Running an athletic department is no easy task. As a director, you have many people to look after, events to coordinate, regulatory deadlines to meet, and facilities to manage.
With so much going on throughout the year, it’s critical to have a robust organizational management strategy in place to ensure operational efficiency across all areas of your department.
Having an organizational management strategy and sticking to a plan can make all the difference in creating a successful, cost-effective, and high-performing athletic environment.
What is organizational management?
Organizational management is the process of analyzing, planning, and executing various strategies that help achieve specific goals. It’s an umbrella term that typically covers many smaller areas of focus.
The concept also applies to athletic departments that have to carefully manage human, financial, physical, and digital resources.
Ultimately, athletic departments of all sizes need to use organizational management to stay on track and in compliance with state, local, and school-specific regulations.
Why is organizational management important?
Athletic departments can be very competitive, especially in districts with high expectations for performance and achievement. You’re looking to help students play in college and secure scholarships while racking up team victories along the way.
Unfortunately, such goals aren’t easy to fulfill. Athletic departments often fall short in these pursuits due to a lack of clear and effective organizational management.
When this happens, everyone suffers — administrators, coaches, students, parents and caregivers, and the community at large. Disorganization often leads to compliance issues, missed opportunities, and high administrative turnover — none of which are beneficial for athletic department stakeholders.
Which organizational management strategies should I use?
Athletic departments vary in size, structure, and needs. As such, there isn’t a single blueprint that you can use to build an organizational management strategy. Generally speaking, it’s much more effective to analyze your department and then form a policy around your specific challenges and goals.
With that in mind, here are eight strategies that you should strongly consider when creating policies for your athletic department.
1. Chain of command
Athletic departments are made up of multiple coaches, supporting staff members, teachers, advisors, parent groups, and consultants. As such, it’s necessary to have a chain of command or hierarchical structure, so that all employees and participants have a clear understanding of their roles, expectations, and limitations.
In an athletic environment, a participant should ideally have no more than one direct supervisor to report to. This eliminates confusion and prevents conflicts from occurring.
Chain of command is particularly important following the pandemic, where staff members need to adhere to strict protocols regarding issues such as masks, vaccines, quarantines, and COVID-19 prevention and awareness. Staff members that go rogue and form their own rules can become a major liability. Having a chain of command in place can reduce issues and bad decisions, resulting in a safer environment for all stakeholders.
Chain of command checklist
- Keep a master list of names and titles
- Communicate title and supervisor changes to all stakeholders
- Be fair and consistent about disciplining individuals
2. Personnel management
While having a chain of command helps ensure compliance, it doesn’t address staff behavior and performance. As such, it’s vital to have an effective personnel management system in place to keep staff members on track and in line.
Your personnel management strategy should directly support your official department policies and procedures. There should be firm rules and regulations in place, along with personal expectations and goals for each staff member.
It also helps to have a system for collecting feedback and complaints. That way, you can guarantee all staff members can voice their opinions and share issues when they arise.
Personnel management checklist
- Be clear about policies and procedures
- Have a system for collecting feedback
- Schedule regular performance reviews
Accurate and efficient scheduling is necessary for a busy athletic department where multiple programs are operating simultaneously and sharing resources.
Best practices call for using a shared scheduling component to enhance visibility, improve coordination, and ensure reminders about important deadlines and events are shared in a timely manner.
Scheduling should encompass numerous areas, taking the following needs into consideration.
Throughout the year, teams have to share different spaces: locker rooms, training facilities, fields, courts, and meeting rooms. As such, communication and scheduling errors can create tension and negatively impact performance.
Having a shared scheduling system in place — and a single system for requesting facilities — prevents arguments and ensures equal access for all teams.
Before the start of a season or semester, athletic leaders should prepare official calendars and submit them for approval. This should cover official meetings, training sessions, practices, games, tournaments, and fundraising events.
Each calendar should feed into a master scheduling system so that all stakeholders are on the same page.
Athletic departments also need to keep a close watch on the calendar for regulatory deadlines to ensure all stakeholders meet eligibility requirements. Some key items to watch out for include medical clearances, academic reports, and policy forms.
- Use a master schedule to share information with stakeholders
- Set clear deadlines for submitting calendars
- Have a system in place for accepting calendars, filing changes, and processing appeals
4. Contest management
Athletic contests require a great deal of planning and coordination. Failure to adequately plan for an athletic event can have disastrous consequences, embarrassing school administrators and potentially even leading to forfeits or penalties.
Consider a large event like a football game: Athletic departments need to provide support for parking, concession stands, facility management (e.g., lights and field preparation), emergency medical professionals, and security, to name just a few examples.
By taking a proactive approach to contest management, you can ensure games go off smoothly throughout the year.
Contest management checklist
- Assemble a community volunteer list
- Inspect all facilities prior to hosting events
- Communicate with local health and safety departments to request medical and security professionals in advance
- Use digital solutions to manage contests effectively
Fielding ineligible players can lead to forfeiting games and other indirect penalties, robbing hard-working students of their chances of competing.
Unfortunately, this happens quite often in high school sports. For example, three high schools in Alabama now have records containing forfeits after violating AHSAA eligibility rules.
One of the best ways to prevent eligibility rules is to use a digital management app to collect and process athletic paperwork. By improving roster visibility and communication, directors can ensure all coaches are following the rules and adhering to local eligibility standards, thereby ensuring compliance.
- Use digital forms to ensure compliance
- Remind coaches about eligibility rules
- Communicate with state and local officials for eligibility updates
6. Critical incident management
Currently, we’re living in unpredictable times. As such, athletic departments need to account for many types of threats — including weather events, random acts of violence, injuries, and health issues like COVID-19 outbreaks.
It’s every athletic director’s responsibility to analyze, plan, and establish strategies for dealing with critical incidents. In addition, it’s important to review critical incident management plans with all stakeholders and provide training. This way, department leaders can know their roles and spring to action immediately during an event.
Critical incident management checklist
- Plan for incidents in advance
- Create an incident response task force
- Be clear about policies and procedures
- Provide proper medical and emergency response training
- Update and maintain fire, safety, and emergency response signs throughout facilities
7. Financial responsibilities
Many school systems across the country are dealing with reduced budgets and struggling to make ends meet in the post-pandemic economy.
This is a big problem for athletic directors — especially in large districts where resources are scarce. When factoring in the cost of payroll, transportation, equipment, insurance, and facilities, sports costs can add up quickly.
For this reason, directors need to prioritize financial management so that all stakeholders are aware of the operational budget and do their part to raise money and manage funds effectively throughout the season.
Financial responsibility checklist
- Be transparent about your budget
- Find creative ways to raise money
- Avoid wasteful practices
- Reduce unnecessary transportation costs when possible
8. Equipment and facilities
Equipment and facilities present constant challenges for athletic departments. Both are very expensive and need to be in top condition to ensure safety, fair play, and regulatory approval.
Athletic departments need to keep a close watch to ensure all teams have the proper equipment, as well as access to safe and compliant athletic fields and courts. There should be a system in place for providing equipment and facilities reports — and for providing requests when teams need extra support.
Equipment and facilities checklist
- Provide coaches with the latest rule changes for equipment before a season starts
- Create a committee to inspect and report facility conditions
- Create a channel to provide updates with league and state safety and compliance inspectors
For more information on how to improve your athletic department and build a better sports program for your community, check this out.
Want to deepen your knowledge on organizational management?
The backbone for all organizational management knowledge is “LTC 501 Athletic Administration” (LINK). LTC 501 gives you the foundational philosophy of educational athletics while establishing the different roles in the NIAA, the NFHS, the state Athletic/Activity Associations as well as the State Athletic Administrator’s Association.
And try out LTC 502, which provides you with the tools and methods of managing on the job!
"For any person new to athletic administration LTC 501, 502 and 503 are a must. I cannot imagine trying to get started in athletics administration without the wide array of information contained in these courses. Don't think about taking these courses, do it."
– Marc Hunter, UIAAA Executive Director, with over 35 years of experience in Athletic Administration