High school and college sports are firmly integrated into the educational environment, the student experience and community life across the nation.
While sports primarily impact students — players, cheerleaders, band members, even spectators in the stands — the programs involve fans, alumni, students' parents and the parents of prospective students. Sports teams and star athletes also generate significant revenue and prestige for the educational institutions and the towns where they're based.
Sports Program Leaders Mold Future Generations
At the heart of every high school and college sports program are coaches and athletic directors (ADs). It takes skilled leaders in these positions to help athletes reach their potential, to build successful teams and to manage successful programs. The rewards are plentiful, especially the opportunity to influence the lives of young people.
How Coaches and Athletic Directors Are Similar
The roles of coach and athletic director have a few similarities and require some common skills and experience.
In both roles, employers likely expect viable candidates to have a background in physical education or a sport at a competitive level; coaching or administrative experience; and other substantial, relevant involvement in athletics. Also, the roles require talent in leadership, communication, planning and scheduling, and people management.
How Athletic Directors and Coaches Differ
Perhaps the most obvious difference is in how the roles relate to various groups inside and outside the educational and community environments.
A coach's primary responsibilities revolve around the athletes: preparing players and teams for competition and guiding and encouraging them during the games. To carry out these responsibilities, head coaches — who typically favor a single sport — must schedule practices and work with assistant coaches, if any, to coordinate the sessions. Depending on the school or district, coaches also may work closely with the athletic director on budgets and other financial matters, as well as schedules.
While any education leader needs good communication skills, such attributes can especially help coaches. With their high visibility on the sidelines or courtside, coaches often become the face of the program to the school's wider community.
On the other hand, athletic directors typically manage entire athletic departments primarily behind the scenes. Athletic director duties include providing direction as well as recruiting, supervising and hiring coaches and other personnel for all the sports in the program. So athletic directors need skills and experience in hiring and business functions such as budgeting and fundraising.
Go From Coach to Athletic Director
Many coaches of varying experience dream of becoming athletic directors. This is a natural progression because coaches have some of the skills required, but they may lack the hiring, budgeting and leadership acumen that is vital for an AD.
Gaining the skills-experience combination needed to qualify for an AD position could take years. An alternative is to earn a master's degree online, in as few as 12 months. Students in the Master of Science in Sports Administration online program from Southeastern Oklahoma State University can choose one of four emphasis areas: General, Business, Educational Leadership, or Native American Leadership.
Southeastern's M.S. in Sports Administration – Native American Leadership prepares students to develop and manage sports or health and wellness programs within a tribal nation.
Core subjects include sports administration, finances and fundraising. Emphasis coursework covers the study of indigenous cultures and customs, as well as topics on Indian Country, including economic development, health and education, social services and tribal governance.
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