From the Trenches: Part 1

In this series, we dive into the various issues that athletic directors face and offer up strategies to thrive in the face of these challenges.

From the Trenches: Part 1

The Issues Facing Education Based Athletics & Strategies for Today's Athletic Administrators

By Brent Buttjer and Scott Garvis, CMAA, Bound AD in Residence

Editors Note: This is a mutli-part series offering insight on the most pressing issues facing education based athletics and how they can best be addressed.


Are you thriving or surviving in your role as an athletic leader? In a recent survey and focus groups conducted, we asked over 300 athletic directors from schools of various sizes, demographics, and locations to identify the issues they face in their roles as athletic leaders. This article provides a unique glimpse into the issues athletic directors are facing.

Athletic directors play a crucial role in leading, organizing,  and managing education based activity programs. They are responsible for a wide range of tasks, including hiring coaches, scheduling games, arranging transportation, managing budgets, and ensuring compliance with regulations. However, the position of an athletic director is not an easy one, and many of them face burnout due to multiple issues that they have to deal with on a regular basis.

Athletic directors have the challenging task of overseeing interscholastic athletic programs, organizing events, managing budgets, and ensuring compliance with regulations. However, in recent years, athletic directors have faced an increasing number of issues that make their job more demanding than ever.

In this series, we will discuss the various issues that athletic directors face and provide strategies to help them thrive and survive through these challenges.

Part 1: Parental Involvement and Outside Influences

Dealing with parental involvement and outside influences can be a time-consuming and challenging task for athletic directors. Here are three strategies that can help address this issue:

  1. Set clear expectations and boundaries: Athletic administrators should communicate clear expectations and boundaries for parent behavior. This can be done through parent meetings or written communication, such as a parent handbook or code of conduct. Administrators should make it clear that disruptive or disrespectful behavior will not be tolerated and may result in consequences for the parent and/or athlete.
  2. Encourage involvement: Athletic directors can encourage parents to get involved in booster clubs or other support organizations. This can help create a more positive and collaborative relationship between parents and athletic directors. Athletic administrators can involve parents in a positive way by providing opportunities for them to volunteer, fundraise, or support the program in other ways. This can help parents feel more invested in the program and can create a sense of community and collaboration. Administrators should recognize and appreciate the contributions of parents and communicate the positive impact they have on the program.
  3. Create a positive culture: Athletic directors can work to create a positive culture within their programs. This can include emphasizing sportsmanship, teamwork, and community involvement. A positive culture can help minimize negative outside influences and keep the focus on the athletes and the program.
  4. Encourage open communication: Athletic administrators should encourage open communication with parents and provide opportunities for them to express their concerns and feedback. This can be done through regular parent meetings or individual conferences with parents. When communicating with parents, administrators should listen actively and respond with empathy and understanding, even if they do not agree with the parent's perspective.

"Dealing with difficult parents can be tough, but remember that patience, understanding, and clear communication can go a long way. Keep your cool, listen actively, and don't give up on finding a common ground. You've got this."
—Brent Buttjer

About Scott Garvis, CMAA, Bound AD in Residence

Scott Garvis has been a leader and innovator in intercollegiate and interscholastic athletics development and fundraising for more than 25 years – as an athletics director, coach, association board member, adviser and editorial contributor.

Scott has a record of excellence as Athletics Director, Director of Activities and Assistant Principal, having led the athletics departments at six high schools or school districts in three states.  He has achieved unparalleled success at all levels of high school athletics: large public school districts, a small public high school, a private school, and with state and national athletics administrator associations.