• By Bob Peterson
  • 29 Jun, 2016

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.

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