a bit. I didn’t have a real vision for the direction of the department and it seemed like all I did was deal with problems. One of the biggest problems was that every few minutes (it seemed) a coach would walk in to my office and ask me if I “had a minute.” Of course those meetings never lasted a minute and they never seemed to stop. All of this left me feeling unproductive and at times led me to just close my door so that I wouldn’t be disturbed.
I learned an awful lot in that first year but perhaps the most important thing that I realized was that I was being counted on to provide leadership regarding the direction of our department and I had to devise an approach to provide consistent communication regarding that direction. I also realized that coaches need regular opportunities to share information with me. The basics of the plan, which I follow to this day, are as follows:
Staff Meetings – Our department has staff meetings twice per month during the academic year. These meetings are required of all athletic staff, occur on Wednesdays(the best days to avoid scheduling conflicts), start at 10a.m. and typically last about 30-40 minutes. I use these meetings to hit the highlights, provide reminders to coaches of important events/issues and give other administrators the opportunity to cover areas that they need to cover. Occasionally we invite guests from other areas of campus to address the group or give access to sponsors. Each of these meetings has a formal agenda provided by me and an opportunity at the end for any coach or staff member to address an important topic. The meeting has no set time limit but rest assured that we don’t waste time. We cover necessary business and then turn them loose.
Senior Administrative Staff – My senior staff consists of five people. Associate A.D., Asst. A.D. for Communications, Asst. A.D. for Compliance, Head Athletic Trainer, and our Administrative Assistant. This group has access to me at all times and comes to me with questions or concerns as they arise. This group meets once per month on the “Non Staff Meeting Wednesday.” I purposefully include everyone (You might think that Administrative Assistants and Athletic Trainers aren’t Sr. Staff) in this meeting because I want them to be aware of everything that is going on and I want to reiterate to them that I value the impact and contributions that they make in our department. More than that, if you work in Small College Athletics we expect you to be versatile and contribute in as many areas as possible. You can’t contribute if you’re not involved or not aware of other needs.
Individual Coaches Meetings – We have 12 head coaches and I have a scheduled meeting time with each coach every other week during the school year. 6 coaches one week and the other 6 coaches the next week. Each coach has 45 minutes allotted and I schedule these meetings between 8:30a.m. and 10a.m. every Monday, Wednesday, and Thursday. Our Wrestling coach, for example, knows that he has a meeting with me from 8:30 to 9:15a.m. every other Tuesday. I encourage coaches to plan to use this time to cover any topics with me as opposed to just dropping in whenever they want. They also know that if there is an important issue my door is always open and I expect them to bring these issues to me promptly. For the most part these meetings are relatively casual conversations with no formal agenda. I use these meetings to share my observations on team activities/performance and to get the coaches opinions on anything and everything related to the team from strategy against our next opponent, to budget concerns, to recruiting. If a meeting conflict comes up then the coach or I communicate that we can’t meet and re-schedule or decide to not meet at all if neither of us has pressing issues. This approach gives me clear consistent insight from the coach’s perspective throughout the year and gives me the same opportunity to consistently remind the coach about the priorities that we have as a department. Importantly, it also makes it easy for me to schedule the multitude of other meetings that I have during the month.
I encourage my coaches to offer a similar approach to their student-athletes. Find time to visit with them beyond the playing field and take time to understand their needs and concerns. Similarly, use this time to communicate your expectations going forward.
This approach gives me a significant amount of face to face time with my coaches and staff which I prefer over just covering items in group settings. If a coach needs to improve in a specific area then I communicate it directly rather than vaguely covering it in front of the group. Similarly, if a coach needs something more from me or just needs advice they can discuss it with me directly and privately. I should mention at this point that I once asked a peer Athletic Director what his coach’s opinion was on a particular topic. The AD leaned over to me and said, “I don’t know….I try to avoid talking to that coach.” This is not the approach to take in managing people!
I could ease my schedule by having some sports directly report to our Associate or Assistant A.D.’s but I fear that doing this might suggest to the coach that I don’t value their sport at the same level as I do the others. The key to our success at OCU is that each sport is considered equally and I don’t want to change that.
Having a plan for the success of your department is required….unless you’re satisfied with the status quo. But a plan is worthless unless you have a consistent approach to communicating it to your staff. How are you getting your thoughts and ideas across to your people? Is it working?
One of the things that I love about working in college athletics is that I’m surrounded by young, vibrant, hard-working 18-22 year old kids. In fact, I often tell recruits that I have 2 children and 400 step-children….our student-athletes. These young people keep me young, enthusiastic, and sometimes frustrate the heck out of me. They also remind me that I’m not so young anymore and have programmed me to answer to Mr. Abbott as opposed to Jim.
I love that I have the opportunity to impact the lives of our students. Similarly, as I continue to mature, I appreciate the chance that I have to mentor others in my profession and those that desire a career in Sports Administration.
To some extent I see mentoring others as a way of paying back those that have inspired, encouraged, advised, and listened to me in my years working in Sports. Looking back I owe a great debt to folks like Jim Weigel, Bud Sahmaunt, Roger Wexelberg, Mike O’Brien, and Tom McDaniel among others, that gave me opportunities, guidance, and support.
I’m not writing this post because I’m looking for more people to mentor. But the fact is that if you reach out to me via email, Twitter, etc to ask for my advice then you’ll get it. I’ll happily take 5-10 minutes to try to give you career advice, help you solve a problem or make a suggestion on how you can improve what you are doing.
I share this passion for mentoring with two people that inspire me greatly. Kevin Steele, Athletic Director at Mid America Nazarene has been a mentor and inspiration for me and countless others. He is quick with advice and always willing to find time. Matt Donovan, Sr. Associate AD at the University of Indianapolis, is also a continuing source of ideas and encouragement for me. If someone approaches me for help and I don’t have the answers, I often send them to Matt….who always does.
Not surprisingly, both Matt (NAADD) and Kevin (NAIA ADA) have been deeply involved in National professional development organizations. They don’t just share wisdom once a year during NACDA, they do it daily.
One of the best parts of working in sports is the willingness that people in our profession have to share ideas. I hope that the next time you get an email, voicemail, or tweet from someone seeking career advice you’ll take the time to respond. Let your memory of being young and uncertain guide you. Regardless of whether they land a job or terrific internship you will have given back. Like me, you’ll find that some of these relationships extend beyond that initial contact and like me you’ll feel a sense of pride when they do accomplish great things.
I’m grateful for the people that have taken the time to help and guide me through the years. I still depend on those folks and many others to help me grow in my job today. I’m even more grateful that I have the opportunity to inspire and help others.
I have often attended sessions at NACDA, the NAIA convention, or the Business of Small College Athletics and heard stories of success. Fundraising events that generate hundreds of thousands of dollars, booster clubs that have grown to thousands of members, venues that are sold out of tickets, or sponsorship campaigns that generously boost the budget.
Sometimes these presentations are a bit daunting in the fact that the goals seem unrealistic in comparison to your current position. The key in my opinion is to understand that your goal is not to beat or match the “amount raised” by the presenter…merely to meet or exceed the goal for your project at your institution. Similarly, understand and follow these simple keys to success. Have a plan, get started, and do it well.
Nobody gets 2000 booster club members in their first year. Set a realistic goal of say 100 or 200 members(the goal can always be increased if you’re more successful), treat those members well and build from there. Make sure that “sustainability” is the central theme in your plan. Where will you be in year 5 of the plan?
Setting goals and developing a plan is important but don’t let it stop you from getting started! You can’t host that great event, or sell that new sponsorship idea if you’re not willing to get out and get it done. Allocate time daily/weekly to make progress toward your goal. Solicit the help of others in working toward your vision.
Do it Well
If you hope to develop a program that can significantly impact your department you have to be committed to doing it the right way. Don’t promise what you can’t deliver…and always deliver what you promise. It’s not critical in the early days of any project that you set records…it is critical that those people that are involved in the program see the value of it and enjoy their involvement. If they do, they will be more inclined to participate again and will invite and encourage others.
Success doesn’t happen overnight. Commit yourself to a plan of action and build a program that will pay dividends for years to come.
Kelly Perry, Assistant Athletic Director for Compliance at Oklahoma City University, and Jim Abbott hosted the #scachat on Sunday, July 6, 2014. The chat focused on the Student-Athlete experience, engaging former Student-Athletes, and Student-Athlete accomplishments.
For a complete transcript of the chat CLICK HERE
#scachat is hosted weekly by Ryan Ivey, Kirby Garry, and Jim Abbott. The chat focuses on providing networking and professional development opportunities for Small College Athletic administrators. The chat runs from 8pm - 9pm CST each week.
Undoubtedly you did not stay up until midnight on June 30 to countdown the start of the new fiscal year. We don’t often celebrate, at least in the same manner as New Year’s, the start of a new fiscal year. It means something different for all of us. Perhaps you were rushing to zero out your budget to end last year. Maybe you were holding off on the purchase of new equipment until July 1 because a budget line had been overdrawn back in May. Whatever the scenario, it’s important to step back and look at what the new fiscal and academic year brings to us in the athletic world. Here are a few words to think about as we embark on another new year…
Energy : Optimistically the start of the new fiscal year should be enough to revitalize you for what lies ahead. We battle, literally and figuratively, all year for our programs and student-athletes. We definitely are worn out by the process that is our athletic year. Now here we sit at the start of a brand new year with a new sense of energy, ready to attack a new set of obstacles, while still battling some of the same ones we have already faced. Whatever the reason you are working in this industry, hopefully it somehow reflects on the fact that you are energized by working every day, for and with, the great individuals we call our student-athletes.
Pride: By this time we are well past graduation for our newly formed alums, many of whom are out in the working world already. If you work with alumni relations in any capacity, then you know the great pride that lies in seeing what a former student-athlete does to impact the world well after their days of competition. It’s a little cliché, but the work we do to offer these young men and women the opportunity to compete in college athletics is truly setting them up for success in their futures. The best part about our industry is that we have a renewable resource. We say goodbye to our graduating seniors, only to be greeted by wide-eyed freshmen a few months later. The excitement and pride that goes with helping them achieve their goals and prepare themselves for their careers is something that can’t be matched.
Hope: No matter what the outcome of your individual program’s or overall department last year, there should be hope that this year will meet or exceed your own expectations (any fellow Cubs fans reading this will understand where it comes from). For some that might mean earning National Championships, for others it’s a conference title. There’s probably even someone reading this that might just be hopeful to win a handful of games this year. We will probably fall short somewhere along those lines this year. The challenge is to keep our hope pushing us forward in our commitment to excellence. Only you know the true benchmark for where you should be and how your will measure your progress to get there. There’s no harm in failing, only in letting it destroy your hope that you can do better in the future.
Difference : We all strive to win, do better, be the best, blah, blah, blah. It’s all just a façade to saying that we want to make a difference. However, the difference doesn’t always come in the form of wins. Sometimes we need to have the 30,000-foot view to see the larger impact we are making. In looking at what lies ahead, we can choose to focus on whatever we want to make improvements for the upcoming year. The bottom line of it all is that we want to make a difference one way or another. The cliché in sports of being better today than you were yesterday is very tried and true. However, we can also look at what difference are we making for the long term. Are we setting ourselves up for success just today? What happens tomorrow? Next year? While we focus on the now, let’s remember that with a new year comes the scope of the entire year. We must also not forget that beyond this year, lies next year (Diehard Cubs Fan!). There’s a simple quote that sums up how you can make a difference… “ The difference between who you are, and who you want to become lies between your ears…it’s all mental”.
If we are aware of the difference we can make, then we can go out and do it. If we let others convolute those thoughts, then there’s a chance we fail. Being the difference that you know you can be is the simplest and easiest way to be a difference that others can see.
Happy New Fiscal Year again to everyone! Whatever your focus is for 2014-15, remember that it’s up to you whether or not it will be successful. There’s no set path to that success, so chart your own course. Find your word(s) to help you focus on what you want to do this year.
Brock Wissmiller is the Assistant Athletic Director for External Relations at Upper Iowa University. Follow Brock on Twitter @bwissmiller
The Small College Athletics Twitter chat (#scachat) was held on Sunday, June 29th and involved Athletic Administrators from around the country giving input on questions posed by moderator Kirby Garry, Athletic Director at California State University - Monterrey Bay.
For a complete transcript of the chat CLICK HERE
Let’s face it, there are thousands of people that dream of working in sports. For many, the hardest part is merely getting that first opportunity. My opinion is that whether you are new to this career or a crusty veteran you should always be growing and developing new skills that contribute to your team or department. Ten years ago Social Media didn’t exist and now it is a daily part of the athletic world. I assure you that some sports leaders recognize this and embrace the challenge of utilizing Social Media and others simply choose to ignore it. Ignorance, in this case, is not bliss. A focus on your personal growth and the growth of your department is critical to your long term success. With that in mind consider the following guiding principles:
In work and in life there is always room for refinement and improvement. How are you getting better at what you do today?
Ryan Ivey, Athletic Director at Texas A&M Commerce, hosted the #scachat on Sunday, June 22, 2014. The focus on the chat was Professional Development opportunities for Small College Athletic Administrators. Ryan had a bonus question that asked folks to share their best in-game promotional event with the promise of a prize to the person with the best promotion. Marissa Poppe from Pittsburg State University was the grand prize winner!
The chat takes place every Sunday night at 8pm CST on Twitter and is open to any Small College Athletic Administrator.
for a complete transcript of the chat.
Every year Athletic Directors are assigned the task of evaluating the success of a program…and more specifically evaluating the performance of a coach. I suppose that everyone takes a different approach. My opinion is that the best approach comes in identifying measureable goals for the program before the season even starts. For me, these goals(and the evaluation) fall into four categories.
Athletic : I don’t list this first because it’s most important…merely the most obvious. This area evaluates whether we were successful in competition. A measurable goal in this area could be “finish in the top third of the conference.” I have never picked a specific win total, but do think that competitiveness within our conference is realistic and certainly measurable.
Academic : An easily measurable area. For me this area includes an evaluation of team gpa, graduation rates, and retention.
Financial : The focus on the financial contribution of our programs has only existed on our campus for the past 5-6 years. Financial success of our programs literally looks at the financial contribution(in terms of net revenue produced by the program) to the university. Net revenue takes in to account all revenue(tuition, fees, funds-raised, housing revenue) and all expenses(scholarships – academic and athletic, operating expenses, salaries, etc).
Social : This area is the hardest to actually measure. I evaluate the Social success of a program by looking at how well team members integrate themselves on campus. Is the coach recruiting players that are constantly breaking campus rules or causing issues at competitions? How does the team serve the community, engage in campus activities?
Each area of success that we evaluate ties back directly to the strategic plan that guides our department and coincides with the mission of the university. Understanding these areas and how they are evaluated should guide the decisions that our coaches make in recruiting and the areas of emphasis they place within the team. More importantly the evaluation process gives every coach an opportunity to consider:
As in any other facet of our department, there is always room to grow and improve.
On Sunday nights at 8pm CST Small College Athletic Administrators from around the country tune in to #scachat a Twitter dialouge designed to facilitate networking and exchanging ideas. The chat lasts an hour and covers a variety of topics that are meaningful to Small College Athletics. The June 15 chat was hosted by Brock Wissmiller, Assistant Athletic Director at Upper Iowa University. Topics discussed during the chat included: 1) Creating an annual Marketing plan for your department, 2) Fund-raising golf tournaments, 3) Summer Athletic Camps, 4) Approaches toward Professional Development, and 5) New ideas gained from the NACDA convention.
For a complete transcript of the chat click here.
The chat is open to anyone in Small College Athletics. Simply follow the hashtag #scachat and join us as we continue to grow and learn.
Once again this year I have the pleasure of attending the annual NACDA convention in Orlando. I’ve always enjoyed going to NACDA and always come home with great ideas, new friends, and enthusiasm to get to work. My favorite part of the convention is sitting around with other folks in my profession and trading insight into how they do things. I enjoy professional development so much that I created the Business of Small College Athletics workshop as an avenue to encourage growth for Small College Athletic Administrators.
I also encourage my staff and coaches to seek out these opportunities, attend their conventions, and look to grow in any way possible. More than just attending, I encourage them to strive to become leaders of their professional development organization. A goal that I think we should all have.
The challenge with attending workshops and conventions is that they only happen once per year. Creating a list of all of your challenges and taking that list to the convention in search of answers isn’t a very productive way to go about growing. What you need is a consistent group with which to share and learn from. I highly advocate sports pros finding mentors or close friends in the business that they can bounce ideas off of. It’s important to note that there are a growing number of FREE opportunities to network and learn available on Social Media each week.
Recently I co-founded a chat for Small College Athletic Administrators along with Kirby Garry(@kirbygarry) and Ryan Ivey(@rivey35). The chat(#scachat) is held each Sunday night at 8pm CST and covers a broad range of subjects dealing with small college athletics. Participants are encouraged to post topics that they would like to discuss in future chats and I’m delighted to say that each week the hour goes by very quickly. Click here to view a transcript from a recent chat. It doesn’t cost me a nickel to attend and interact and I find that it is well worth my time. Best of all, the participants can all relate to the issues that I face in my position, as I can to theirs.
There are a variety of chats out there to participate in. I got started in chats by joining the #sbchat(sports business chat). NACMA also provides a variety of live chats that are hosted by NACMA as opposed to Twitter. Like me, if you don’t find a chat that speaks to your specific needs….just start your own and invite others to join in. You’ll find that chats are a great place to make a new connection for your network and a great place to learn new ideas and share ideas that work for you.
While I’m still a huge advocate of attending conventions(I hope to see you at NACDA, the NAIA Convention, or BOSCA this year), I encourage you to get started today to find additional sources for professional development and networking. That is, unless you are already as good as you’re ever going to be.
During a recent #scachat my buddy Jeff Bain (Athletic Director at Martin Methodist University and all around great guy) shared with the group that one of his resolutions for the new academic year was to “send two thank you notes out on Monday of every week.” This post was retweeted and favorited by almost every participant in the chat. It made me wonder if other Small College Athletic Administrators had similar goals/resolutions for the coming year. See below their responses.
Jackie Paquette, Asst. A.D. for Student Support & Sports Information – Univ. of Indianapolis
My resolution is to create more meaningful relationships both within my department and within the intercollegiate athletics realm. I want to create these relationships to help my department and others succeed in any way I can.
Brandon Podgorski, Athletic Director – Indiana University – Kokomo
My focus this year is to make sure our student-athletes have more of a voice regarding their athletic and academic experience. If we’re doing something well then I want to continue it, if there is something we’re missing then I want to address and fix it. A memorable and meaningful college experience will create engaged athletic alumni.
Kelly Perry, Asst. A.D. for Compliance – Oklahoma City University
My resolution for the 2014-2015 season is to do at least one “special” thing for each team. Whether it be attend a retreat with them, go to an away game/match/meet, condition with them, participate in their community service project or bake some goodies for gameday, I want them to know I support everything they are doing!
Ryan Erwin, Athletic Director – Rogers State University
Going into the upcoming 2014-2015 Academic Year, which will be my first full year at Rogers State, I plan to attend at least one practice each week to help get more acquainted with our student-athletes, coaches, and support staff.
Blake Allen, Interactive Marketing Assistant – S.E. Oklahoma State University
To continue developing personally/professionally and finding ways to enhance the S-A experience while keeping the spotlight on them.
Ryan Ivey, Athletic Director – Texas A&M-Commerce University
Personally, must increase my patience and remember to enjoy & celebrate our successes more. Important to see the forest!
Audra Tope, Associate Commissioner – Great American Conference
Goal 1-organizing office plans/schedules. Goal 2-putting legs to plans so they are all in process! Goal 3-enhance current events.
Sean McAndrews, NCAA Compliance Officer – West Virginia State University
I want to assist our SID & AD in improving marketing, game administration, & social media areas!
Jeff Bain, Athletic Director – Martin Methodist University
We have to do a better job of branding our athletic venues. Too much success here and it's not reflected very well. (I gave Jeff two slots in this blog because he has great ideas and gave me the idea for this post!)
Lynnea Phillips – Aspiring Sports Professional
Pursuing a master's degree. 2: Get my first DI/pro sports exposure. 3: Work on enjoying the journey, rather than rushing it.
Brad Smith, Asst. A.D. for External Affairs – Morehead State University
Continuing to find ways to tell OUR STORY. You can't rely on someone else to tell it for you.
Kirby Garry, Athletic Director – Cal State University – Monterrey Bay
Be less reactive, more proactive. Be very visible in community with focus on telling our story, asking for support.
Brock Wissmiller, Assoc. A.D. External Affairs – Upper Iowa University
I want to surprise myself. I need to push my limits further & be better than I expect myself to be.
Samantha Rogers, Development and Alumni Relations– McGill University
1: Instill philanthropy among SAs 2: Elevate all team's fundraising and alumni relation programs - create a tighter Athletic family.
Nolan Steputis, Assoc. A.D. – Vanguard University
I plan to take more time out of my day/weeks and connect with our student athletes and impact their lives more.
Frank Keenan, Asst. A.D. External Affairs – Henderson State University
Work every day to make to the student-athlete experience better.
Matt Jones, Sr. Assoc. A.D. for External Relations – Delta State University
Find new avenues for professional and personal development.
Brandon Ruttley, Assoc. A.D. for External Affairs - Nicholls State University
1.Get rid of the busy work so that I can spend more time on the road visiting with supporters. 2.Complete Facilities master plan.
Paul Smith, Sports Information Director – Arkansas Tech University
Take advantage of as many professional development opportunities as is possible.
Stevie Baker-Watson, Athletic Director – Depauw University
We will focus on diversity & inclusion as a department. Personally looking to gain more knowledge in development/fundraising.
Jim Abbott, Athletic Director – Oklahoma City University
Big one for me is "Celebrating." We tend to get bogged down in challenges rather than celebrating what we do well.
I worked at Oklahoma City University from 1991-94 as an Athletic Development Officer. My baseball coach at the time devised a plan that he called “Phase III,” which detailed the revamping and improvement of the baseball stadium on campus. I returned to OCU as Athletic Director in 2003 and was surprised when the same coach brought me the same plan for the stadium. He explained that he had been “waiting for the day that a significant donor would come to him with a truckload of money.”
My baseball coach did a significant amount of work planning what he needed based on his vision for the program. He made the fatal flaw of filing these plans in his desk…for 8 years!
I remind my staff daily that we are all salespeople. While I occasionally dream about what I would do if someone dropped by with a $5 million contribution, I realize that this is a fantasy. Fundraising isn’t rocket science. As my good friend Tommy Sadler, Athletic Director at Union University, once told me…”Fundraising is simple, ask….and ask often.”
We tend to complicate the process of sales. It merely requires your belief in your product, your ability to communicate your need or opportunity, and your willingness to get out and sell .
It took us seven years to complete every bit of “Phase III,” which includes stadium lights, a new stadium entry way and ticket booth, new stadium seating, and other field improvements which totaled approximately $600,000. Now we are working on “Phase IV” which includes a permanent endowment for the baseball program and a new indoor facility. The credit goes to my coach who among other things communicates electronically each month with former players and donors, created a successful annual alumni event, and regularly shares his vision for the direction of his program.
To achieve his goals, it turns out that all he had to do was ask…and ask often.
About a year ago I mentioned to my good friend Tracie Hitz that I intended to start a blog centered on Small College Athletics. Tracie, who is God’s gift of encouragement, told me to Go For It! From time to time over the past few months I would jot down ideas for blog posts, only to forget them or decide that I didn’t have the time, venue, or ability to pull it off. Today, I am getting started .
It’s easy to relate my inability to get a blog started to several other areas in my personal and professional life. As a small college Athletic Director I have daily responsibilities that include personnel and budget management, event management, fund-raising and marketing responsibilities, strategic planning and departmental vision, along with membership on the University’s cabinet. Add to the mix, ultimate responsibility for the actions of a staff of 25 and more than 350 student-athletes and you get the idea that my plans for a day can change at a moment’s notice. As such, I have periods where I feel totally unproductive.
For about a year now, I have discussed with my Soccer coach our need to build a locker room for our teams. We agree that this is an important need for our program and have created floor plans, cost estimates and renderings of the physical space that we need. Next we created a list of possible donors which includes former Soccer players and past donors to the program and talked about how we would approach these prospects. Finally, we created a brochure that broke down giving opportunities and shared the dream that we have for the facility. Then we procrastinated doing the hard part, calling on these individuals and corporations to solicit their support.
I hemmed and hawed and thought “if only we had a development officer for Athletics that could keep me on task with this.” After months of “dealing with other issues,” I finally relented to the fact that I had to make “getting started” a priority. As such, we assigned prospects to responsible staff members and created timelines for contacting them. Each day, I set aside time for the specific purpose of calling on prospective donors as do other members of our staff. After just weeks of concentrated effort we are more than half way to our goal.
In reflection, the key to “getting started” on almost any important project is to make it your priority on a daily basis. Then faithfully set aside the time necessary to pursue and accomplish your objective. What personal or professional goals are you trying to achieve? Get Started!
This year my wife and I took the kids to New York City for the week of Thanksgiving. It had long been her dream to shop in Times Square, watch the Macy’s parade, and take in all the sights of the Big Apple. It was a terrific experience filled with great food, Broadway productions, and cultural diversity. To be honest though, I was thrilled to come home to my house in rural Oklahoma!
I’ve spent the last ten years as the Athletic Director at Oklahoma City University, a school with 3,500 students that competes in the NAIA. Frequently folks will say to me, “we’re lucky to have you….someday some big school is going to come and offer you a better job.” These comments are both flattering and somewhat insulting. Flattering in that they offer praise for the work that I have done and insulting from the standpoint that they suggest that I have somewhat “settled” for a lower tier/less important position.
I think that these are common thoughts in our industry. In our careers we are driven to “achieve the highest heights.” In college athletics those “highest heights” are almost always seen by the general public as Division I. After all, we see these games with massive crowds on TV and the newspaper headlines scream of the successes and failures. My peers and the peers of my coach’s at these institutions make significantly more money than we do. In many cases, a single coach’s salary far exceeds the budget of my entire department.
To be clear, I have a lot of great friends that I really admire that work in Division I. These people have shaped and continue to shape the ways that I approach my job. I’m not saying that I wouldn’t consider a position at a Division I institution if it were offered….but the fact is that I really enjoy the role that I have as a small college Athletic Director. I relish the fact that I get to know the student-athletes in my department. I appreciate that we play sports mostly for the love of playing sports. It really doesn’t matter that there aren’t millions of dollars riding on the outcome of the game or thousands of fans in the stands. Truly, the fact that there isn’t a million dollars or more riding on the success of our teams means that were less likely to stray from our personal values just to win. More than anything we play for pride and most importantly we sincerely try to prepare our students for a life of service. I have no doubt that I can make a difference in the life of our student-athletes . What a tremendous opportunity.
It’s important to have BIG goals in life…both personally and professionally. Just realize that you can reach the “highest heights” wherever you are!