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?