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6 Tips for Dealing with Politics in High School Athletics

Clay Burnett

Athletic programs deliver a ton of upsides to communities. They teach the importance of teamwork and hard work, they build camaraderie, and they can even bring an entire community together.

Unfortunately, for a variety of reasons—such as selfish and aggressive parents, coaches that show favoritism, and donor and booster club influences—student athletics can have a dark underbelly. In this blog post, we’ll take a quick look at why bureaucracy happens and provide six tips athletic directors can use for dealing with politics in high school athletics.

How Political Issues in High School Athletics Happen

According to a recent article in The Atlantic, parents are realizing that high school and youth sports have come to resemble pre-professional programs. The heightened competitiveness of youth sports is, in large part, due to the fact that the amount of scholarship dollars granted by Division I and Division II colleges ballooned from $250 million in the 1990s to $3 billion by 2018.

With college scholarship opportunities more accessible than ever before, many parents want their kids to have more playing time, regardless of skill level, because they want them to enjoy more opportunities down the road. This can create problems when parents demand that their less-skilled kids receive more playing time.

A few common scenarios of politics in high school sports include:

  • Parents who have a lot of clout in Little League might think they have the same level of influence at the high school level.
  • Parents involved with other organizations (e.g., the PTA) might think that they can exert similar control over sports.

When situations like these arise, it’s important for athletic directors and other administrators to handle them delicately and appropriately. Let’s take a look at 6 tips ADs can use.

6 Tips for Athletic Directors Dealing with Politics in High School Athletics

As an athletic director, your goal is to create a program that enhances the educational experience and plays an important role in each student athlete’s development.

To do that, you need to know how to deal with politics swiftly and effectively so that your program continues running smoothly.

Here are six tips that will help you do that:

1. Learn how to deal with difficult people.

As the athletics season gets underway, it’s only a matter of time before you’ll encounter an irate parent. When these situations happen, keep your demeanor in check. Stay calm, cool, and collected—and maintain your composure. Keep your thoughts to yourself. Hear the other side out and try to keep the interaction as cordial as possible.

2. Be proactive and solve problems as they materialize.

Remember, your job is all about fulfilling your school’s mission of creating a great educational experience for all involved. It’s not about winning at all costs.

When problems are brewing, move quickly to address them. Otherwise, before you know it, they may spiral out of control.

3. Choose your battles.

You may be better off letting the smaller issues slide, but you’ll definitely want to hold your ground on the larger issues—such as ensuring adequate funding for all sports, not just the most popular ones.

Consider all sides of an issue before determining how you need to address it.

4. Establish clear policies and procedures.

Make sure coaches, parents, and student athletes sign documents showing they understand what’s expected of them with respect to behavior. A platform like FinalForms can come in handy here (more on that in a bit).

5. Notify superiors and colleagues as needed.

Whatever you do, you don’t want the School Board, superintendent, or principal to find out about a major issue through the grapevine. When major crises emerge, you’re best off immediately notifying the folks who need to know.

6. Be consistent.

Once you define a policy, stick to it. If you enforce a policy on one student and not another, you can lose the trust of parents, athletes, and other staff.

Avoid overhauling all of your policies each year. Although you should adapt policies that aren’t working, implementing too many changes too quickly in a short period of time can frustrate and confuse families, staff, and athletes. Adapt when appropriate, but focus on consistent enforcement of key rules and regulations to limit chaos.

How Staff Can Teach Student Athletes and Parents to Deal with Politics

In sports, the same players tend to be on the highlight reel because they are the best players. It’s true from the pros down to the minors—and even in high school and below.

If students are upset about playing time, teach them about the importance of niche players. Athletes like Dennis Rodman (a massive rebounder) and Luis Sojo (who came up clutch for the Yankees in the postseason) weren’t the stars of their teams. But they were stars of games when it mattered.

You can also teach students what they can do to increase their playing time. Practice makes perfect. Michael Jordan didn’t even make his high school basketball team as a freshman, and Hall of Fame catcher Mike Piazza wasn’t selected until the 62nd round of the MLB draft. If you love a sport, keep playing. Develop your skills, and great things can happen.

As for parents: By creating clearly defined policies and making sure that all parents have read and agreed to them, you can set expectations that should hopefully reduce political influence.

How FinalForms Can Help Your District Deal with Politics in High School Athletics

Solving the issues outlined in this blog post is no easy feat, but by using an online platform like FinalForms to distribute and collect forms, your job can become a little bit easier.

With FinalForms, you can ensure that every stakeholder in the athletic ecosystem knows what’s expected of them. For example, you can have every parent and student spectator sign a form that explains how they are expected to behave at games. That way, in the event that certain behavior crosses a line, you will already have outlined the next steps (e.g., ejection from the stadium or venue).

For more information on how FinalForms can help your district improve the athletic experience, schedule a demo today.

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